Elections are one of the most important foundations of any democracy. Elections belong to the people. Principles of democratic elections are usually traced to the precept that citizens have the right to take part in government and in the conduct of public affairs of their countries. This fundamental concept embodies the understanding that sovereignty belongs to and flows from the people of a country. See section 14(2)(b) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). Section 14(1) of the same constitution posits that Nigeria shall be a State based on the Principles of democracy and Social justice.
Elections are therefore organized explicitly to ascertain and honour the people’s will as to who should occupy elected office and governed in the people’s interest. In a free and fair election the result of an election reflects the intentions of the voters as expressed through their basic right to vote, free from discrimination, verbal or physical abuse, harassment, and violence. Although electoral process should be peaceful and inclusive, in practice, they can trigger dynamics that lead to violence and the particular targeting or disadvantaging of certain individuals or sections of society due to their age, sex, ability or disability, social or economic background, political or ethnic and religious background or any other social identity markers.
At all times, it is the traditional role of the police to secure peace, stability and security in a country. This is even more during elections when citizens are more actively involved in the process of election campaigns, marches, assemblies, and other activities where they express themselves and associate themselves with specific political parties or groups and their programmes. It must be noted that it is of great importance and infact a grave duty on the police to be impartial and allow people to express themselves within the parameters of the law.
It must be noted that Police officers are representative of the state and not a particular political party. Their role is to assist in ensuring a smooth, free and fair election in a democratic society. Democratic policing requires that the police stand out of politics and protect democratic political activities and processes.
Elections, when they are not managed properly or satisfactorily, can endanger the democratization progress they are intended to serve. When the management of the electoral process or the electoral process itself is of dubious quality, and as such questionable, this can inevitably lead to instability or even threaten the entire democratization process. When the electoral system is not well conceived and the conduct of elections is partial and bias, this can certainly pave way for deeper ethnic or regional division, loss of legitimacy of elected authorities, loss of confidence and trust of electoral officers, protest, violence contestation social explosion, pandemonium, doubt about institutions and result in violence and chaos.
While all hands must be on deck to ensure, fair, free and democratic elections, the police and other security officials are specially empowered by the law of the state and international principle of best standard and practices to ensure that human rights and liberty, and property are protected before, during, and after elections.
POLICING DURING ELECTORAL PROCESS
The electoral process involves three important stages: the run to the elections when there are public meetings, marches rallies, etc by political parties with contending interest and ideologies, polling day when the citizens cast their ballots while the police are required to ensure the balloting takes place in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility and the post-election stage when citizen, adapt various forms of expressing their view and opinions about the whole electoral process. Both stages bring concrete challenges to the policing function. Police officers must be able to navigate and negotiate through these contending processes and strive to avoid the taking of any arbitrary measures which would inhibit the exercise of democratic rights by the citizens.
It must be noted that the police officers have a very important role in the protection of human rights because of the fact that they are dealing with people on a daily basis, especially with people who are suspected of committing crime and people who are/were the victims of crime. This is even more so during the run up to the election, during and after election process where citizens will be more active in expressing themselves, holding meetings, rallies and processions. It is therefore important for police to understand their role as law enforcement officials and as protectors and enforcers or human rights. Police officers should also understand the basic principles of performing their duties with human rights as the basis for their actions. However, it is noteworthy to opine that police officers are in the position to legally limit some of the very fundamental rights of people, especially people who are suspected of committing a crime, for example during arrest, detention, investigation and searches, managing crowds and maintenance of public order and tranquility. There are however factors to take into consideration when limiting rights.
In policing or in enforcing the laws, it is of utmost importance for police officers to bear at the back of their minds that all citizens have equal right and must be treated equally in the front of law during elections even more so where different opposition parties try to undermine each other and try to stop each other from having meetings, marches, rallies where they express themselves or associate with their own political. During this period police officers have to be even more vigilant not to be seen to take side with one group or political party, whether such group or political party controls the machinery of government or not police officers must therefore not only be impartial but must also be seen to be impartial. In the context of democratic elections, they need to ensure citizens are able to vote/participate otherwise in the political processes, free form discrimination, verbal or physical abuse, harassment, intimidation and violence.
DURING PRE-ELECTION: Pre-election period is a critical part of any democratic election process. This is the period when political parties are given the opportunity to register and then to market and promote themselves. This is normally difficult period for the police because of the fact that there is heightened tension between political parties and their supporters during the election campaign. There are more political activities in the form of political rallies, meetings marches, demonstrations where police are expected to keep the peace and ensure the security of all the participants as well as other members of the public and their property that are involved in the political activities.
The police must maintain law and order and public tranquility. During the pre-election processes the primary responsibility of the police is
- To protect the integrity of the electoral process, and outcomes of the election
- To safeguard the security of persons and property during the campaign and voting period
- To ensure the safety of the electoral officers administering the election before, during and after the election
- To provide security for candidates during campaigns and election in a non-discriminating basis.
- To ensure and preserve a free, fair, safe and lawful atmosphere for campaigning by all political parties and candidates, as well as their supporters and the general population, without discrimination.
ON THE ELECTION DAY: On The day of the election the most important role of the police is to fulfill their traditional role in term of preserving the peace and maintenance of Law and order. In accessory to this, the Police are also expected to help in ensuring that the election runs smoothly. There should be cooperation between the Police and all political parties and their agents to ensure orderly polling and complete freedom to voters to exercise their right to vote without being subject to any annoyance or obstruction. The specific tasks required to be carried out by the Police in this regards include:
- Providing security for electoral officials at the polling station.
- Maintaining peaceful conditions, law and order around the polling stations.
