Saturday’s election and the military
AS Nigerians prepare to cast their vote in Saturday’s (March 28) decisive election, the necessity or otherwise of deploying soldiers to maintain peace in the process has been made an issue by the peculiarly Nigerian way of conducting elections. The argument has centred on the constitutionality of the use of the military in civil duties, a category to which the conduct of election belongs, against the background of the problematic electioneering in this political environment. With the possibility of violence during and after the vote, occasioned by a do-or-die attitude of a self-centred political elite, the case for the deployment of soldiers to help keep the peace has always been too well made.
However, the unconstitutionality of such deployment is no longer in doubt as the judiciary has pronounced so in several interpretations of the constitution. A Federal High Court Sokoto and the Court of Appeal held previously and respectively, that it is unconstitutional to deploy the military for the supervision of election. This position was again upheld only three days ago by Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Lagos Federal High Court who said it is unconstitutional to deploy the military even for the purposes of election without the approval of the National Assembly.
Without ambiguity, the role of the military is defined in Section 217(2) (a-d) of the 1999 Constitution. The statutory role of the armed forces is enabled always by an Act of the National Assembly. Even though Section 218 (1) spells out the power of the President as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces which includes “power to determine the operational use of the armed forces of the federation”, Section 218(4)(a) correspondingly deposits in the National Assembly power to make laws for the regulation of “the powers exercisable by the President as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation…”
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has gone ahead to deploy the military in some parts of the country. The need for this is debatable but the public perception of the presence of the military in times of election is arguably negative and those who believe that the military has become partisan in the political process instead of being on the side of the people and the state rather than the transient government of the day, have good reason to oppose deployment of soldiers. Above all, the deployment of the military is worrisome, especially as this not only exposes the soldiers to politics, it also erodes their credibility as well as the integrity of the institution.
Once again, it needs to be reiterated that the Nigeria Police Force has the responsibility for the “maintenance and securing of public safety and public order.” It must, therefore, be allowed to live up to its duty as well as commitment to protecting the electoral process. There is need to properly train and equip the police as well as increase its strength for internal security operation, so the police can handle incidents of lawlessness that may occur on any election day. This is the ideal that the exigency of military deployment cannot supplant.
While it is gratifying that the military has also reiterated that it will not deviate from its professionalism and indulge in anything that will detract from the ongoing democratic process, now that the so-called peculiar circumstances have necessitated their deployment, they can perform this role in ways that are in tandem with the dictates of the grundnorm. If there are threats of violence, the government, of course, must rise to the challenge. It is in the interest of the country that Nigeria has a peaceful election and the global expectation is high in this regard. The military must, therefore, be used sensibly. Soldiers must remain at the background. This would entail putting the troops on stand-by and the logistics and communication must be put in place in case of emergency in which they would have to be deployed on the basis of the advice of the police commissioner and the chief executive in a state. Operationally, there will have to be an interface with the police through communication of their capability to move swiftly into troubled areas. Good enough, the Inspector General of Police is inclined in this direction. According to him, “there [are] intervention teams arranged where the need arises. That is our stance and that is our arrangement.”
Above all, the point must be stressed that the politicians are the basis of this debate on the propriety of deployment of the military. They should not foment trouble and provide the basis for too much military enforcement. Many of them, including the two leading contenders for the presidency, have all entered into some form of peace accord. They must adhere to it and restrain their followers from violent activities. It is just well that the International Criminal Court is on the watch-out for would-be violators of peace, a fact that should also act as deterrence to troublemakers. It is in the overall interest of the country that Nigerians have a peaceful election. Therein lies the real victory for the nation.