Okechukwu Nwanguma is the Executive Director of the Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), a non-profit, independent national human rights advocacy organisation. In this interview with JULIANA FRANCIS, he speaks on the need to curb electoral violence and other issues.
What’s your take on the performance of law enforcement agencies in the last elections?
If you look at the report of some of the election observation groups that monitored the conduct of law enforcement agencies during the elections, you will see different assessments. But, there is a standard to assess them – using the standard operational guidelines for law enforcement officers on election duty. If you use that, they were expected, among other things, to be polite, impartial, and responsive. But what we found was that there were few cases where we saw people in police uniform committing electoral offences such as aiding ballot box snatching, but this was not so widespread.
What was widespread was the fact that in many cases where electoral violence and misconduct were committed by political party supporters and thugs, law enforcement agents stood by and did nothing. Some of them said they were not bearing arms but I don’t think that is a good excuse because the arrangement was that those at the polling units were not supposed to carry arms but if a situation occurs that is beyond their capabilities, they have patrol teams they could call in, but they simply watched thugs carry out those crimes, So, for me, I think the performance wasn’t ’t satisfactory.
Can you explain the importance and significance of the Peace Accord signed by all the political parties before the elections?
It was simply to get them to commit to maintaining peace, to comply with the Electoral Act and play by the rules of the game. We find that in spite of signing the Peace accord about two or three times, they still behaved as if the accord never existed. It shows desperation and impunity.
The greatest problem we have in elections is politicians because it is their desperation that drives them to do what they do.
I am sure you also know that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) acted corruptly in this election, and it was the politicians that got them corrupted in their desperation to win.
For every measure taken to overcome the challenges in elections, they always strive to devise new ways to counter them and come up with new strategies to tamper with the electoral processes and that is why I think that INEC and other stakeholders should continuously stay ahead of these politicians.
We talk about transparency at the polling unit but they found ways to circumvent the process and to manipulate results transmission processes. That was why in many cases, most of the results were not transmitted in real-time, particularly the Presidential election results and this clearly affected the outcome of the election. I think basically, politicians are the ones constituting obstacles to the reform of electoral processes in Nigeria.
Do you think election violence affects women’s participation in politics?
Women are the most affected because ordinarily for being women, they are already marginalised, especially when there is violence. Look at the woman that was injured during the election in Lagos. In conflict situations, women stand a chance of being raped simply because they are women. They are vulnerable and they bear the greatest brunt of every form of violence whether it is electoral violence or communal violence. And they need special protection.
When some women start thinking about election violence, they might not want to go for elective positions, and they might not want to even vote.
Election violence closes the door for them and the political space shrinks for women. In terms of the process involved, how many women are economically independent enough to afford the huge amount political parties require, even when they say they have reduced the money for obtainig forms for women?
There are other factors that make it difficult for women to participate. They are made to feel that it is a man’s world. A lot of deliberate steps need to be taken to encourage women.
This is part of the reason in many countries, governments introduce measures to enhance the chances of women. It’s known as affirmative action.
If you take a count of candidates that ran for elections in Nigeria and those that won elections into different national and state assemblies, how many women won as governors, deputy governors, House of Representatives, or Senate?
There are lots of limitations for women and those limitations need to be removed both culturally and economically to enhance participation for women.
What do you think is the solution to election violence?
Election violence is caused and enabled by the desperation of politicians, who want to win at all costs, and they do that over and over because there are no consequences. If we increase the risk of involving in electoral malpractice by making it at the least, nearly 80 per cent certain that someone will suffer consequences, election violence will reduce because people will be deterred.
But we have continued to witness electoral violence because there are no effective measures to check the desperation of politicians and make sure that those who subvert the Electoral Act pay for it.
Do you think political parties do not keep to the peace accord because they know there will not be consequences?
Yes, because one of the key issues in elections is the need to set up mechanisms like the Electoral Offences Tribunal that will try electoral offenders.
There has been a reluctance to set up that tribunal because the regular courts don’t have the capacity to deal with such issues.
Most of the judges will now be focusing on the election tribunals, so there is even no special body and judges to deal with electoral offenses.
Electoral offenders go Scot-free because there is no accountability. I think it is key we punish those who are involved in electoral misconduct.
Should Nigeria look at starting a special commission for electoral malpractices?
The Uwais Panel that dealt comprehensively with electoral review came up with reports and recommendations. Some of the reforms we see in INEC today are from the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee. It was the late President Umaru Yar’Ydua, who set up that panel when he came to power and admitted that the process that brought him into office was deeply flawed. That was how he set up the Uwais Panel that examined our electoral process and came up with the landmark report known as the Uwais Panel Report.
