The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega, said on Wednesday that the commission would not allow security operatives to be masked during the 2015 general elections.
Jega said this in Abuja during an interactive session with both local and international civil society organisations involved in monitoring elections in the country.
He had on Tuesday, during the public hearing organised by the House of Representatives on the bill for the amendment of the Electoral Act, 2010, backed a proposed amendment that would confer the exclusive power to manage and assign security men during elections on INEC.
The bill also sought to limit the role of the military during elections.
Jega told the CSO representatives on Wednesday that the emerging trend of security operatives wearing mask during elections was worrisome.
According to him, the wearing of hood by security men during elections is not in tandem with the principle of transparency guiding the conduct of an election.
He said, “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 responsiblem
Jega also decried the over-zealousness of some security agents during the August 9 governorship election in Osun state.
He disclosed that security operatives had erroneously arrested some members of staff of the commission and nine youth corp members, engaged as INEC ad-hoc staff, were erroneously arrested and kept in detention for over 12 hours.
He said that they were arrested around 9pm on the eve of the election while on their way to the Registration Area Centers, 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.”
He however maintained that the perceived over militarization of the just concluded governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states, did not deter electorate from voting for their desired candidate.
He said, “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 intend 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 also disclosed that prior to the Osun State election, some “unscrupulous elements” had attempted to use software to rig the poll.
He said, “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 however 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.”