Policemen attached to politicians in the ruling All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party as well as others serving Very Important Persons in the country will be withdrawn ahead of the February 16 elections.
The Force spokesperson, ACP Frank Mba, told Saturday PUNCH exclusively on Friday that the withdrawal of policemen would affect all categories of VIPs, including state commissioners, businessmen and individuals with police aides.
He said, “The withdrawal of policemen is going to cut across all borders, including politicians, party chairmen, state commissioners and businessmen. It will affect everyone that has policemen attached to them.”
Asked to give the number of personnel that may be affected by the exercise, Mba said he could not provide an estimate.
“I cannot estimate but there are two basic rationale for the withdrawal of policemen; One, we need all hands on deck for the purpose of securing the electoral process.
“Number two, we also need to be proactive in ensuring that unscrupulous people do not hide under the cover of security or policemen providing security to create problems during the elections. These are some of the reasons we need to mop up as many policemen as possible,” he explained.
Saturday PUNCH however gathered from other sources that over 20,000 Special Protection Unit operatives of the force and riot policemen attached to prominent Nigerians would be recalled and deployed for election duties by police authorities.
Some security sources said the number of policemen that would be withdrawn might be as high as 35,000 because the Nigeria Police Force would play leading role in providing security during the elections.
“The Strategic Election Security Operational Plan is a big, complex operation requiring huge deployments; so, all hands must be on deck to ensure its success. The number of men to be recalled from private security duties could be huge, maybe as high as 35,000 or more,” a source stated.
The Acting Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, had earlier given a hint during a meeting with Counter-Terrorism Unit and SPU commanders at the force headquarters in Abuja on Wednesday.
He had explained that the recalled men would provide security for local and international election observers, escort sensitive electoral materials and also protect critical national assets during the exercise.
Adamu said, “In order to ensure full mobilisation and deployment of personnel for these duties, we shall in the coming days prune down or order the withdrawal of SPU and CTU operatives that are currently on non-essential duties including those attached to certain categories of personalities.”
Within the context of the Strategic Election Security Operational Plan of the Force, the IG said the recalled operatives would be deployed to provide specialised protection for electoral officials, including ad hoc personnel of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
He added that the officers would also be part of the operatives that would secure INEC’s facilities across the country while some of them would patrol the public space before, during and after the elections.
It was gathered that some of them would act as a reserve force that could be deployed for rapid response to crisis areas during the elections.
Over 50,000 policemen are attached to private individuals including politicians, businessmen, former governors and senators and Very Important Persons across the country.
Past IGs had pledged to reduce the number of policemen attached to influential individuals but lacked the political will to do so.
The beneficiaries of police protection are known to pay the police authorities for the security services provided by the cops.
UP warns against deployment of soldiers
Meanwhile, the acting National Chairman of United Patriots, Chukwudi Ezeobika, has faulted the decision of the Federal Government to deploy soldiers across the 36 states of the Federation and Abuja during the elections.
He said the deployment portended danger to the nation’s democracy.
Ezeobika, who is also the party’s senatorial candidate for Anambra-South, in a statement in Abuja on Friday, said the decision was unconstitutional and was enough reason to remove the President from office.
He said, “Militarisation of a country during elections is a clear indication of failure on the part of the government and remains an act which must be condemned by all lovers of democracy.
“The decision by President Muhammadu Buhari to deploy the Nigerian military, tagged Operation Python Dance, across the federation during the 2019 General Elections remains illegal and unconstitutional and sufficient to have him impeached and removed from office.
“It is legally and morally wrong for the Nigerian government to call in soldiers and police in crisis-free, peaceful and calm states of Nigeria during the coming 2019 General Elections to intimidate the electorate.”
Ezeobika said the nation’s Constitution was clear on the circumstances and conditions under which soldiers could be deployed.
He listed the conditions to include the need to defend Nigeria from external aggression; maintenance of the territorial integrity and securing the country’s borders from violation; and suppressing insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the President.
