After denting an image by disfiguring it, much effort is thereafter needed to effectively correct and rework the dented image before it can be restored to its original form. The Nigerian military has suddenly become the whipping dog of the nation, despite efforts to help the country stabilise its evolving democracy, which it ab initio destroyed. However, the recent public uproar over the military’s involvement in electoral process needs to be handled with caution by all stakeholders.
Although the Constitution mandated the military to assist in hardline core security responsibilities by helping out the Nigeria Police, yet, many eyesbrows are raised whenever they are seen on the streets performing those functions. The question then is, “why do the hairs of Nigerians stand whenever soldiers are seen carrying out special operational assignments on our streets when it should be the other way round, that their presence should inspire safety and confidence among the people?
Discussing military involvement in electoral exercise needs a balanced assessment as it concerns political campaigns and elections in Nigeria. No election in Nigeria had not claimed lives and properties. No elections in Nigeria that have not been characterised by severe violence.
Vertually every election in Nigeria has records of claiming the lives of security personnels posted to maintain law and order while many others were seriously wounded. These are trained servicemen. Each time the police seem overwhelmed during operational duties, the law demands that an invitation be extended to the military for assistance. We have seen such collaboration during the Maitasine uprising, Oyo riot, even the Boko Haram terror war and many others. Most times, the military assist the police in tackling some onerous task that borders on internal security, like kidnapping and armed robbery. One, therefore, wonders why there is always an uproar whenever the military is seen operating either on our highways, checking vehicles, or providing extra security in the states. Even at that, it is not possible for the military to show up in the public during elections without the express approval of the Commander-in-Chief. Unfortunately, the C-in-C in this case is the President who is one of the contestants. If the President allowed the military to be involved in elections, to do what? How come the police was not well equipped for such exercise? Could the aim be to politicise the military by involving them? What exactly was the motive?
Also, does the Constitution back up their internal security activities? And did they over-shoot their operational activities? To the first question, the military is absolutely backed by the Constitution to intervene should the police be overwhelmed, and the military is mandated to wade into internal security, where necessary. On the aspect of exhibiting high-handedness during the elections as alleged by INEC that claimed the military overstepped its bounds during the last elections, many support the involvement of the military, although some cried out, accusing some military men of shady electoral deals and being hand in gloves with politicians to rig elections.
The February 29 and March 9 elections were generally characterised by large-scale extent by violence that led to the death of security personnel and INEC ad hoc staff and the setting ablaze of INEC offices, vehicles and voting materials. Many of these instances might have overwhelmed the police, no wonder INEC extended the invitation to the military, although it is now crying foul.
Even at that, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, promised that his men would maintain neutrality, while also threatening to punish any soldier who erred during the elections. Addressing his commanders, he said, “All Nigerian Army personnel must remain neutral, non-partisan and transparent in all their actions.” As if foreseeing what would eventually happen.
Buratai like an evangelist also went to Lagos on an official trip to the Nigerian Army Signals Corps. While inaugurating some buildings, he said, “All officers and soldiers must remain apolitical and exhibit exceptional professionalism in the forthcoming tasks. You must report any unwholesome activities up the chain of command once it is beyond your powers of command.
“The full weight of the Armed Forces Act will be visited on any personnel found culpable of committing any electoral malpractice.”
In the same vein, the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, told Nigerians that the police would be apolitical as far as the elections were concerned, promising harsh measures on any police officer found wanting.
Unfortunately, while these patriotic security leaders where busy refining their strategies, some unscrupulous politicians were busy importing arms and uniforms with semblance like the police and army, recruited thugs for their nefarious activities. Some of these arms were impounded by the Customs and others filtered into the country like the parable where tares were sowed among good seeds. Instances of fake soldiers were reported in Kogi, Bayelsa, Rivers and Lagos states.
Unortunately, no arrests were made in some of these states to corroborate facts that desperate politicians were out to dent the image of the Nigerian military, an image that it built over the years and had gained world recognition, including from the United Nation that frequently extend global peace mission assignments to the Nigerian military. How painful it is to deliberately tarnish such a reputable institution and debase it on the altar of politics. More worrisome was when the British High Commission in Nigeria claimed its election observers expressed concerns over what it claimed were reports of military interference in the election in Rivers State. Yet, it was its Prime Minister who was among the first countries to congratulate the president-elect.
Looking more deeper into the reports tabled by the British High Commission, which noted,
“There has been a heavy presence of the military in River State, which has been rocked with election violence since the presidential polls.”
One is quick to ask if the British High Commission was expecting the military to close its eyes while brigandry was being unleashed in Rivers State, whether there was an election or not. The Nigerian constitution provides a critical role for the military, according to Section 217 (1) of the 1999 Constitution. Even the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, (HURIWA) backed the deployment of troops by the Nigerian Army to stave off electoral violence in the general election and maintained that the army has a constitutional obligation to fulfill in such a critical situation. Have we not read how the British government drafted its military to assist its police during critical internal security situations? Despite all the allegations, Buratai did not leave any insinuations to public scrutiny but immediately set up a committee to carry out investigation on the veracity of allegations against the troops deployed to provide security during the elections. This singular move of the COAS has further helped to paint him as a complete military gentleman who keeps to his words. A man with sterner stuff, who understands that, despite all his efforts, there could still be one or two judases in the military. The COAS has done what is expected of him. If some troops and their commanders veered off the guidelines, then they should be held responsible for nonchalance and inefficiency. It is such officers that are denting the image of the military. They are the once that have gone outside their mandate and should be severely punished.
Buratai’s latest measure could be seen in the light of a leader who wants to make all assurances sure. When a leader stakes his integrity before the public, the same public should be mindful that its emotions are not being manipulated by unscrupulous politicians. Such persons do not care if the image of the military is dented on the altar of politicking just to satisfy their selfishness and ego.
SECURITY FILE congratulates the Comptroller-General of Immigration whose son, Shamsudden Muhammed Babandede, weds Fatima Aliyu Mohammed, on March 23, 2019, in Abuja. We wish them all the joy.