What we have is that even when election tribunals find that certain elections were marred by violence, they don’t go as far as recommending those responsible for the violence for prosecution. For me, we need a body like that, so that people cannot continue to violate the Electoral Act and get away with it.
What are some of the reports on election violence that shocked you?
We had incidents of voter suppression in places like Lagos State, where some thugs were seen on videos threatening Igbo people not to come out to vote if they are not coming to vote for the All-Progressives Congress (APC). We also saw a woman who was injured. I think she was stabbed, she left to get herself treated and still came back to cast her vote, which shocked people.
Election could not hold in some places due to thuggery. In places like Rivers State, youth corps members were assaulted, and brutalised. Deaths were recorded in places like Rivers. Ballot boxes were snatched, mass thumb printing and stuffing of ballot papers was observed, and INEC officials were forced to declare false results. The violence was so widespread; voter suppression, intimidation, violemve and manipulation of results, among others.
These were quite outrageous; there was the case in Abia State, where they tried to inflate results in some polling units and we saw an outstanding Returning Officer who was determined not to allow it to happen. At the National collation centre, when the presidential election was being collated, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) representatives told the INEC chairman to halt the process and look at the complaints coming from everywhere, but he ignored it and went ahead and announced the disputed results.
But in the governorship election, we saw in a few states, how the Returning Officers had to stop the process to find out that there were errors and corrected them.
What do you think of the appointment of former IGP, Solomon Arase as the Chairman, of PSC, and will this check the feud between PSC and the police?
Arase is one man who has made a lot of impact on the Nigerian Police. I have known Arase for close to 20 years now, right from when he was a principal staff officer to three successive Inspectors General of Police. He has a lot of experience. He is one policeofficer, who took time to develop himself intellectually.
It was when he was principal staff officer that we could write a petition to the police, and we received prompt reply to it. These days, they don’t even bother to reply to anyone. You have to pay and push for your petition to be approved. When he was the Inspector General of Police, he came up with a lot of innovative ideas but of course, once he left, subsequent IGPs did not sustain or give the needed support to those innovations.
The CRU – complaints response unit – is a body that can help the police to tackle impunity for misconduct and improve the image of the police. The CRU is meant to receive complaints from people who are aggrieved with the police, whose encounters with the police are negative, to report such encounters and get quick, real time responses and feedback.
But this has not been happening except that the officer in charge of that unit has demonstrated enough commitment to make the unit work. I’m happy that Solomon Arase, who established that unit has committed to reinvigorate and oversight it from the PSC. He has a lot of experience. He understands the basis of the standoff between successive IGPs and the PSC chairpersons. I’m sure he will put that needless dispute to rest.
I have no doubt that he is going to initiate steps, and he has started after being sworn in by holding consultations with past IGs and the current IG as well as having roundtables with other stakeholders including the media and CSOs. I think the discussions have focused on how to encourage mutual understanding between the Police and the PSC and wha the needs to do to and what contributions stakeholders can make to help him succeed in his reform initiatives.
He has already initiated that mode and I believe that with the kind of democratic and professional mindset that he has and his experience and his commitment to steer the PSC to a newdirection, I have no doubt that Arase will make the difference.
He has always made a difference everywhere; when he was IG and now, as PSC chairman. By the way, he is the only retired policeman the Civil Society Organisations have not kicked against hisappointment.
Civil Society Organisations have always kicked against retired IGPs as PSC Chairman. But when he was appointed, even though we didn’t shift from that position, we agreed that Arase is a different person. Already there are reforms that have been initiated, including review of the PSC Act to strengthen the PSC. We hope that he will support those reforms. I have a lot of trust and expectations from Arase.
What’s your reaction to some police officers alleging their colleagues paid $10,000 to be promoted by PSC?
Well, I do know there is a lot of corruption going on in the place, but that was PSC before Arase. These things have been happening before Arase came on board and I also believe that Arase is going to eliminate all those rot.
I know that in the past, PSC turned police promotion and recruitment into business. They take bribes to promote police personnel.
This is creating a lot of bad blood and creating indiscipline and demoralizing those shortchange personnel because you see that a lot of people who pay to get promotions are put ahead of their mated or even superiors.