On the suppression of insurrection and assistance to civil authorities, he said the President’s powers could only be deployed on terms and conditions prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.
“To this extent, this third use of the President’s powers is subject to conditions laid down by the National Assembly. Furthermore, the power to deploy troops to suppress insurrection is exactly that; not deployment for election duties.
“While the President is free to deploy our Armed Forces to defend our country against aggression and to maintain our territorial integrity, without control, he can only deploy them against insurrection and other internal armed conflicts under the guidance and control of National Assembly, through an Act of the National Assembly.
“In view of the foregoing, it is extremely important that President Buhari, without further delay, reverses this ugly trend and have our soldiers deployed in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in order to enable the Nigerian electorate to go out freely to exercise their rights during the general elections.”
Conduct credible elections, US tells INEC
In a related development, the United States has called for a credible process that reflects the will of the people.
The US government made the call in a statement by the Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, on Thursday evening.
Pompeo urged the Independent National Electoral Commission to resist pressure and intimidation in carrying out its duties.
He also called on security agencies to provide an environment conducive for Nigerians to perform their civic duties.
He said anybody found interfering with the electoral process or inciting violence must be brought to book.
He also urged Nigerians to use the elections to consolidate on the country’s place as a democratic leader in Africa.
The statement reads, “The United States government supports a free, fair, transparent, and peaceful election that reflects the will of the Nigerian people.
“It is critical that the Independent National Electoral Commission operates free from outside pressure and intimidation and in a totally objective manner.
“Nigerian security services must provide a safe and secure environment for the Nigerian people to exercise their rights. Those who interfere in the electoral process or incite violence must be held to account. The upcoming elections are an opportunity for Nigeria to solidify its place as a democratic leader in Africa.”
HURIWA urges security forces to be neutral, apolitical
The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria has urged security agencies to remain apolitical even as they deploy for election duties.
The National Coordinator of the association, Emmanuel Onwubiko, made the appeal in Abuja, on Friday.
He explained that the appeal became necessary in the light of fears in certain quarters that the deployment of military personnel was aimed at giving the ruling party undue advantage over others.
Onwubiko said, “We support the pro-active roles of the army as adopted by the Chief of Army Staff to stave off electoral violence.
“The Nigerian Army is a professional outfit and the army chief is aware of the significance of his operatives working under the legal frameworks of adherence to rules of engagement.
“The Nigerian constitution authorises the military to play these roles and the provisions as enshrined in Section 217 (1) of the 1999 constitution goes thus: ‘There shall be armed forces for the Federation which shall consist of an army, a navy, an air force and such other branches of the armed forces of the Federation as may be established by an Act of the National Assembly.”
Nigerians not safe to vote, Dickson warns
The Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, on Friday warned that Nigerians were not safe to cast their votes in the forthcoming elections owing to threats by some political actors, especially in his state.
Dickson, who raised the alarm during a press briefing in Yenagoa, accused the opposition of colluding with some security operatives of stockpiling arms to cause mayhem during the election.
The governor expressed concern over the influx of arms into the state in recent times while the security agencies looked the other way.
According to the governor, his administration has been receiving reports on the activities of such politicians whose mission is to turn the Ijaw nation into shreds like the strongholds of Boko Haram.
He said, “We have to be concerned about the safety of our voters first before anything else. It is the job of security agencies to guarantee the safety of voters. A country where lives and property are not protected is a failed state. That is a ‘shithole’ country. So, nobody should blame President Donald Trump when he said African leaders were presiding over ‘shithole’ countries.
“In this country, we have had several instances where security men and women in uniform collude with criminals and terrorists to rig elections and undermine the peace and stability of states like Bayelsa.
“We now have partisan security officials who have become an armed wing of the ruling party. They are not interested in peace, law and order; their concern is more in political conquest than maintenance of law and order in this state.”
Dickson called on the people not to despair but to turn out en masse to vote for candidates of their choice.
He expressed optimism that the Peoples Democratic Party would clinch victory at the polls, and urged the Independent National Electoral Commission to provide a level playing field for all candidates.