• Sunday, July 14, 2024
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Need to demilitarise Nigeria’s 2023 general election

Need to demilitarise Nigeria’s 2023 general election

The integrity of Nigeria’s elections has consistently been compromised by the suborning of the military. The inducement of the military to rig and hence influence the outcome of elections is innately linked to the post-colonial nature of politics that lays disproportionate premium on state power.

Militarisation of the electoral process, heightens voter apathy, human rights violations, strains civil military relations and disrupts elections.

According to the United Labour Congress (ULC), heavy militarisation of elections in Nigeria shrinks democratic values and undermines the military personnel’s ability to fulfil their task of protecting the nation’s borders against external enemies.

With the exception of isolated incidences, elections in post-colonial Nigeria have rarely been peaceful; they have become a matter of warfare that have resulted not only in killings, maiming and destruction, but also in the “death” of democracy itself, as recorded in 1966, 1983 and 1993.

Damilola Ojetunde in a 2019 report for the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, noted of the 2019 general election, “The state security personnel, responsible for securing the environment for a credible election, were again at the centre of controversies. Allegations of partisanship trailed the conduct of the security agencies to such extent that the public perceived the large presence of the security agencies as a calculated strategy to intimidate voters. Despite the huge presence of security officials, the election was still marred by violence that led to a number of deaths and arson attacks on the EMB facilities. Unsurprisingly, voter turnout was abysmally low in comparison with the previous elections. With a 35percent voter turnout, the country recorded the lowest turnout on the continent, which speaks to the growing public disenchantment and mistrust in the electoral process.”

Attahiru Jega, the immediate past Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) noted in 2012, that, “In many ways election in Nigeria is akin to war. For one thing, mobilisation by the election commission is massive, akin to preparations for a major war. The 2011 elections required the assemblage of close to a million poll workers, party workers, security personnel and election observers. The election entailed the acquisition of over 120,000 ballot boxes, printing of about 400 million ballot papers and managing a voter’s roll of over 73 million entries. In fact, in the registration of voters that preceded the elections, the machines used in the exercise would have formed a chain of over eighty kilometres if placed end to end and the over 400,000 staff used in the exercise out-numbered the collective strength of the entire armed forces of the West African sub-region.”

Azeez Olaniyan and Olumuyiwa Alao’s in their interrogation of Election as Warfare in Nigeria published in the International Affairs Forum, asserted that the seeming inability of INEC to discharge its responsibility effectively coupled with the political partisanship of the security agencies in the discharge of their duties during and after the elections has continued to threaten Nigeria’s attempt towards democratic consolidation.

“There has always been a particular constant — the role of Nigeria’s security forces in the ensuing violence that has greeted most of these elections.

“It is therefore, not surprising that over the last 7 years (2007-2014), one issue which has drawn criticism and public fury from Nigerians is the deployment of the military during elections in Nigeria. Most notable among these elections, were the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States in 2012, in Anambra (2013), and in the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections in 2014. Rather than relying on the police to provide the security needed during the gubernatorial elections in the five states mentioned above, the Nigerian federal government deployed large detachment of soldiers and other security operatives in these states to assist and ensure peaceful conduct during the elections. In the Ekiti elections in particular, the protests reached high heavens, when prominent members of Nigeria’s main opposition party, the All Progressives Congress, were denied entry into the state capital by soldiers and other security agencies in a commando-styled operation, to participate in their party’s grand rally a few days before the election.

Read also: 2023: The fetish and fallacies of election opinion polls in Nigeria (I)

“If the election in Ekiti State was “heavily militarised”, the military/security presence in the gubernatorial elections in Osun State was massive, with a deployment of a 73,000-strong security contingent to oversee security concerns during the election.”

Nigeria’s courts have consistently declared the deployment of the armed forces in the conduct of elections in the country illegal and unconstitutional.Nigeria’s Court of Appeal had condemned the illegal militarisation of the Ekiti governorship election in 2014 after voters were subjected to harassment by armed troops.

In the leading judgment of the Court of Appeal in Yusuf v Obasanjo (2005) Justice Salami of the Court of Appeal 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 same court reiterated its views in the case of Buhari v Obasanjo (2005) when Justice Abdullah, the President of the Court observed that, “in spite of the non-tolerant nature and behaviour 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 process. The civilian authorities should be left to conduct and carry out fully the electoral processes at all levels.”

In 2015, a Federal High Court in Lagos ruled that the Nigerian Armed Forces should have no role in the conduct of elections in the country.The court relied on a Court of Appeal ruling that barred the use of soldiers in the conduct of elections, stating that it was a violation of Section 217(2)(c) of the Constitution and Section 1 of the Armed Forces Act.

Despite the ban on the use of military personnel in the conduct of elections in the country, President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019 gave the military an audacious shoot-on-sight directive against ballot box snatchers and other categories of electoral offenders before the 2019 elections. The directive triggered public outrage, with many arguing that the president was endorsing jungle justice.

The 2019 elections that brought President Muhammadu Buhari back into office for a second term were marred by political violence, some of it by soldiers and police officers, Human Rights Watch noted.

In Kwara, Akwa-Ibom, Benue, and River states, residents were reportedly scared as military hardware, jets, and helicopters were deployed to monitor the conduct of elections.

In Rivers state, military personnel blocked local and foreign election observers from gaining access to collation centres. In some cases, they also harassed voters and electoral officers.

The European Union Election Mission to Nigeria noted of the 2019 elections, “Beyond the overall issue of the effect of the military on voters, there were also more specific concerns about interference in the electoral process by military personnel, as noted by INEC and others in Rivers. On 10 March, EU observers and others were prevented from entering the state INEC office in Rivers, which was blockaded by soldiers. Civil society groups reported on 9 March that military and security agents denied citizen observers access to eight collation centres in Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Zamfara. Subsequent civil society statements also referred to militarisation of the process and interference.”

On March 15, 2019 the spokesperson for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Festus Okoye, accused the military of intimidation and unlawful arrest of election officials in the state.

The Military has no business in election management or election security.

Worried about the extraordinary political environment in America just before the 2020 presidential elections, where the where the then president, Donald Trump declared without evidence that the expected surge in mail-in ballots will make the vote “inaccurate and fraudulent,” and suggested he might not accept the election results if he loses, the country’s most senior military officer, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff made it abundantly clear that the U.S. armed forces will have no role in carrying out the election process or resolving a disputed vote.

“I foresee no role for the U.S armed forces in this process,” Milley said, adding, “I believe deeply in the principle of an apolitical U.S. military.”

Nigeria’s military chief needs to make such a clear and unambiguous statement and ensures that the armed forces remain apolitical and subservient to the taxpayers in 2023 and not to political leaders.

Since the courts have made it clear that soldiers are an illegality in election management, Nigeria’s military chiefs must obey the laws of the land by rejecting any attempt to coerce and coax them into being part of the 2023 elections.

The military do not do elections. They are not trained for that. They are trained to defend the territorial integrity of the country. Elections are not part of the Nigeria’s borders.