INEC Will Not Condone Use Of Hooded Security Operatives For 2015 Election – Jega

JEGA-INECChairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC Prof Attahiru Jega yesterday decried the use of hooded security operatives during the August 9 governorship election in Osun State.

Describing the trend as “worrisome”, Jega said INEC would not allow the use of masked security agents for next year’s general elections even as he accused some of the security men deployed in Osun State of being “overzealous”.

The spokesperson for the Department of State Security (DSS), Marylyn Ogar, admitted that some of the DSS operatives deployed for the election wore hoods. A cross-section of Nigerians condemned the use of hooded security agents as it created panic among residents of Osun State especially, as the identities of many of them, dressed in military fatigue, were unknown.

In his reaction while holding a session with local and international Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, involved in monitoring elections yesterday in Abuja, Jega said henceforth, “Any security personnel deployed for the election must be someone identifiable”.

Jega added: “In recent times, we have witnessed an increased presence of hooded security operatives during elections. This is an emerging trend which is highly worrisome and which needs to be addressed in good time. Security agents who are deployed on election duties should not be masked, the doctrine of transparency requires that they should be identifiable.

“We will not allow such persons during the 2015 elections. Any security personnel deployed for the election must be someone identifiable such that if anything happens we will be able to know who to hold responsible”, he added.

Speaking on the overzealousness of some of the security men deployed, the INEC boss said some ad-hoc employees of the commission and nine NYSC members, who were engaged as ad-hoc officials, were erroneously arrested and kept in detention for over 12 hours.

He said that they were arrested around 9p.m on the eve of the election while on their way to the Registration Area Centres (RACs), which was provided for them by the Commission.

“They were not released until about 6am the next day, a situation that almost disrupted the distribution of electoral materials in some areas.

“It was sheer luck that we still managed to open the polling units early, otherwise, there would have been disaster. We took a serious view of that and reported the matter to all the appropriate authorities because at a point we became worried that some persons wanted to undermine our effort”.

But Jega debunked the notion that the perceived over militarisation of the just-concluded Ekiti and Osun governorship elections, deterred voters from turning out to vote for their preferred candidates.

“In fact, the two elections proved that there was a high correlation between the massive deployment of security and the willingness of people to come out and vote.

“Apart from over-zealousness on the part of some of the security men on the field, we discovered that people actually felt more secured to exercise their franchise. The key lesson our politicians need to learn from the two elections is that the era has gone when they relied on corrupt electoral officers or security agents to manipulate elections.

“In this era, any politician that intends to win election must reach out and convince the voters, be it through ‘stomach-infrastructure’ or otherwise. The only guarantee to win election now is to let the voters come out to vote for you, which in turn means that you must first of all convince them on your credibility”, he said

Jega also alleged that some “unscrupulous elements” attempted to use a software to rig the Osun election won by Governor Rauf Aregbesola of the APC.

“We discovered that some people had invaded our system with software that was reducing age on the register. Thank God that we discovered it before it was too late and had to put aside the register and produced another one, even though it was at a very high cost.

“Despite the challenge, the Osun State election has been adjudged as one of the best we have conducted recently when judged by all variables for assessing a successful election. Though the election was not perfect, we did a lot to improve on the Ekiti election.

“It is also worthy to mention that before the Osun election, security agents were able to identify thugs that were imported into the state by politicians. The security men successfully cordoned the building where the thugs were kept and prevented them from leaving the compound until the election ended”.

Jega said over 70 per cent of the voters in Osun State collected their Permanent Voters Card, PVC, unlike in Ekiti State where only about 64 per cent of the voters collected the cards.

On the October 11 by-election in Adamawa, Jega, said though it came as an emergency, the electoral body would do everything possible to ensure a free, fair and credible poll.

“Nobody had planned for election in Adamawa State, but with the little time we have, we are preparing to make it much better than that of Osun”, he said.

Likewise, the INEC boss said the Commission was seeking ways to reduce the high percentage of rejected votes as was witnessed in Ekiti and Osun states.

“It is a major issue that we have to look into because we received complaints that so many ballots were rejected on the basis that the thumb prints narrowly crossed the line.

“The truth is that we have a rule that allows the electoral officer to reject such ballot. In some advanced countries, they consider whether or not about 50 per cent of the thumb print was inside the provided space. We did not want to allow the use of discretion by our staff, which was why we made the rule. However, in view of the complaints, we will study this issue of rejected votes and see what we can do about it”.

He disclosed that INEC had concluded plans to increase the number of polling units ahead of the 2015 general elections, adding that all the polling units currently situated in private residences will be re-located to public places before the election.

“By 2015, we don’t want any polling unit to be more than 500 on average”, he said.

The ‘Situation Room’, organised by the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), is aimed at providing a platform for the electoral body to interface with the CSO’s.

Reacting to Jega’s statement, Lagos lawyer and rights activist, Femi Falana (SAN), said: “Let the SSS which has performed very well in fighting the Boko Haram menace, face that national task and allow the police to carry out the duty of maintaining law and order during elections”.