The Police Service Commission (PSC) has said armed thugs significantly disrupted Saturday’s gubernatorial elections in Kogi and Bayelsa because police officers were stretched beyond capacity.
The PSC said officers deployed for the exercise were professional in their conduct, in an apparent dismissal of widespread evidence of officers’ collusion with thugs for financial reward.
The PSC observed that the officers “were professional in their conduct during the elections,” spokesperson Ikechukwu Ani said in a statement. But “the activities of illegal armed men over stretched the capacity of these officers to protect the voters and the electoral materials.”
The PSC said it deployed officials to monitor police conduct in both states on Saturday, during which it covered five out of six senatorial districts that make up the two states.
The police said 66,241 officers were deployed for the exercise in Kogi and Bayelsa.
Still, widespread violence marred the elections. Journalists and observer groups indicted police officers as complicit in the violence.
In some cases, officers were seeing actively taking part in ballot box stuffing and snatching, while in others they stood watch as armed thugs unleashed violence on voters.
YIAGA Africa, a public policy think-tank, said its observers confirmed cases of police officers taking cash bribes at polling units in Kogi.
The level of violence in Kogi prompted civic groups that monitored it to call for a cancellation of the governorship election, saying it lacked any measure of credibility.
Still, the electoral commission, INEC, went on to announce incumbent Yahaya Bello winner of the election.
In its preliminary report, the PSC excused police officers for whatever shortcomings they might have been involved with in the exercise.
“The interim report of the commission indicates that the police were very professional despite numerous challenges in the two states.
“The strong monitoring team of the commission to the two states observed the over proliferation of illegal weapons, inadequate logistics and challenging terrains as militating factors,” Mr Ani said.
The commission urged the police to take urgent steps to recover arms in possession of thugs in both states in the aftermath of the election.
“The commission calls on the leadership of the security agencies to immediately take steps to mop up these arms to safe guard the nation’s democracy,” the statement said.
Mr Ani said the PSC received 31 calls on its hotlines on Election Day, and most of them were complaints bordering on ballot box theft by thugs.