By Emma Nnadozie, Crime Editor
Prior to the off-cycle gubernatorial elections in Imo, Bayelsa and Kogi States held on Saturday, November 11, 2023, Nigerians were apprehensive that Imo state would be the hottest spot for the exercise following the activities of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Eastern Security Network (ESN) in the South-East region, in the build-up to the elections.
These groups, amongst other criminal elements wreaking havoc in the region including the notorious unknown gun men, embarked on deliberate escalation of violence targeted at security personnel and other innocent individuals as well as attacks on critical facilities including INEC offices. The IPOB/ESN issued threats thereby instilling fear and apprehension in the land.
On its part, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) promptly mobilized the security community under the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) comprising the Nigerian Army, NDLEA, NSCDC, Immigration, the Customs and the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, to ensure peaceful conduct of the elections.
This inter-agency collaboration helped in securing the electoral process. Sources said police authorities carried out an election security threat analysis in Imo State to enable it drive a deliberate front at de-escalating and reordering the negative trends. It was gathered that by this, the Nigeria Police Force identified black spots, potential trouble makers, possible mercenaries and the likelihood of proliferation of illegal firearms and weapons, and illicit drugs, all targeted at disrupting the electoral process.
We clearly established our mutual responsibilities towards the success of the elections, and reiterated commitment to be driven by it. We conducted consultative meetings with traditional leaders, political party leaders and aspirants; We met with Road Transport Unions, student leaders, media bodies, amongst others; We deployed both kinetic and non-kinetic security approaches to ensure a hitch-free and successful conduct of the elections in Imo State. “The non-kinetic approaches we adopted include: mapping out and expanding our stakeholders reach.
A top police source told Vanguard: “A massive pre-election deployment and dry-run of the implementation process of our security arrangement was carried out. Our approaches were customized-to-suit, to mitigate the peculiarities of challenges arising from the security threat analysis conducted ahead of the elections in the State. “Mop-up of illicit firearms/small arms and light weapons in the region and Imo state was directed. We forewarned that unauthorized persons carrying weapons would be dealt with as criminals or terrorists.
Recognition of NGOs, CSOs, Human rights groups
A security expert in Imo state, Chief Onyejibe told Vanguard that in terms of preparation for the election which many people thought would be very bloody especially in Imo state, the Police was professionally very well prepared for action. However, he said that they still witnessed skirmishes in certain areas including the arrest of a policeman who wanted to snatch ballot box. According to him, “I am aware that they recognized CSOs, NGOs, Human Right Groups and other critical stakeholders as key actors for improved policing system and opened up dedicated phone lines to members of the public to reach them directly on matters that require prompt intervention. But, the extent of their response to outcries remains a dot in their preparedness. It questioned their assurance and commitment to providing a level playing ground and to be apolitical.”
As it has been the custom of the police, the coordinating Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), representing the South-East Geo-Political Zone, DIG Frank Mba, was on ground in Imo State to coordinate and supervise the security architecture while implementing the formidable security arrangement for peaceful and secured elections in the State.
Over 25,000 police personnel were deployed across the nooks and crannies of Imo State. This is in addition to personnel of the military and other security agencies deployed.” The DIG, according to sources, personally conducted both land and aerial patrols across the states while senior police officers were strategically assigned to supervise and coordinate human and other operational assets deployed for the elections in the senatorial districts, local governments, other specific jurisdictions and identified hot spots.
Intelligence-driven deployment strategy
There was deployment of adequate security for escort and protection of electoral materials, INEC officials, corps members and ad-hoc staff involved in the elections Additional operational assets comprising modern anti-riot equipment, Armored Personnel Carrier, water canon truck, pick-up vehicles, amongst others, deployed by the Inspector General of Police to Imo State to boost operational capability in the elections were effectively utilized to combat any crisis.
There was also adequate security arrangement for the protection of both local and international observers, CSOs, and the media team covering the elections.
Effective border patrol
It was learned that there was improved intelligence management, utilization and sharing which assisted in arresting and suppressing the activities of criminal elements before, during and after the elections. They also carried out pre election training and human capacity development programs including the tactical teams. They equally harnessed INTERPOL NCB and other global policing network to monitor activities of organized criminal elements capable of terrorizing the state.. Interestingly, there was effective border security management to prevent influx of criminal elements from states contiguous to Imo state and police also carried out intelligence-driven raids of criminal hideouts across the state.
Professional conduct of Police personnel:
On the area of professional conduct of police personnel, the Chief Executive officer of Paths to Peace Initiative, Dandy Eze who was in the state for the election told Vanguard that “some police personnel cannot claim to be politically neutral and provided leveled playing field for all political actors in the elections. But because they were trained and supervised to be civil but firm while discharging their duties, it was observed that close attention was paid to public complaints and observations about police activities in the state. “That was why police was able to nip in the bud, activities of some miscreants that went out of their way to wreak havoc in some areas of the state. Noticeably, there was sustained vigilance by security agencies while the electoral process lasted, leading to early conclusion of result collation and even declaration of same by INEC.”
Kudos from Police Service Commission
On its part, the Police Service Commission, PSC, commended the police for resisting hijack of election materials by miscreants during the exercise. The commission credited its staff that monitored the election saying, “they were courteous, approachable and professional during the election.”