‘How law enforcement can safeguard electoral process’
Legal and other experts have brainstormed on law enforcement’s role in safeguarding the electoral process. It was at a three-day workshop, organised by the Attorney General Alliance Africa (AGA-Africa) in collaboration with the Police. ROBERT EGBE reports
How can Nigeria safeguard its electoral process? Law enforcement and other experts provided some practical insights on the matter at a three-day workshop held from March 29 to March 31 at Abuja and Lagos.
The event, with the theme: The Role of Law Enforcement in Safeguarding the Integrity of the Electoral Process, was organised by the Attorney General Alliance Africa (AGA-Africa) in collaboration with the Police.
According to the organisers, AGA-Africa is a non-partisan organisation that, among others, seeks to foster relationships with Law Enforcement Agencies in Africa and the United States to combat transnational crimes.
Speakers at the event from countries including Nigeria, the United States and Ghana were Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Usman Alkali Baba; Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Training, Danmallam Mohammed; Commissioner of Police, Training, Abduyari Lafia; Board Member, AGA-Africa Markus Green; and Deputy Secretary of State, Colorado Secretary of State’s Office Denver, Colorado, Christopher Beall.
Others included Director, National Elections Security Task Force, Ghanaian Police, Florence Owusu; General Counsel, Attorney-General Alliance, David Blake; Executive Director, Steady Hope Support Initiative, Ehiz Odigie-Okpataku; Senior Partner, PUNUKA Attorneys & Solicitors, Anthony Idigbe, SAN; and Executive Director, Electoral College Nigeria, Kunle Lawal.
Elections: Case for ideas exchange in law enforcement
In his opening remarks, Idigbe, who is AGA-Africa Country Coordinator for Nigeria, noted that compromised or disputed election processes have led to protests and security lapses in Nigeria thus creating a need to exchange ideas on how best to prepare and deploy law enforcement tools to check similar incidents in the future.
He expressed hope that the workshop would enhance competencies in managing issues that may arise and safeguard the electoral process as well as protect life and property during the upcoming elections in 2023.
Idigbe said: “Mechanisms for promoting and maintaining integrity in every aspect of the electoral process play a critical role in every society.
“Effective law enforcement in response to electoral violations not only helps to maintain the integrity of the electoral process but also deters future problems.
“We all know of some of the recent happenings in Nigeria a few months ago, that led to some earlier collaborations that we had on managing civil disturbances.
“There is a need for sharing and exchanging knowledge to enhance competencies in managing issues that may arise regarding the electoral process as well as protecting lives and property during the 2023 elections.”
IGP Baba was represented by Commissioner of Police (CP) Abdul Yari Lafia, who noted, among others, that for democracy to survive, there have to be credible and transparent elections.
He highlighted the Police’s mandate to uphold the electoral law and ensure that the electorate participate in the electioneering process without harassment.
Lafia added: “To ensure credible elections, you must prepare those who are supposed to supervise the election and enforce some of these laws, and that is why we deemed it fit to have this training for our officers and men. That’s what we are trying to achieve.”
What the Police need
What do the police and other law enforcement agencies need to secure elections? Some of the participants, especially officers, shared practical ideas.
It was observed that Nigeria is grossly under policed and equipped with a personnel strength of well below the United Nations recommended minimum of one police officer for every 450 citizens.
They noted that this means that the police are often spread too thinly across polling areas in the country during elections making it difficult for them to enforce the law and protect the integrity of the election process.
They also observed that during elections, policemen are, usually out of operational necessity, concentrated in cities. The few policemen in rural areas could then be easily outnumbered by persons with hostile intentions, forcing a policeman at a polling area to compromise for his safety.
They urged the authorities to address the issue.
It was also noted that a critical part of law enforcement welfare – feeding on election day – is often overlooked. They stated that policemen leave their homes before daylight on election day duty, usually on an empty stomach. But they are unable to buy food because businesses, including restaurants, are, by law, prevented from operating until after the elections, meaning the police would either have to go hungry all day or be forced to accept food from interested parties during elections, which could be misinterpreted by the public as a compromise.
They urged the authorities to provide dry rations for law enforcement agencies on election day.
Another speaker, Kunle Lawal, proposed some schemes to help the police excel.
They included specialised training on electoral values, electoral laws and crisis management, ensuring non-partisanship and non-bias within the Police, adequate provision of welfare and massive recruitment of Police officers.
Lawal further canvassed job creation to take youths’ minds off electoral offences as well as collaboration between the police and the citizenry.
What does AGA Africa do?
Established in 2016, AGA-Africa seeks to establish and foster robust relationships with justice and law enforcement agencies and officials throughout Africa to support the rule of law and combat transnational criminal activity.
It collaborates with African Ministries of Justice, Attorneys-General, Solicitors-General, and Public Prosecution agencies to share knowledge and experience in the fight against crimes like human trafficking, corruption, money laundering, cyber-crime and other cross border criminal activity.
AGA-Africa programmes focus on such initiatives as reinforcing court systems with greater efficiency and transparency; running training programs that promote a consistent application of Rule of Law disciplines, such as oral advocacy; and promoting collaboration among attorneys general from partner countries.
It is currently working with justice departments, and law enforcement bodies such as the Office of the Attorney-General, Departments of Public Prosecution, the Police, academic bodies and other organisations in nine African countries – Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia.