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Government security, other agencies must be non-partisan

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It is reassuring that all the political parties and their candidates are mouthing their willingness to ensure that the general elections slated for February 14 and 28 are devoid of rancour and blood-letting. But the gush of intemperate verbalisations that has characterised the campaigns so far does not synchronise with the avowed commitment to violence-free elections. The hate words being employed by politicians across board appear to have raised the apprehension gauge as to what should be expected in a matter of weeks from now.

While we may take the desperation of politicians for granted, nauseating as it is, it is needful to advise agencies of government that will be deployed for the elections to employ the principle of neutrality in the discharge of their duties before, during and after the elections.

For the avoidance of doubt, the military, the Directorate of State Service (DSS), the Nigeria Police, the Civil Defence Corps, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and other agencies of the Federal Government whose personnel are paid and maintained by the people’s taxes must show commitment to ensure that their activities are geared toward the good of the Nigerian nation.

The INEC, for instance, must ensure that its activities are not only transparent, but must be seen to be transparent. Already, some controversies trailing some of its actions and inactions appear to have lowered the confidence of the people in its ability to deliver on this all-important assignment. For example, the brouhaha over the inability of the INEC, so far, to come clean with the distribution of the permanent voter cards (PVCs) in many states across the country has elicited many questions and doubts.

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Although we believe that government is at liberty to deploy its agencies for the sake of helping to ensure credible polls, we, however, urge that such agencies must operate within the ambit of the law. For instance, the gubernatorial election in Ekiti State, held on Saturday, June 21, 2014, was alleged by members of the opposition to be heavily militarised in the interest of one of the parties.

While we clearly agree with those who argue that deployment of soldiers for elections could enhance maintenance of peace during the exercise, we, nonetheless, insist that it is illegal and ultra vires on the part of the Federal Government to deploy the armed forces to maintain law and order during elections. Sections 215 and 217 of the Constitution are clear that the power of the president to deploy armed forces for internal security is limited to the suppression of insurrection, including insurgency, and aiding the police to restore order when it has broken down.

The deployment of the armed forces for the maintenance of law and order during elections cannot be legally justified in view of Section 215(3) of the Constitution which has vested the police with the exclusive power to maintain and secure public safety and order in the country. The president is only empowered by virtue of Section 217(2) of the Constitution to deploy the armed forces for the “suppression of insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore law and order”.

It is our belief that rather than use soldiers during elections, the police should be strengthened to discharge the duty of ensuring internal security while the armed forces are restricted to the defence of the nation’s territorial integrity and to ensure the threat being imposed by the Islamist group, or any other group for that matter, is contained.

As has been argued by some experts, under the current constitutional dispensation, the president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces lacks the power to involve soldiers in maintaining law and order during elections. We recall a court judgment a few years back on the deployment of soldiers for elections, including a lead judgment of the Court of Appeal in Yussuf v. Obasanjo (2005) 18 N.W.L.R. (Pt 956) 96. The court held that “It is up to the police to protect our nascent democracy and not the military, otherwise the democracy might be wittingly or unwittingly militarised. This is not what the citizenry bargained for in wrestling power from the military in 1999. Conscious step or steps should be taken to civilianise the polity to ensure the survival and sustenance of democracy.”

That said, we strongly call on government security and other agencies to be non-partisan in the discharge of their duties during the elections. The Nigerian voting masses must be given the opportunity to choose their leaders and representatives, where applicable. It is only by so doing that the elections would be seen to be credible.