Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega has dismissed opinions that the deployment of armed security during an election discourages people from participating in electoral process.
He said instead, the presence of security helps to drive people’s confidence to participate in the process.
“I want to state that the use of military is not necessarily a disincentive for participation in an election,” said Jega, while delivering a speech as a special guest of honour at the 2014 Annual General Meeting of the Newspaper Proprietors of Nigeria (NPAN) in Lagos.
According to him, Ekiti election was a good example that security men don’t scare people away during elections, as a 49 percent voter turn-out was recorded, “which is the highest in all the elections we have ever had in this country. This means that the presence of security gave people the courage to come out and vote.”
He further explained that, “it is possible to have credible elections without heavy presence of armed security. That is the ideal situation and that is what we want to see. But it depends on context, the kind of security challenges that a country has. That is what determines what role the armed forces can play in an electoral process. In Nigeria for instance, the way we define the role of the security is that at the polling units, there will be an average of three unarmed policemen, then outside of the polling units, about a radius of 300 metres, we can have patrols by mobile police and check-points by mobile police.
“And then the army conducts what is called outer peripheral cordon, which is at the point of entering the state or the major entries of the main cities in the state.”
Giving an insight into the commission’s role in deepening democracy in the country, Jega said the country is faced with several challenges which revolve around challenges with good governance, adding that having credible electoral process had become an imperative to address these challenges.
“We know that our electoral process has been very bad and we allowed things to go bad for so long and now it will require lots of serious and consistent efforts to be able to address these challenges. Nigeria faces tremendous challenges but foremost among these challenges is that of good democratic governance.
“It’s no longer an issue of good governance because there are authoritarian regime that can provide goods and services and institutions and so on, but if the opportunities are not provided for people to express themselves and participate in the process and contribute in the shaping and design of policies, then obviously that will be good governance, but not democratic governance.
“Our country has suffered for long under the authoritarian rule of the military regime and even though in the last 18 years, we have been struggling and transitioning to democracy, there is still much to do and the legacies of authoritarian rule which has been embedded into the body polity and the governance process are still there and there are still formidable challenges that we have to deal with.
“The key challenge then, is to keep on the transition process and there is no doubt that if we must build a credible democracy, then we must also reform our electoral process. This is because the electoral process is a medium in a democratic context for the choice of leaders and for ensuring that the selection of leadership is targeted at bringing about good democratic governance, such that the resources and potentials of the country can be put to good use for the benefit of the country and the citizens,” he said.
He therefore urged the media to always try to balance their private interest as a business with that of the public good.
“Your investment may be private investment, but they also have tremendous public utility and it is, therefore, very important that proprietors of newspapers and other media, must balance the private interest with the public good.
“There are trends and tendencies that can threaten your efforts at upholding this public good, but it is a collective responsibility on you as an association to curtail such tendencies so that the pursuit of private interest will not becloud public good,” Jega said.