By John Chukwu…
The 2019 general elections saw the deployment of military personnel across states of the federation. This deployment was supposedly meant to provide adequate security during and after the elections. Unfortunately, there have been reports, videos and pictures of harassment and intimidation of party agents, journalists, election observers and the electorates by soldiers in some states especially Rivers State, during the March 9 governorship and state House of Assembly elections, which have generated wild-spread concern and disapproval both nationally and internationally.
Despite the worrying signals raised by the alleged excesses of the military, the unequivocal embrace of military involvement in elections by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has been steady. This has sent shock waves round the country, understandably so. The party is a latter-day convert to this position. For a party that explored all available means to counter military involvement in elections in the past, its present tone and direction raise pertinent questions.
Oshiomhole’s puzzling take
The National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress – APC – Adams Oshiomhole after voting at his polling unit in Iyamho, Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo State, on March 9, described those campaigning against military involvement in elections as enemies of democracy. He explained that soldiers provide security for election materials and guide against the invasion of polling units by armed thugs. It could be recalled that prior to the commencement of the general elections, President Muhammadu Buhari, during an emergency caucus meeting of the APC stated: “Anybody who decides to snatch ballot boxes or lead thugs to disturb it (elections) maybe that would be the last unlawful action he would take. I have directed the police and the military to be ruthless.” Just like the President’s statement caused an outrage, Oshiomhole’s submission has also been a thing of serious concern in the polity.
The legal issues
The questions that have been poking the minds of Nigerians are: is Oshiomhole right to label those who are campaigning against military involvement in elections as enemies of democracy? Is it right for the President to deploy military personnel for elections? Section 218 (1) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, states: “The powers of the President as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation shall include power to determine the operational use of the armed forces of the Federation.”
In the same vein, the Armed Forces Act makes similar provision in its Section 8 – Operational use of the Armed Forces – which states: “(1) The President shall determine the operational use of the Armed Forces, but may, under general or special directives, delegate his responsibility for the day-to-day operational use.”
From the above constitutional and statutory provisions, one can say that the President is empowered to deploy the military for the purpose of maintaining and securing public safety and public order. However, before running into this conclusion, cognizance must be given to the fact that the primary purpose of the Nigerian military is to defend the country from external attack, and deter or attack would-be enemies. Thus, the military are chiefly meant for checkmating external attack and insurrection.
Fallout of military involvement: Tales of sorrow
Nigeria is in a democratic dispensation and one of the features of democracy is freedom for expression of opinions – as democracy is termed the government of the people. Thus, people have the right to express their thoughts on issues of national concern – not minding who may not be comfortable with them. Following what was termed the militarization of election especially in Rivers State where soldiers were alleged to have invaded the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) office, shut down Aba Road; stretching between Waterlines and GRA Junctions and denial of access to journalist to do their coverage. The State Collation Officer for the African Democratic Congress (ADC), Mr Christian Leke, stated: “Even when we were being checked by the security, I saw military men invading INEC office. I heard a captain, who led the army, here, showing disrespect, to an Assistant Police Commissioner. I was worried; I began to wonder the kind of relationship they have.” These acts are not expected in a nation that has practiced democracy for 20 years.
The Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) – an umbrella body of all political parties – expressed displeasure over the role of military in Rivers State. The secretary of the National Media Committee of IPAC, Mr. Akinloye Oyeniyi, in a statement on Sunday declared: “Apart from the unprecedented heavy military siege, uncontrollable killings, harassment of both voters and electoral officials as well as the taking over of results collation centres in Rivers State, all in a bid to upturn the people’s choice, by the police and military personnel, which have ultimately led to the suspension of the ongoing governorship election collation is a gross setback for our dear country democratically.
“It also will render the outcome not credible thereby lacking legitimacy. Therefore IPAC as the recognized body of all political parties in the country, is expressing complete disapproval of these undemocratic action…”
A lesson from history
Having experienced several years of military regimes ranging from the days of Generals J.T.U Aguiyi-Ironsi, Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Muhammed, Olusegun Obasanjo, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha and Abdulsalami Abubakar, Nigerians are not unfamiliar with the might of the military. And it is pertinent to note that based on the unprecedented level of electoral violence that characterized the 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 general elections, it was clear that the Nigerian Police was incapable of rendering security protection for elections. Thus, the incorporation of the military in elections to provide security protection and/or cover to sensitive election materials, providing security against violence or sundry electoral misdemeanors like ballot box snatching or rascally conduct before, during or other the elections, may be necessary.
APC’s stunning about-face
The APC’s present position is the exact opposite of its past take.As an opposition party, prior to the 2015 general elections, the APC fought assiduously against the use of military personnel in the elections. Thus, on February 16, 2015, the then Director, Legal Services of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, Chukwuma-Machukwu Ume (SAN) wrote a letter to the then Chairman of the INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, which was also made available to the then President, Goodluck Jonathan; National Security Adviser; the Chief of Army Staff; Chief of Naval Staff and the National Chairmen of the APC and the PDP, notifying them to obey the court judgment barring the involvement of military personnel in the general elections.
“I am sure all well-meaning Nigerians share your deep seated concern on the militarization of our elections. It is therefore imperative your good office and commission ensure, henceforth, and until there is an enabling Act of the National Assembly, the court orders are obeyed and armed forces personnel are never again deployed in any form of security supervision of our elections.
Justice Aikawa of the Federal High Court in his judgment on the suit marked: FHC/S/CS/29/2014 among others, restrained the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and INEC from engaging the service of the Nigerian armed forces in the security supervision of elections in any manner whatsoever in any part of Nigeria, without the Act of the National Assembly”, the letter reads.
Also, the then leader of the opposition leader in the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, of the APC, filed a suit at the Federal High Court in Lagos against the deployment of soldiers in the elections. Justice Ibrahim Buba, while delivering judgment on the case, on March 23, 2015, ruled that the then President Jonathan lacks the power to deploy soldiers for the conduct of election without the approval of the National Assembly. “It is unconstitutional for the Federal Government to deploy military for the supervision of election purposes without the approval of the National Assembly,” the judge said.
In a Press Release by the All Progressives Congress Presidential Campaign Organisation (APCPCO), signed by their then Director of Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, dated February 14, 2015, urged the federal government to obey various decisions of the highest courts in the country, directing that the military and all armed personnel be kept out of the nation’s election process. “Following recent calls by our Presidential Candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari and the Chairman of our party, Chief Odigie Oyegun, that the military be kept out of our elections, so that they can focus on the challenges posed by the insurgency, we wish to draw attention to critical decisions of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court directing that the military stay out of the election processes”, it stated.
More so, Oshiomhole, during the 2015 Presidential and National Assembly elections, threatened to drag the authorities of the Nigerian Army before the International Criminal Court at the Hague following alleged terror unleashed on APC members and journalists covering the elections in Edo North and Central Senatorial districts by soldiers deployed to monitor the elections.
What must be done
From the foregoing, it is therefore, understandable that Oshiomhole and the APC, as an opposition party, are supporting military involvement in elections now they are in power. Nevertheless, if the military are being given much orientation on how to conduct themselves and drilled on the need to be non-partisan, in whatever way, no one would be complaining over their involvement in elections. If the military must be a part of elections, they should be used as an agent of INEC; working towards the conduct of a successful election. There is need to address the issues surrounding the activities of the soldiers in the elections in order to avert a repetition of sad tales that trailed their involvement in the 2019 elections.