By Collins Mathew
When the Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, declared the Police’s readiness for the November 6, 2021, Anambra State governorship election and his commitment to ensure that the Police Force being responsible for internal security under his watch will act in the most professional and unbiased manner as tension and insecurity threaten even the conduct of the election, many thought he was making the usual rhetorical statement. Nigerians remained very skeptical that the usual practice of using security agencies in favour of a particular party, candidate, or the other against the popular wish of the people would mar the election.
Tension in Anambra prior to November 6 was very high while voters were generally scared due to the threat of IPOB to disrupt the election and attack voters. With the support of President Muhammadu Buhari, as he earlier promised to improve the credibility of Nigeria’s election even if against the interest of his own political party, Alkali applied the stick and carrot approach and reached out to as many stakeholders as possible on the need to collectively work on peace and to ensure fairness for all parties as the only solution that could prevent the disruption of law and order and douse the tension that was threatening to consume the fragile peace in the state. His orders to the police personnel in Anambra were clear and unambiguous; that any officer that became compromised for whatever reason to anybody would be sanctioned appropriately.
The IGP ensured that he led by example by resisting pressure from all the stakeholders of the contending political parties.
The political gladiators were hitherto hoping to use the insecurity challenges to either disrupt the election or manipulate it against the popular wish of the people. The IGP first confronted squarely the threat of IPOB and succeeded without losing a drop of blood in containing their initial threat to disrupt the election.
IPOB, at the end, had to even issue a statement that technically endorsed the conduct of the election, which also succeeded in removing the initial fear of voters to come out. Despite a few cases of reported irregularities by the contending political parties during ballot casting, the security and credibility of the election unlike previous elections have been unprecedented and have not been compromised by the police, courtesy of the resilience and resolve of Alkali to carry out the mandate given to him by President Buhari to the letter and without fear of or favour for any side. This was even as the IGP was said to be under attack by all the politicians and by all the political parties with threats of blackmail. He stood his ground.
With the glaring threats from IPOB and other armed groups, coupled with the culture of do-or-die politics in Nigeria where every contender, every political party wants to win by all means and even against the popular wish of the majority, many never believed the assurances given by Alkali. To many, it was going to be another theatre of war. In fact, some persons never agreed that the election would even hold while transparency and fairness were the least they expected from the police with the primary role of ensuring a level-playing ground for all parties.
However, Alkali, with his high cutting edge policing technology and integrating intelligence-led policing practices to core policing functions, with a view to strengthening police capacity to stabilize the internal security order and restore public confidence in the Force, did the magic in Anambra.
Today, the election has been adjudged the best and most peaceful in the country in recent years, all thanks to Alkali’s behind the scene policing strategies that played.
Now there is full hope that with the Anambra poll gone, the coming elections in Osun and Ekiti, as well as the 2023 general election, will no doubt have no issues, as they will follow the same pattern with the current leadership of the police in charge.
But what did IGP Alkali do? What magic did he employ to achieve this Herculean task?
The IGP’s readiness began with his deploying 34,587 officers, Special Forces, and three helicopters towards ensuring a peaceful, free, and fair conduct of elections in Anambra State.
Speaking at a meeting with Deputy Inspectors General of Police, Assistant Inspectors General of Police, and Command Commissioners of Police in Abuja, he noted that based on an election security threat analysis conducted by the Force Intelligence Bureau, Force Headquarters had developed a “Strategic Election Security Operation Order” which would involve the mobilization and deployment of a total of 34,587 police personnel.
He said: “This will comprise of conventional police officers, Police Mobile Force (PMF), Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU), Special Forces personnel, Explosives Ordinance Unit (EOD), Force Intelligence Bureau (FIB), INTERPOL, Special Protection Unit (SPU) as well as Police Medical Teams.
“We will also be deploying three police helicopters for aerial surveillance as well as detachments of Marine Police operatives, specially trained Force animals, and our unique Technical Intelligence capability towards guaranteeing a safe, secure, and credible electoral process in the state.
“Drawing on our previous election security operations, we have also put in place adequate forward and reverse logistics arrangements for a seamless police operation and have also made requisite arrangements to address the welfare needs of all personnel being deployed for the operation.”
In assuring law-abiding citizens and stakeholders of their safety during the elections, he said, “Let me warn subversive elements who are bent on employing violence to attempt to threaten our democratic values, as well as any political actors who may want to adopt undemocratic and illegal means to achieve their aspirations to bury such thoughts now or be prepared to face the consequences, as they will be identified, isolated and made to face the wrath of the law no matter how highly or lowly placed they may be.”
