Policing elections in a Pandemic: Agenda setting towards 2020 governorship elections by Teresa Chigozirim Okoro – Blueprint newspapers Limited

Introduction: With the outbreak of COVID19 it is important that INEC, security services and stakeholders make sensible and well-informed decisions regarding how or whether to hold Ondo & Edo State Governorship elections with the following key considerations in policing elections under the pandemic.

First, security has remained the greatest challenge in conducting elections in Nigeria from 2011 post-election violence that gave birth to CLEEN Foundation Election Security Management Project to violence that marred the 2019 general elections particularly from the south-south region and recently conducted off-cycle elections in Osun and Kogi States. In all these assessments, politicians topped the list as the greatest security threat in Nigeria. Second, COVID19 poses additional responsibilities to the security personnel in terms of enforcing social distancing and enforcement of safety protocols.

For instance, how will the deployment of police address these additional responsibilities, will there be need for additional responsibilities? Will there be need for more security forces at the polling units beyond the usual number of three or four? What other strategies are available? How will the safety of security officials against COVID19 be guaranteed? Urgently needed ahead of these elections is a clear policy from the Nigeria Police Force on ‘policing elections under COVID19 pandemic.

The policy framework should be produced with inputs from stakeholders to ensure it responds to emerging concerns.  Review of INEC Policy for the Conduct of Elections in the Context of COVID19 Pandemic: There are a lot of gaps in the INEC policy for the conduct of elections in the context of Covid19 pandemic. The policy is a mixture of guidelines, procedures and intentions. It didn’t talk about how the two tier system will be conducted, how many voters will be admitted into the polling station or booth; what will be the number of persons in the two-tier queuing system? etc- It mentions that it’s staff will follow guidelines provided by NCDC, but are they all going to wear PPEs? Will security personnel wear PPEs? What happens to voters who are already in quarantine to avoid being disenfranchised? INEC is presently consulting with stakeholders to enrich the content of the policy.

By now the Voter Code of Conduct should have been out and tested. The Nigeria Police Force has developed a comprehensive operational guideline for its personnel and other law enforcement officers on COVID19 regulations duties. They need to add some more procedure in dealing election issues clearly stating how to handle public order situations; handling unruly and uncooperative voters; making arrests, vote-buying and how to deal with electoral offenders generally etc.In South-Korea, turnout was impressive, voters wore their masks, they sanitized their hands, their temperatures were checked, all health and safety protocols observed, they voted.

Security Risk Factors to watch ahead of the ElectionsElection presents high risks as witnessed in the previous general and off-cycle elections conduct in Nigeria and the findings of CLEEN Foundation Security Threat Assessments.

The Nigeria Police Force will be dealing with two critical issues, policing pandemic and policing elections. Essentially, they should ensure operational continuity, reprioritize operations and develop violence prevention plan. Also, two types of risks are anticipated- potential risk of systems and potential health risk of those visiting the polling booths. Below are specific risk factors to watch out ahead of Edo & Ondo governorship elections: Due to COVID19 the states are relatively calm but with few court clashes here and there. I think there will be a clash between the two camps in the APC (OSM $ EPM) in Edo state as trouble has been brewing in the party, the recent argument they are having is EPM (Oshiomole’s camp) want direct primaries while OSM (Obaseki/Philips’s camp) want indirect primaries. It should also be noted that lately there has been a few resignation letters from the Obaseki’s team. In Ondo state, aspirants are competing among themselves to determine who will be picked to represent the parties.

The issue of zoning and who will be the party candidate. Risk factors to watch out are cult activities, political racketeering within the ruling party caused by the two camps and with opposition party, politicians, and their God fathers, thuggery, snatching of ballot box, upsurge in rape cases are pointers that sexual violence maybe a factor in the elections particularly in Edo State. 

Hotspots for Violence 

Below are some LGAs and Wards prone to violence in Edo State:

Oredo (the whole of Oredo); Estako West (Auchi, Uzairue and South Ibie, Iyanomo); Ikpoba Okha (New Benin Axix, Upper Mission Extension, Upper Sakponba and Third Junction Axis); Egor (Ugbowor, Okhoro, Uwelu, Ogida Axis); Esan West (the whole of Esan West); Owan East (Afuze, Otou, Ikhin); Owan West (Ozalla, Okpuje, Uzebba, Sabingidda-Ora); Esan North East (Uromi); Orhionmwon.

The reasons are not far-fetched, trends of previous elections, the areas are cosmopolitan areas that are densely populated with many unemployed youths who are/can be hired as thugs by politicians; finally the fact that key contenders have strong ties/roots in majority of the security threat assessments conducted by CLEEN Foundation; Secret cult activities in in some parts of the Edo state and political interest especially in Edo north LGA. Also, riverine communities in Ondo State should be watched closely.  

