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Keeping the military out of politics



THE ruling by the Court of Appeal the other day that military personnel should not be used to monitor the elections is a welcome pronouncement that puts a judicial seal on so undesirable a consideration. The role of the military is clearly defined in Section 217 (2) (a-d) of the Constitution and, except for such dealers in negativism as do anticipate the worst scenario, there is no reason to begin to think that law and order will be sufficiently threatened during the elections to require that military personnel be pressed into service.  

   Many do have concern and even suspicion that the military is being dragged into matters that are essentially political. One, given the intensity of the competition between the two major political parties, characterised, unfortunately, more by personal attacks than discourse driven by facts and figure on critical issues that worry the average citizen, there is cause for apprehension that unruly elements on both sides of the political fray may misbehave with or without  the say-so of their principals. Two, there was, lately, the allegation (strongly refuted by the military) that soldiers were deployed to monitor the Lagos and Abuja residences of some leaders of the opposition party. There is also the case of as yet unverifiable but nonetheless disturbing video circulating on the Internet that alleges a plot by some politicians in collusion with some military personnel  to rig the last governorship election in Ekiti State. Whether these are true or not, the impression is given that politicians are unduly dragging the military into politics. 

     The point is noted that Section 217(2)(c) allows the use of the military in “suppressing  insurrection and  acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so  by the president.” In reality, the President bears the full responsibility for the proper – or improper –  use of  the nation’s military personnel for, according to Section 218(1) of the constitution, “the powers of the President as Commander-in-chief shall include  power to determine the operational use of the armed forces of the Federation.” 

  In respect of the elections of which law enforcement agencies can boast of some experience in the last 16 years, if the Nigeria Police Force which is the civil force primarily responsible for the “maintenance and securing of public safety and public order” lives up to both its professional duty and the repeated expressions of commitment by its leadership to protect the electoral process, it should be able to contain incidents of  lawlessness where they occur. On the other hand, the police must be saved the situation of applying strong tactics to keep the peace. All contending parties must, therefore, eschew violence and adhere, as a matter of honour, to their signed agreement for violence-free elections. The leadership of the respective parties must also do nothing in words and action that may incite party foot-soldiers into violence.

   In many democratic jurisdictions, the military is a rare sight within the civil society; they are housed far away from the civilian population; indeed, the military lives in an intensely disciplined world of its own. It moves and acts only in strict obedience to the directives of the elected president as commander-in-chief. The very untoward trend of military involvement in civil and political affairs may have benefitted, personally, a fraction of its members but it has evidently harmed the institution in many ways. 

   Once again, it is gratifying that the military has affirmed that it will “not engage in, condone or encourage any act  that has capacity to undermine or subvert any aspect of the democratic process.” However, the military as a disciplined profession takes and must carry the lawful order of higher authority. With this in mind, irrespective of the provision of Section 218(1), the political authority to which the military reports, and the political elite on both sides, should not precipitate any act that may necessitate the involvement of the military in helping to keep the peace, as this will be tantamount to undermining the impartiality, the integrity, and the respectability of the military institution as a protector of our Constitution.

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