The deployment of security agents, especially soldiers for election duties, has recently come under public scrutiny. While some Nigerians argue in support of the action citing rising cases of ballot box-snatching and the ‘do or die’ approach to politics by some of our politicians, which compromise the electoral system, others are vehemently against it. Those opposed to the move contend that the presence of soldiers tend to instill fear in the voters and has even led to harassment, killings and other electoral infractions.
While the proponents and opponents of the move have made valid points, we tend to align with those that oppose the deployment of soldiers for election duties. In our part of the world where politics is seen as an act of warfare, the deployment of soldiers for electoral duties further intensify the propensity for violence and has been abused.
Moreover, the extant Nigerian laws and rulings of the Supreme Court do not support the deployment of soldiers for electoral duties, except when called upon to assist the police. The recent killings in parts of Rivers and Bayelsa states during the February 23 Presidential and National Assembly polls have been blamed on the deployment of soldiers for election duties. We also recall the alleged roles of soldiers during the recent gubernatorial elections in Ekiti and Osun states.
Therefore, we do not support the deployment of soldiers for election duties in view of reported abuse of the electoral process in some parts of the country. Apart from promoting voter apathy, the militarisation of elections in Nigeria is unconstitutional and illegal. It promotes disenfranchisement of voters and can lead to violence and loss of lives.
For instance, Section 217 (2)(a-d) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) clearly states the roles of the Nigerian Armed Forces thus: “defending Nigeria from external aggression; maintaining its territorial integrity and securing its borders from violation on land, sea or air; suppressing insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the president, but subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly; and performing such other functions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.”
Also, Sections 96 and 131 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) prohibit the use of force or violence during elections. There are also Supreme Court rulings against the militarisation of elections in the country. In the case of M.D. Yusuf vs Obasanjo, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that: “It is up to the police to protect the nascent democracy and not the military otherwise the democracy might be wittingly or unwittingly militarized. This is not what the citizenry bargained for after wresting power from the military in 1999. Conscious step or steps should be taken to civilianize the polity and thereby ensure survival and sustenance of democracy.”
In another landmark case, “Buhari vs Obasanjo (2005)”, the apex court ruled that: “The state is obliged to ensure that citizens who are sovereign can exercise their franchise freely, unmolested and undisturbed.” These rulings are still relevant to the conduct of our elections and must be obeyed by the government and the electoral agency.
Similarly, in “Buhari vs Obasanjo 2005, the Court of Appeal ruled that: “It is appropriate at this juncture to make some observations. I believe the time has come in our learning process to establish the culture of democratic rule in this country to strive to do the right thing, particularly when it comes to dealing with electoral process, which in my view is one of the pillars of democracy.
“I believe in spite of the non-tolerant nature and behavior of our political class in this country, we should by all means try to keep armed personnel of whatever status or nature from being part and parcel of our election processes. The civilian authorities should be left to conduct and carry out fully the electoral processes at all levels.”
Based on the rulings of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the Electoral Act, we oppose any militarisation of our elections. While we appreciate the roles of the nation’s armed forces in protecting the territorial integrity of the country and defending the nation against external aggression, among others, we strongly believe that it is the duty of the Nigerian Police Force to provide adequate security during elections.