Mitigation Strategies 1) Constant intervention and discussions with the party leadership for peace to reign, 2) Signing of peace accord facilitated by civil society groups/development partners and genuine commitment by political parties & politicians for peace to reign throughout the period; 3) Review of INEC guideline on conducting elections in the context of covid19 pandemic and ensuring it takes care of major concerns of stakeholders across different clusters particularly on political party primaries, internal party democracy etc 4) Regular engagement with stakeholders especially Politicians, CSOs, INEC, Security Agencies, Development Partners, Interagency Consultative Committee on Election Security, PWDs, Media and the General Public;5) Active Citizens’ Participation in election security with useful information to security agencies;6) Citizens’ Mandate Protection/collaboration with security agencies and CSOs;7) Deployment of security personnel on election duty based on the findings of security threat assessment conducted by CLEEN Foundation and the Nigeria Police Force;
Threats, Opportunities and Best Practices in Policing Elections under COVID19 pandemic: Policing elections in the face of COVID19 is a difficult task, below are the threats, opportunities and best practices to explore by security operatives in Nigeria. As usual, the greatest security threats are politicians, who instigate, arm thugs and facilitate electoral violence. Other threats are thuggery, God-fathers, outcome of part primaries, unprofessional conduct of some INEC officials and security personnel, ballot box snatching by criminal gangs, vote-buying of different kinds (e-transactions, gift-items, election day payment after voting for the highest bidder) etc
Opportunities1) Engagement with stakeholders under the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room platform 2) Mapping of security threats in the focal states/mitigation strategies/comparing notes with credible CSOs like CLEEN Foundation3) Training of security personnel using NPF protocol on policing elections under covid19;4) Production and strategic distribution of the protocol to security personnel on election duty;5) Interagency collaboration/coordination;6) The use of technology in training such as zoom, googlemeet with the best experts participating from different parts of the world for knowledge sharing; 7) Community oriented policing;8) Collaboration with informal policing groups; 9) Intelligence led policing/credible reports from community members will go a long way to nip brewing clashes in the bud.

Best PracticesThere is no clear-cut method in policing elections under COVID19 pandemic, however, the Nigeria Police Force should learn from good practices recorded by security institutions in South-Korea, Benin-Republic, Brundi, Mali, Zimbabwe and some other countries that conducted elections recently under the pandemic. Such good practices include1) Obtain and distribute PPEs to every officer to use while on duty: Provision of PPEs to security personnel, they should wear face protection, masks, and medical gloves, sanitizers should be provided. Collaboration with public health officials;2) Strict adherence to public health, safety and NCDC protocols in the discharge of duty. South-Korea serve as a blueprint for the rest of the world;3) Development of safety protocol for providing security at polling stations – clearly stating how to handle public order situations; handling unruly and uncooperative voters; making arrests, vote-buying, violence, misconduct by officers (INEC/security officials) etc;  4) Limit the amount of calls for service that officers respond to in person: to reduce the spread of covid19 among police officers, NPF should issue guidance to reduce in-person responses to non-emergency issues. They should reserve in-person responses for issues that present an imminent threat to public safety during elections.

The public should be encouraged to report non-urgent complaints through online medium and hotlines.5) Drastically reduce the number of police stops and custodial arrests: Police officers on election duty should be instructed to focus on the most serious cases and minimize enforcement actions for lower-level offenses. Individuals should be taken into custody only if they pose a clear risk to public safety during elections;6) Consider contracting with local hotels to allow officers to self-isolate.

Priorities in Securing Ondo and Edo States Governorship Elections. Review of the Nigeria Police Force COVID19 guidelines with more procedure in dealing with election issues;
Training and retraining of security personnel using the protocol developed;Conduct of security threat assessment in the focal states;Regular Engagement with stakeholders for update information both from security officials and other stakeholders (INEC, CSOs, Development partners, Political Parties, Traditional/Religious Leaders, Media) etcDeployment of security personnel on election duty based on the findings of security threat assessment conducted by CLEEN Foundation and the Nigeria Police Force;
Purchase/production of PPEs and other safety equipments (hand-sanitizers, gloves, facial masks etc and distribution to security officers deployed on election duty;
Welfare package of the personnel: This is very important; their accounts should be credited before deployment to the respective states. 

Teresa Chigozirim Okoro is a Security Sector Professional & currently Heads the Public Safety & Security Department at the CLEEN Foundation. She can be reached through[email protected]

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