Police IG backtracks, says Nigerians can stay after voting

IGP Suleiman Abba
IGP Suleiman Abba

The Inspector General of Police, Suleiman Abba, has partially reversed his directive that Nigerians leave polling centres after voting in Saturday’s presidential election, rephrasing his position following counter directives from the Independent National Electoral Commission, Nigeria’s leading political parties, and First Lady, Patience Jonathan.

Mr. Abba had warned voters last week to leave after voting, saying it would amount to allowing people take laws into their hands if they stay to protect their votes. He said the police will ensure all votes count.

The directive was rejected by INEC, leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, All Progressives Congress, as well as Mrs. Jonathan.

In her remarks at the PDP Women Presidential Campaign in Enugu on Monday, Mrs. Jonathan said guarding the votes will eliminate all forms of rigging and make the elections credible.

The first lady urged her party’s supporters to guard against manipulations by the opposition parties.

“After voting on March 28, make sure you follow your votes till the end. Do not leave the arena until the counting ends,” she said.

Speaking Wednesday after a meeting with police commanders ahead of the election, the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Abba, backtracked, saying he did not bar voters from staying behind after casting their ballots.

He said he merely “advised” them to leave. He said the police would prefer that voters leave to check violence.

“The police did not ban anyone from the polling units after casting their vote, we only advise people to cast their vote and leave the polling units,’’ he said, according to the News Agency of Nigeria.

Mr. Abba said Nigerians who wish to stay after voting should remain 300 metres away from the centres in line with the Electoral Act.

Speaking at a separate meeting with INEC Wednesday, Mr. Abba said it was important for voters to cast their votes and go home in order not to commit any electoral offence.

He made the comments at a National Stakeholders Summit on the elections organised by the INEC in Abuja.

“This advice that I am giving is resulting from what I observed in the provisions of section 129 of the Electoral Act,” he said. “Nine different types of offences are listed there in and if you stay back, there is likelihood of you committing one of those offences.”

The INEC chairman, Attahiru Jega, had earlier said there was no law barring voters from staying behind to watch their votes.

But the IG said the offences in the Electoral Act that may result if voters loiter include canvassing or soliciting for vote, persuading a voter not to vote for a particular candidate or not to vote.

He said other electoral offences were possession of any weapon, use vehicle or things bearing a colour or symbol of a political party.

The IG pledged that the police, in collaboration with other security agencies, will provide security for all polling units and 9,000 collation centres across the country.

“In order to also make INEC officials and their materials secure, we have identified almost 900 INEC offices nationwide, mindful of the fact that security of the materials is important,’’ he said.

He added that security agencies were also working to ensure that streets and homes were protected during the elections.

On the deployment of soldiers for the elections, the police boss noted that the military would be deployed to play supportive role as stated in the Constitution.

Mr. Abba advised INEC to guard against late commencement of elections and rigging so as to ease security agencies’ effort at maintaining peace on elections days.

“Where election rigging occurs, it may be a threat to conduct of peaceful elections,’’ he said.

He warned politicians against using thugs to further their interests.

“Whatever is the outcome of the elections should be accepted by you; if rejected, follow the legal procedure,’’ he advised.

He said that in carrying out their duties, security personnel will be mindful of and respect human rights.

On his part, the Chairman of INEC, Mr. Jega, said that the commission had taken measures to improve transparency and credibility of the process of collation of results.

“Hard copies of result sheets from polling units would be scanned, converted to PDF format and put in a database, which would be made available for viewing and download via the INEC website.

“Every voter or stakeholder will be able to confirm the accuracy of results from the polling units, which have been conveyed to the collation centres,’’ Jega explained.

He added that not less than 82 per cent of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) had been distributed nationwide.

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