- Ensuring that voters can vote freely and without hindrance, including freedom from discrimination, verbal/physical abuse, harassment, and violence.
- Ensuring that no one intimidates or interferes with voters.
- Ensuring that voters can enter or leave the polling station freely and without hindrance.
- Assist in dealing with people who misconduct themselves at the polling state.
- Ensuring the security of election materials at voting and counting stations and during the transportation thereto.
- Police should ensure that election material are not stolen, hijacked, destroyed or fraudulently altered by any group of person.
- They should not allow themselves to be used to rig an election or should not compromise standards that can aid in the rigging of election.
- The Police need to observe impartiality and non-discrimination. They should remain non-partisan and neutral.
- The Police need to retain an awareness that they do not serve a particular regime or political party but they are a National Institution and that they represent the state.
- Police officers who work at Polling Stations should be friendly, discreet, professional and disciplined.
- They should not involve themselves in any corrupt practices and should arrest with any persons that tends to corrupt them or the voters at the polling stations.
AFTER THE ELECTIONS: The period after the election when the result are made known and political leaders are sworn to their new posts are also a very important part of any democratic process. During this process Police Officers should continue to preserve the peace and maintain law and order. The post election stage may see violence against individuals or groups. The Police must be up and doing to ensure that the lives and property of the people are safe and protected.
ARREST BY THE POLICE DURING ELECTORAL PROCESS
It is worthy to note that arrest is important in the process of Law enforcement and administration of criminal justice. An arrest is one of the serious infringement on the right of an individual. Therefore an arrest should only be effected when necessary and in accordance with the Law. This means that all arrest should be legal. This principle of legality is violated if somebody is either arrested or detained on grounds which are not clearly established in, or which are contrary to constitution or other domestic laws. Arbitrary arrest is therefore illegal and should be avoided.
An arrested persona is always presumed to be innocent until proven guilty by a competent court of jurisdiction. Section (36(5) of the CFRN,1999 (as amended). For this reason every person arrested should be treated humanely and in accordance with the Law-see section 34(2) (3) of the CFRN,1999 (as amended). Arrest is not a punishment or a method to temporary remove unwanted persons in society in order to clean up the area, but an arrested person should be brought before a judicial authority of the purpose of having the legality of his arrest or detention considered and reviewed without delay and the arrested person shall be released if the arrest or detention is found to be unlawful. Section 34(4) (a), (b) of the CFRN,1999 (as amended) .
The Police should always remember the principle of proportionality when there is need to use force to arrest. This means that if no force is needed to arrest, the Police should not use any force at all and if they need to use force, the Police should only use the necessary force needed to arrest a person. The principle of proportionality requires that the method, which employs the minimum force to achieve a goal, should always be chosen. It is important for the Police officers to bear in mind that when arresting a suspect, there is need to strike a balance between doing their duty well and respecting the rights of the suspect. It is not proper for the Police to use an arrest or excessive use of force to punish a suspect. This must be avoided in especially in a civilized and democratic society like ours.
CONCLUSION: The 2019 general elections in Nigeria are fast approaching and the citizens expects a lot from the institutions charged with the organization of a free and fair elections. The citizens expect a whole lots from the Police in the aspects of protection of lives and security as elections are normally politically charged. Police Officers must be sensitive in the way they handle situations especially between rival parties. Police Officers must always strive to avoid conduct that can be interpreted as unfair, high handed or politically motivated. Policing in a democratic society includes safe-guarding the exercise of democratic activities. Therefore the Police must respect and protect the rights of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, association, and movement, freedom from arbitrary arrest and exile, and impartiality in the administration of Law. In the event of unlawful but non-violent assemblies, the Police must avoid the use of force or where this is not possible, limit its use to the minimum. In dispersing violent assemblies, firearms may be used only when less dangerous means prove ineffective and when there is an imminent threat of death or of serious injury.
Firing indiscriminately into a violent crowd is never a legitimate or acceptable method of dispersing it. The Police must have as their highest priority the respect for and the protection of life. This principle has particular application for the use of force by the police. It is worthy to note that, while the use of force is often indispensable to proper policing-in preventing a crime or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders, police officers must be committed to the principle that the use of force must be considered as an exceptional measure, which must not be executed arbitrarily, but must be proportionate to the threat, minimizing damage and injury, and used only to the extent required to achieve a legitimate objective.
The Police must always verify the lawfulness of their intended actions and should refrain from carrying out any order that they know, or ought to know, is unlawful. In order to live up to the public’s trust, the police must demonstrate professionalism and integrity by adhering to a code of professional conduct. During electoral activities and even beyond that, the police must execute their duties in a skillful, honest, impartial and efficient manner, considering only the public interest and the people they serve. It is worthy to use this medium to call on the Inspector General of Police, Commissioners of Police and all other authorities in charge of Nigeria Police to ensure that all the Police officers are specifically trained and re-trained in the aspects of security and protection of lives in electoral activities and beyond. It is also appropriate here to call on the authorities of government to equipped the Police Force with the necessary security apparatus for effective and pragmatic policing before, during and after the elections and even beyond, bearing in mind that the security and welfare of the people is the primary purpose of government-( see section 14(2)(b) of the CFRN, 1999 (as amended)), and the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the supreme law of the land-(see section 14(2)(c) of the CFRN, 1999 (as amended)).
Peter Andem, LL.M is an Advocate and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria qua Legal Practitioner at Bola Ige Chambers, Ibadan, Human Right Activist and a Legal Consultant at Citizen’s Gavel Foundation for Social Justice, Yaba, Lagos. He can be reached via his email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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