Police can’t arrest electoral offenders unless instructed by INEC official –Okiro
NEWS DIGEST–A former Inspector-General of Police, Mike Okiro, was in Imo State to monitor the last governorship and state House of Assembly polls. He speaks with ADELANI ADEPEGBA on security issues and electoral offences, among others.
Are you satisfied with the pace of prosecution of electoral offenders?
I am not at all. I am not in any way impressed. Electoral offenders should be punished so others can learn. We have cases of people snatching ballot boxes and they are known but nothing happen to them. We also have cases where people brought in fake results and they are known but nothing happened to them. There are cases where electoral officers supplied materials to polling units short of the number they should supply; some took away result sheets and they were not punished. Some tore result sheets and they were not sanctioned as if the situation was usual. If they were sanctioned, other people would learn from that experience and avoid such criminal actions.
Would you say the police are encouraging impunity by their failure to prosecute electoral offenders?
No. I know that the electoral law gives the presiding officer the power to tell the police the action to take at a polling booth. The police officer is there to provide security but the control of the polling unit resides with the presiding officer. If he tells the constable on duty to arrest an offender, he would do so. When it comes to prosecution, it is done by the state Ministry of Justice. Though the police can investigate and charge the case to court, the ministry would take it up from there.
How can Nigeria improve its electoral system?
Some of our electoral laws should be enforced and, if possible, the government can establish a tribunal to try electoral offences. If people’s votes do not count, that is a minus for democracy. And for people’s votes to count, offences must be dealt with and this should be done with dispatch. If, for example, during the presidential election, some people were caught, they were charged to court before the next elections and people could see that those arrested were being dealt with, they would take precautions. But if nothing happened, people would be free to do whatever they want to do to scuttle democracy. It is not fair.
What is your view on the alleged confrontation between soldiers and policemen over the manning of INEC office in Rivers State?
I wasn’t there and I don’t believe everything I hear or read about unless I am there or hear from a credible eyewitness. But the point is that electoral duties are supposed to be done by the police. When I was the IG, before elections, we would hold meetings with all security agencies including the military. Soldiers are not supposed to be at polling stations or units; they only patrol. If there is an emergency situation that is beyond the police, they can be invited. But on their own, they cannot go to polling units because policemen are there. When there is a problem beyond the police, they can be invited by senior officers to the polling unit. I don’t know what happened in Port Harcourt. What I’m telling you is what the law says and what I practised as the IG.
What is your assessment of the governorship and state House of Assembly elections?
In Imo State (where I monitored the elections), the situation is like the one in other parts of Nigeria. In some places, people were disappointed, and in others, they felt the Independent National Electoral Commission performed well, depending on the terrain. In some places, the electoral officers didn’t come in time due to lack of transportation or bad roads. In my area (Ohaji-Egbema), for example, the roads are bad. Some places are not accessible except by motorcycles. In those areas, electoral officials were late. Generally, I can say that the election was a success. But there is room for improvement.
Security operatives, including soldiers and policemen, were reported to have snatched ballot boxes during the elections. Did you observe this?
Some of the boys from Ohaji-Egbema were used to snatch ballot boxes and they were arrested by security agencies. They were brought to Owerri and directed to snatch ballot boxes. The security agencies did not snatch ballot boxes; they might have given covert support or look the other way while ballot boxes were being snatched in their presence.
But if they looked the other way while a crime was being committed, were they not complicit?
Yes, they are.
How do you assess their performance during the elections?
Some of the security operatives did well. But you cannot expect 100 per cent in any human endeavour. Generally, they did well.
How do you see the emergence of Emeka Ihedioha as governor-elect of Imo State?
The people have spoken. The election started from polling unit to the ward level to local government down to Owerri, the state capital. It is not everyone that voted but majority of the people voted for him. So, we can say he represents the people’s mandate.
What should be his agenda or focus for the next four years?
There are many things he should do. Education is lacking in many areas. We hope the new governor won’t behave like his predecessor. He should forge a new agenda of embracing everybody, especially the oil producing areas. The youth in the state are becoming very militant because they feel the oil revenue is being misused or mismanaged by the outgoing administration. If the governor-elect wants to have peace in the state, he must create an enabling environment for the state to grow, for the youth to be employed. Let the youth see something being done for them. Imo is a state, not a family property.
Where did you think the Rochas Okorocha administration derailed?
It did not do well in the payment of salaries as well as infrastructure development. There are no industries coming to Imo State because of lack of infrastructure. Education is at its lowest ebb. And these are things everyone can see. Also, there is no due process. For instance, in the award of contracts and payment, due process should be followed. But these things are not being abided by. The incoming governor should look into them; he should know he is not ruling his family but the state.
Where do you expect the state to be in the next four years?
I expect the state to be far ahead of where it is right now. Most of the roads are bad. Youths are restive. There is high unemployment. Workers are complaining about non-payment of salaries. Imo State was known for performing very well in the West African Examinations Council (examinations) and the General Certificate of Education. But now, the standard has dropped and the state has been overtaken by Anambra and Delta states. We hope the incoming governor would restore its glory.
Are you worried by the situation in the Ohaji-Egbema LGA where the youth were allegedly armed by politicians and state officials as political thugs?
In the Ohaji-Egbema Local Government Area, they produce more than 60 per cent of the food being consumed in Imo State, and it is also part of the oil producing areas in the state. Unfortunately, there is no development there; no government presence. And the youth are aware that the money being spent by the government comes from the area. There is restiveness in the area and it has got to a level that if left unchecked, it could spell doom for the state and the country. There is no development in the area. Instead, the government has been using the youth. For example, when Governor Rochas Okorocha had a problem with the Owerri people, it was the youth from Ohaji-Egbema who were drafted to fight the Owerri people. Anytime there is a problem, it is the youth from Ohaji-Egbema the government would use to intimidate the citizens. The politicians secretly armed these youths and used them. A time would come when almost all the youth in that area would be armed by government or politicians. A time would come when the
situation would get out of hand and it would be difficult to control them. The incoming government should change this – all arms given to the youth should be retrieved. Also, the area should be developed. If you go to that LGA, you would cry; not even a metre of new road (has been constructed); no pipe-borne water, infrastructure and school. These are the people making Imo buoyant, yet, you did not take care of them. These are the issues the governor-elect should address, if he wants peace and security in Imo State.
Do you think Ohaji-Egbama LGA was deliberately marginalised by the Okorocha administration?
I want to use the word ‘criminally-neglected’. The youth are hungry; if you give them N1,000, they would kidnap or kill. I wouldn’t say he deliberately did that; maybe I don’t know, but it is a fact that the area is neglected. If you drive in the area, you will see the youth standing on the road looking fearsome and terrible.
What is the security implication of the neglect to Imo State and Nigeria?
It portends danger for the state and the country. In this area, you have youths who have not gone to school; they depend on subsistence farming and fishing and the fishing has been affected by oil exploration. Their parents cannot afford to send them to school and they are given arms. Anytime there is a protest, they (politicians) go there to move them in buses; this is bad.