IDEAs Episode 118 – 10th February 2023
SP Benjamin Hundeyin on the Role of the Nigeria Police in Securing the Integrity of Elections in Nigeria
After Sandra Ezekwesili kicked off the IDEAs segment, Ayo Obe introduced today’s guest, Superintendent of Police Benjamin Hundeyin, who is the Nigeria Police Force, Lagos State Command Public Relations Officer.
Ayo reprised the meaning of IDEAs as Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability, and asked SP Hundeyin what the Nigeria Police is really aiming at when it sets out to police elections in Nigeria.
SP Hundeyin said that the major goal of the Police was to ensure that at the end of the day was to ensure that the election was seen as free, fair and credible, and that that could only happen when there is an atmosphere of security. So all the Police intend to do is to provide security in order to achieve that ultimate goal.
Ayo said that the nation faces a lot of security challenges, and that it had been observed that a heavy security blanket had been laid down by the security agencies in off-cycle gubernatorial elections – e.g. Ekiti and Osun States. Given that the election was going to be taking place all over the federation, were there going to be enough security personnel for the coming nationwide elections, since it wasn’t going to be possible to have the same kind of blanket security presence that was mounted for individual elections?
SP Hundeyin said that an Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security headed by INEC had been constituted, which had all government security agencies on board, not just the Nigeria Police or the Department of State Services, Civil Defence and the Military, but also other services such as Immigration, Customs, Correctional Services would all be on hand to provide security for the elections. He said that beyond these personnel, the Committee would be relying on operational resources, for example, a water cannon truck could do the work of 100 policemen to quell a riot. So where there is shortage of personnel, such resources would be used. However, he stressed that by and large they were confident that the election security this year is going to be hitch-free.
Ayo said that although Lagos State doesn’t face quite the same level of security threat that is seen in other parts of the country, there had been some disturbances during the last elections. Even though there would be a lot of police and other security agencies on duty for the elections, some of them would be on specific election duty, while others would be on duty on Election Day. She asked SP Hundeyin to distinguish between those who would be on election duty and those who would be on duty on the day, referring to the well-known rule that police officers on election duty were not supposed to be armed. She asked whether there was different training for them?
SP Hundeyin said that of course every police officer had undergone training on election duty in batches. He noted that since there would be restriction of movement during the polling on Election Day, the main duty of most security personnel would be election security. Of course, some police would be on hand to deal with any other type of crime, but the main focus would be the elections. He corrected Ayo’s idea that police officers on election duty would not be armed, since some police officers on election duty would indeed be armed. He explained that it was only police officers attached to polling units who would not be armed. The armed ones would be at a distance so that they could be called in aid when needed. He said that every police officer on election duty would have an election duty tag: those at the police station doing ordinary duty would not have such tags, but the majority of police would be on election duty and have the tags.
Ayo asked whether members of the public could turn to them in case of any difficulty at the polling unit, and SP Hundeyin confirmed that they could, and that the polling unit police officers could also call on their armed colleagues where necessary.
Ayo then turned to the regulations and training for election duty, saying that when she was a member of the Police Service Commission they had worked with the police to produce a Code of Conduct for security personnel on election duty, and she wondered whether that had been updated in the light of the new Election Act.
SP Hundeyin said that a large consignment of the updated Code of Conduct had just been received from the publisher and was being distributed across the country. He said that he had received his own copy and like other police officers, he was studying it because they could not afford any mistakes this time around.
Ayo asked whether there was any particular part of the Code of Conduct that was particularly relevant when it came to upholding the Integrity of our elections, or was it to be taken as a whole?
SP Hundeyin said that the Code of Conduct was comprehensive – a general code as to how security personnel should behave on Election Day. However, even though it was general, each police officer knew their own particular role and the mandate they were to fulfil; for example, if there was vote buying, the EFCC would take the lead on that, while the police and other agencies would be there to respond on general security matters such as snatching of ballot boxes and the DSS would be gathering information and intelligence to share with other agencies.
Ayo then asked about the impartiality of the police, that members of the public were looking to see whether they are going to be a neutral umpire. There had been situations where elected public officers who had their own security detail came to the polling units with them. How would this work given that the purpose of having police officers who are attached to polling units unarmed is to allow the public to cast their votes without fear.
SP Hundeyin said that though some public officers might have armed security escorts, if they accompany them on Election Day, when they come to the polling unit they must not be armed. He said that this had been enforced during the last elections, so it should not be a problem with the current ones. The armed escorts have to stay back – they will not be allowed at the polling units. He reminded listeners that election observers would be on ground to see what was happening in our elections, mentioning the European Union observers who had arrived in the country and had visited the Lagos State Police Command; they were just one of several groups of election observers in the country. He could therefore assure listeners that no armed policeman would be at the polling unit under cover of escorting any politician or government official.
Ayo said that she had been on election observation and even election monitoring missions for the Police Service Commission and could confirm that it was not just the EU that had teams on hand. However, perhaps what the public most wanted to hear was that the Police were not there to ensure the election of any one individual.
SP Hundeyin confirmed that that was not the objective of the police. He said that on Election Day the security agencies don’t recognise who is ruling party or who is opposition party: all they were concerned with was the maintenance of law and order, and that anybody who broke the law would be arrested dealt with in accordance with the law, irrespective of their political party. He said the Police were going to be unbiased in carrying out its election duties.
Ayo asked whether the Police would be there if an Election Officer discovered someone breaking the law, whether as impersonating a registered voter or doing some of the things that INEC had already said would result in arrest, such as bringing a non-official voter’s card. Were the police to carry out arrests at the instance of the poling officers?
SP Hundeyin said that they would, because everybody would be working hand in hand, so where it was identified that a person had flouted or violated any election law, the attention of the police would be called. There was going to be a joint control room monitoring the situation with emergency phone numbers that could be called, so it was not even necessary to tell the police officer at the polling unit: a citizen could call those numbers and report any complaint, and the monitoring team would be available to visit the spot and see what was happening. So Nigeria would have robust election security.
Ayo said that one of the features of the duties of police officers on election duty as she recalled from her days doing election petitions many years ago in Plateau State, was that when the result sheets are completed, the police officers also had to sign the result sheets.
SP Hundeyin confirmed that this was still the case: the police officers would attest to the results from the polling stations. The police or any security agency on election duty would leave the polling units with a copy of the results sheets as would the INEC officials and the party agents – that was standard practice. Ayo said this was one of the issues that had arisen in some election petitions, and SP Hundeyin confirmed that this was still going to be a feature of the duties of police officers on election duty.
Ayo thanked SP Hundeyin for appearing on the IDEAs programme, saying that the Police is one of the agencies involved in elections – just like INEC – to whom the public look for impartiality. She closed by recalling that whenever she had been monitoring or observing elections, she had noticed that the police officers were always on time at the polling units, in most cases, arriving before the INEC officials. She hoped that that enviable record would be maintained, and SP Hundeyin said that the Police would hope to improve.