I recently saw a trending video of the Labour Party (LP) Presidential Candidate Mr. Peter Obi leaving the venue of the Nigeria Bar Association Annual Conference in Lagos. In keeping with the recent upsurge in his popularity, he was besieged by a large crowd of admirers wanting to either shake his hand or take a picture with him. A 3-minute walk dragged on and on as the large crowd tried to outdo themselves in their desire to take a picture that they believe can later become a rare picture with a President.
As I watched the crowd, my mind went to the possibility of a person or group wanting to heat up the polity by attempting an assassination on one of the leading candidates for the nation’s top job. Yes, it was a gathering of lawyers and the venue had some form of security, but a would-be assassin could have just walked into the premises (there is no requirement for you to pass through any scanning device before entering the premises if you are on foot) and just infiltrate the crowd of lawyers. The scenario reminded me of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.
On June 5, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy (the younger brother of John F. Kennedy the assassinated former U.S President) was shot and killed by a Palestinian extremist shortly after midnight at the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles. Senator Kennedy was a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States and had just won two more State Primaries for the nomination.
The assassination of Robert Kennedy, just like the assassination of his older brother John F. Kennedy a few years back was a watershed moment in the operations of the Secret Service (the U.S Government Agency responsible for the protection of the President and other dignitaries including foreign Heads of State) and led it to reevaluate its methods and begin the protection of leading Presidential Candidates going forward.
In the United States of America, the Secret Service is the lead Federal Agency responsible for the protection of the President, Vice President, their spouses, children under 18 years of age and Foreign Dignitaries visiting the United States. Secret Service protection for Barrack Obama began after he received a death threat in 2007 while serving as the junior United States senator from Illinois and running for president. This marked the earliest time a candidate received such protection before being nominated. The Illinois Senator, whose crowds at political rallies across the country often numbered in the thousands, was placed under Secret Service protection 9 months before voting began to choose the Democratic nominee for the Presidency of the United States of America.
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In Nigeria, the Department of State Security (DSS) is the lead Security Agency responsible for the protection of the President, Vice President, their Spouses, Senior Members of the other Arms of Government and top Government Functionaries. The DSS is supported by the Army, Police and the Nigeria Civil Defence Corp in the discharge of this responsibility, but it is primarily their responsibility and their Operatives take the lead when it comes to security for these classes of persons. DSS Operatives receive excellent and practical training in close and VIP protection and they can hold their shoulders high amongst their contemporaries in other parts of the world.
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidates, Atiku Abubakar and Bola Tinubu respectively have a very structured security arrangement around them. You can clearly see their Details are either current or former DSS Personnel from the way their security is arranged. Peter Obi appears to rely on the security Details of the State Governors he is visiting or an informal arrangement of men in dark suits who appear more preoccupied with clutching their phones or waving imaginary walkie-talkies around.
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While taking into consideration the high costs associated with providing security for every presidential, I believe it is within the purview of either the Minister of Interior or the National Security to direct the deployment of trained and professional Agents to all the leading presidential candidates (not aspirants) during an election season. This will ensure uniformity while also ensuring adequate protection for all the candidates, each of whom is within a hairbreadth of the presidency of Nigeria.
The costs of this personnel would be borne by the respective campaigns in the form of allowances, as well as all expenses relating to travel and logistics. The team deployed to the candidates would be non-partisan and in keeping with their oath, their allegiance shall be to the Nigerian State. They would report to either the Director of Security or the Director General of the campaign organization to remove any outside interference or accusation of spying.
Politicians being politicians always want to be seen as people-friendly and one way of showing this is mixing with the crowd. The appeal to common folk is demonstrated in the election season with the eating of corn by the roadside, shaking of hands, carrying and kissing babies, appearing amongst young people in cinemas, stopping the convoys in the middle of the road to assist everyday folks; anything for a photo-op to enhance their street appeal. These instances are a nightmare for their security teams and they have to find the balance between keeping their protectee safe while allowing him/her to reach the people whose votes he/she is seeking.
It is the responsibility of the security team to deploy metal detectors (both handheld and walk-through) for screening attendees at large events. With the level of insecurity in the nation, any one of the many insurgent and secessionist groups can plan an attack on any candidate and security during this election season needs to be topnotch to avoid further heating the polity.
I understand the populist inclination Peter Obi has and his continued interaction with the crowds is an affirmation of his popularity, but someone in his team needs to advise him on the need to request official security for himself and I don’t mean one or two gun-toting mobile policemen. The campaign needs to make a formal request to the Minister of Interior or the National Security Adviser so government security assets can be assigned to him as soon as possible.
The 2023 General Election, especially the Presidential election is poised to be one of the most interesting and competitive in recent times. We need all the candidates to be fully focused on selling their manifestoes and plans to the electorate and not worrying about their personal safety. The Federal Government should urgently deploy Government Security agents (GSAs) to all candidates to ensure we have a drama-free election season.