Merits, demerits of soldiers’ involvement during elections
THE role of the military in any country cannot be overemphasized. This is even so when a nation believes that democracy is crucial to its peace and security, and consequently growth and development. These indices are, however, becoming elusive in today’s changing world, especially, as the gap between rich and poor, ruler and oppressed widens daily. As a result, countries across the globe are equipping their military to face new challenges arising from this disparity.
The military are leaving no stones unturned to maintain peace and security, fast becoming a mirage. These efforts to rein in control, however, are changing the role of the military as defenders of a country’s sovereignty from external aggression, to maintainers of internal peace.
Elections have been knotty issues in Nigeria from 1923 when the elective principle of the Clifford Constitution of 1922 was put to the test, to the parliamentary elections of December 12, 1959 that brought in the First Republic, and onwards to several others, including the 2011 elections that brought in the Jonathan-led administration.
Recently, some politicians, especially from the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), raised eyebrows over plan by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led-government to deploy soldiers to monitor elections. One of the loudest voices against the move is Osun State governor, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola.
Recounting his experience when hosted the General Officer Commanding 2nd Mechanized Division, Ibadan, Major-General Sanusi Muazu, Aregbesola alleged that during the Osun State governorship election, security agencies including soldiers deployed to monitor the polls acted unprofessionally and harassed and intimidated people. He called on the military to face its traditional role of protecting the territorial integrity of the country.
Against the backdrop of plans to involve the military during the Saturday, March 28 and April 11 polls, Aregbesola said the military and other security operatives must ensure they do not harass civilians, as was the case in Osun State during the August 9 governorship election.
He said: “It is a great misnomer and misuse of the military and tax payers’ resources for soldiers and other security agents to be deployed during elections as instruments of harassment and intimidation against citizens’ freedom and liberty, bullying them for partisan and selfish interest of gaining electoral advantage.”
Major-General Muazu, however, assured him that the military, at all levels, will not intimidate or harass the electorate during the March 28 and April 11 elections. According to Muazu, the military will only provide necessary support for other security agencies and protect life and property.
But the issue provoked filing of a suit against President Jonathan and the Service Chief on use of the military to monitor elections.
Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos declared unconstitutional the plan by the Federal Government to deploy the military for the March 28 and April 11 elections. According to him, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) does not assign any role to the military during elections. He, therefore, restrained the Federal Government from deploying soldiers for the conduct of the elections.
Buba, however, stated that before the military can be assigned a role outside its constitutional duty of maintaining the territorial integrity of Nigeria, the National Assembly must give its approval.
Reacting to the ruling, Dr. Ukpebor Ogizien, a community leader, said the court should have factored in rural areas, where dominant parties intimidate people into voting for them.
Corroborating Ogizien’s view, Dr. Taju Nurudeen observed that people are still afraid that Boko Haram could do something sinister. Hence, the best way to create confidence in the minds of people is to put soldiers on the streets and not at polling booths. They should work in tandem with the police, assisting other security operatives in crisis-ridden areas.
For Ame Uwati, what Saturday’s polls hold is highly unpredictable. He reasoned that with hate speeches that dominated the campaigns of the two major contenders, the likelihood of the outbreak of violence should not be dismissed. He said: “Allowing the soldiers to man the streets and help the police if things get out of hand will be of tremendous importance. We should foresee danger and nip it in the bud. So, I would want that decision of the judge to be looked into with the aim of adjusting it, to reflect the circumstances of the time, to give us fair and credible elections. We need them to calm nerves, check threats and enforce compliance with the law where the police are unable to act.
But for Emeka Ekpe, the situation is different. He believes that with the international observers from the United Nations and eminent personalities from ECOWAS and others working with the police, Nigeria will have credible elections.
He said: “As the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, the President, without duly informing the National Assembly, has constitutional right to assign soldiers, if Nigeria is faced with an emergency. Today, that is not the case. There is no emergency situation. As you must have known, our security agencies are curtailing the insurgency. So, the soldiers are not needed for the elections. Let them go and man the boarders, airports and seaports and allow the police carry out their duties.”