It is demoralizing when you watch your juniors promoted ahead of you, and you have to salute your juniors or mates. These actions are promoting corruption in the police and indiscipline. These actions kill morale and I think it is something that I expect that with Arase on board, he will try to check.
By the way, for the mandate of the PSC, whether it is promotion, discipline, or recruitment, there are guidelines. But the PSC in the past has not followed these guidelines.
There is also what they call special promotions, but this shouldn’t happen all the time. But then you see the PSC will come and say some police personnel need special promotion, they’ll collect money even when it is not warranted and promote them.
These things are done out of corruption, and I hope Arase will address and eliminate all this so that it will restore discipline. People should be promoted when they are due and should not be kept in the same rank for several years, while their juniors are promoted ahead of them.
What kind of reforms do you want Arase to carry out as the chairman of the PSC?
He should look at the mandate of the PSC and reassess and strengthen the capacity of the PSC to carry out its mandate. The mandate of the PSC is basically to investigate complaints against the police, discipline, recruitment, and promotion.
What are the problems with this mandate? For example, we talk about paying bribes for promotions, and abuse of the idea of special promotion which should not happen all the time.
There is a proposed bill to amend certain provisions of the Police Establishment Act; he should facilitate the consideration of the bill to ensure that those challenges are addressed.
We do hope that Arase will be the last police officer that will be appointed to head the PSC. And we need to have it in the revised law, that being a civilian oversight and accountability mechanism, the PSC should be headed by a civilian. It is not a unit of the Nigerian police, so already they have police representatives. Why bring in retired police officers to head the PSC? These retired officers still see themselves – even in retirement- as police officers and not as people charged with overight to ensure sanity and discipline.
We’ve seen a lot of arrests and dismissal of erring police officers caught on camera, what do you think this signifies for Nigeria and the Police?
I think we must be grateful to social media because in the past it was difficult to capture all these things, especially when we see a police officer brutalising a citizen.
Social media has helped to provide evidence that these things are happening. It is also good that the police are responding by imposing disciplinary actions on police officers caught on video misbehaving.
I think it should help to checkmate those misconduct and change public perception of the police.
It will help people to trust the police as an institution not encouraging or endorsing misconduct. I hope that it continues, and you know when a government tries to muscle the media or shrink the civic space, it becomes worrisome because, without social media, we wouldn’t have known about these human rights violations.
To increase public trust, the police are responding to misconduct by their men by punishing them. I think they need to also check the mental state of the officers involved in these atrocious acts. Some of them are not mentally stable, and this naturally take us back to questioning the recruitment process.
Most of the people that are being recruited can’t write their names, don’t read the news and don’t even know that their colleagues are being punished for misconduct.
The police need to communicate these things more effectively to their personnel during their daily briefings to know that things have changed because social media will catch you.
How do you rate the performance of the current IGP, Alkali Usman Baba?
Under the prevailing environment that the Nigeria police operates, there isn’t much any IGP can do.
The truth is that even though the Police Act has provided a secured tenure for the IGP, we still find that the IGPs still operate as though they are answerable only to the president.
They feel that they are at the mercy of the president or certain other influences within the executive branch. This is the point I was trying to make about political control. If the IGP continues to see himself and his office as subject and accountable only to the president or other powers within the executive, they will not be able to do long-term visioning, plan and work effectively.
Even when there is an annual policing plan, you’ll find out that they are not able to make any planning or visioning because they are thinking about how to secure their office by pleasing the president.
If you want to assess any IGP, it will not be fair if you don’t consider the circumstances within which they operate, because these IGPs don’t have operational autonomy.
I don’t expect Baba to do magic, but I think he has done well in trying to instill discipline. But these are focusing more on minor offenses like police officers collecting bribes or harassing citizens on the street. But serious offenses and crimes involving top police officers have not been addressed. Otherwise, why is the Nigeria Police Force unable to tell us the extent of their investigation and findings on those officers involved in the Anambra State Police Command’s allegations of torture, and organ harvesting?
When it comes to very serious crimes involving top officers, the IG is not able to do anything. But of course, he has been able to address low-level crimes. In that aspect, I think he has done well. He has also not done much to improve the welfare of police officers, especially the junior ranks who had been threatening to go on strike.
Even the approval by the president to increase their salaries has not fully been implemented. But again, police authorities say they are not entirely to blame for this because, according to them, the money has not been released to the police. Unless there is evidence that the money has been released to the police. But under this IGP, the morale of officers has not improved in terms of their welfare and promotions.BEWARE All Rights Reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or part without prior express written permission from Juliana Francis