In order to re-strategize and give the election and the electorate the needed protection and security they deserved, the IGP, in a major overhaul of the security landscape in Anambra, appointed Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Joseph Egbunike as the coordinator of the security component for the election. Egbunike was saddled with the responsibility of overseeing the implementation of the Operation Order evolved from the Election Security Threat Assessment and ensure a peaceful environment devoid of violence and conducive enough to guarantee that law-abiding citizens freely performed their civic responsibilities without molestation or intimidation.
To carry out the audacious role alongside Egbunike, Acting DIG Zaki Ahmed and five Assistant Inspectors General of Police (AIGs), 14 Commissioners of Police (CPs), 3 Deputy Commissioners of Police (DCPs), and 48 Assistant Commissioners of Police (ACPs), were appointed to coordinate human and other operational deployments in the three Senatorial Districts, 21 Local Government Areas and the 5,720 polling units in the state.
But in a rather surprise and bold move to ensure that even the Police under him are checked, Alkali played the masterstroke barely 24 hours before the polls. In a move that has never been witnessed before, he removed DIG Egbunike who is an indigene of Anambra, and redeployed him. No cogent reason was given over the sudden deployment of the senior police officer.
The removal of DIG Egbunike came to many as a surprise but to IGP Usman Baba Alkali it was a masterstroke all in a bid to achieve the most free, fair, and credible election in the state, an election that would now serve as a template for all future elections, especially the 2023 general election.
Some pundits believe that the redeployment of DIG Egbunike who is from Anambra state was indeed a masterstroke by the IGP as he saw what others didn’t see in terms of security of the election, which may be firstly that DIG Egunike is from Anambra, secondly that it would be that since he is from Anambra, Egbunike might after all not be able to be free to do the role assigned to him well, and the IGP wanting neutrality decided to deploy him within 24 hours before the election, an act that paid well.
Commendation and credit goes to Alkali for conducting the freest, fair and credible election in the country in recent times. For his avowed stance on the Anambra election, the Inspector-General of Police had always called on the people of the state to come out en masse and exercise their franchise and that adequate security had been put in place to protect them before, during and after the election.
INEC couldn’t have performed a credible election in Anambra without the neutrality, resilience, commitment, and the level playing ground provided by the Police.
He said, “People should go out and exercise their franchise. We have provided two types of security in Anambra State. One, we are policing the election process to make sure that citizens exercise their franchise without molestation.”
The above assertion was always the watchword in the lips of the IGP and at last, he didn’t fail. He achieved it. Not even the ranting and noise of the IPOB, ESN, and others, who didn’t want people to exercise their rights, pushed him back or made him to deter. He stood his ground because he had his strategies as an astute police chief who knows what it takes to make a vibrant Police Force, especially when the security challenges stared him in the face.
The election has come and gone. However, it is on record that Nigerians have witnessed one of the most peaceful elections in recent times in the country and at a critical time when many have lost hope that the election may not even hold. Owing to the untireless efforts and close supervision of the police boss, coupled with the commitment of President Buhari to improve credibility of elections in Nigeria, the police did not witness any security breach during the election across the state while police officers for the first time were very careful in strictly following the instructions of their IGP without the usual allegations of bribery and instances of compromise that marred previous elections and conduct of security personnel.
The election was peaceful. There were no instances of violence, ballot snatching, or fighting in any polling unit in the state. In fact, to put it in the right way, the Anambra election in terms of security was excellent.
Also, the credit of the success of the election is also given to the teamwork exhibited by all the security agencies in the state. The synergy with sister security agencies made the election incident-free. Long-time preparation for the election and the sincerity of the IGP finally paid off.
To many Nigerians, IGP Alkali and his team of dedicated police personnel deserve commendation.
More so, credit will also be given to President Muhammadu Buhari for ensuring a level-playing field to see that the governorship election was credible. The President it was who gave the Police Force and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the free hand to conduct the election without interference.
As his usual way, President Buhari has always insisted on allowing the people’s will to prevail and not the other way round. He tells anyone who cares to listen to allow the choice of the people to prevail and that is why APGA won even against the political party of the President, the APC, a situation that came as a surprise to many Nigerians and full of hope that with someone like IGP Alkali on ground the dream of President Buhari in ensuring credibility and fairness of elections in Nigeria will now be realized.
The assertion that President Buhari ordered for a free poll in Anambra State and warned security chiefs not to allow any politician, even from the ruling party or opposition, undermine the credibility of the elections was after all not a lie at last.
Buhari’s words to Governor Obiano that there would be no manipulation of polls were indeed true.
*Mathew is the national chairman, Movement For Election Monitoring and Transparency Initiative (MEMTI)’