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The Nigerian Military And 2019 Presidential Elections

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The role of the Nigerian Military is aptly captured in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) to defend Nigeria’s territorial integrity as well as act in aid of civil authority when called upon to do so. DAVID TARKKA writes on the key role played by this institution to bring cases of electoral violence to the barest minimum.

Nigeria has a history of election violence. Think of the election-related clashes of the 1960s, particularly the Western Region election crisis in 1965, the conflagration in old Ondo State in 1983 and the 2011 general elections. It is against this backdrop that President Muhaamadu Buhari directed the Nigerian Military to be ruthless on ballot box snatchers. Hence, top authorities, prior to the 2019 presidential and National Assembly elections, had admonished their personnel to remain apolitical and deal decisively with enemies of the state bent on scuttling the process of achieving peaceful polls in the nation.

The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, had earlier warned that the Armed Forces of Nigeria and other security agencies would deal decisively with those planning to cause security breaches before, during and after the 2019 general elections.

The CDS gave the warning after a meeting with heads of security agencies on the preparedness of the military to support the security services to ensure violence free 2019 general elections. These warnings came following intelligence of some individuals importing military uniforms and arms to disrupt the peaceful election.

He noted that the security agencies were aware of plans by mischief-makers to illegally use military/paramilitary uniforms to impersonate law enforcement agencies to intimidate and harass members of the public.

“We are not unaware of plans to illegally use uniforms of military/paramilitary agencies to impersonate security and law enforcement agencies, illegal possession and use of firearms to intimidate and harass members of the public and other acts likely to cause security breaches.

“Let me warn that the Armed Forces of Nigeria and other security agencies will not tolerate any act that is likely to cause security breaches before, during and after the elections and will deal decisively with these acts irrespective of those involved,” he said.

The CDS further enjoined Nigerians to disregard the call to sit at home on the day of elections being circulated by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), adding that the messages are handiwork of mischief-makers bent on scuttling the process of the 2019 general elections.

He reiterated that the law enforcement agencies would remain apolitical as the Armed Forces’ code of conduct for the election has been issued to personnel deployed for election duties.

The CDS restated that personnel not deployed for election duties have been directed to steer clear of elections except in exercising their rights to vote and appealed to Nigerians to adhere strictly to the restrictions on movement during the elections.

“Violators of restriction on movement, no matter how highly placed, will be arrested and detained. However, this restriction does not apply to those on election security duties, local and international observers/monitors and emergency and security services personnel on authorised duties only,” he said.

Before the rescheduled date, the Defence Headquarters also warned its personnel against fraternising with any political party.

The then acting director, Defence Information, Brigadier General John Agim, during a press briefing in Abuja, said the Nigerian military is not a government military but that of the Nigerian nation and would remain neutral, impartial and strictly adhere to professional code of conduct before, during and after the general elections.

He said the Armed forces of Nigeria would discharge its constitutional duties with zero tolerance to unprofessional conduct.

Contrary to some fears expressed by some Nigerians, he said the military was on ground when the opposition won and assured all of level playing ground.

“The Defence Headquarters has warned that all officers, soldiers, ratings, airmen and women of the Nigerian Armed Forces must remain neutral and exhibit exceptional professionalism before, during and after the upcoming elections.”

The director, however, noted that military personnel, who wish to exercise their civic responsibility, must appear at the polling units with mufti devoid of any military accouterment.

He stated that the deployment of the military is to assist other security agencies to ensure that no Nigerian is disenfranchised.

The director further noted that all military commanders have been tasked to ensure adequate security in their areas of responsibility and directed to ensure strict adherence to rules of engagement.

He said the commanders have been tasked to arrest any one in military uniform who is not on essential duty, adding that any civilian caught in military uniform would be treated as a terrorist.

He, therefore, warned such group of people to desist from such unpatriotic act.

“We would like to caution that any one caught, be they serving or retired military personnel or civilians, no matter how highly placed, will be arrested and treated in accordance with the extant laws of the land,” he said

In line with these commitments, the military engaged in election duties according to global best practices to enable citizens exercise their franchise. These resulted in the high turnout of voters even in the states most ravaged by insurgency in the Northeast.

The General Officer Commanding (GOC) 6 Division, Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Maj Gen Jamil Sarham, paraded Governor Nyesom Wike’s Commissioner for Urban Development and Physical Planning, Dr Reason Onya; and the representative of Ahoada West constituency in Rivers House of Assembly, Nwanaka Okpokiri, for rigging last Saturday’s elections in the state.

Also paraded were the camp commandant of Government House, Port Harcourt, Oyoku Ifelle, a deputy superintendent of police (DSP); Major Akpoge Peter Ubah of 6 Division, Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt and 31 others, including policemen, thugs and ad hoc staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), including two women.

All the 35 suspects were handed over to the deputy commissioner in charge of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) of Rivers Police Command, Ahmed Kontagora, who represented the Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Usman Belel, for prosecution.

The assistant director, Public Relations of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Rivers, Violet Appolo-Ibizugbe, also insisted that no corps member died in the state during last Saturday’s Presidential and National Assembly polls, contrary to insinuations making the round.

Appolo-Ibizugbe said: “Rivers State NYSC management has been inundated with the rumour of the death of a corps member during the last Presidential and National Assembly elections in Degema Local  Government Area of Rivers State on February 23. Management wishes to inform the general public that no corps member was killed before, during and after the February 23 elections.

“While we commiserate with the family of the late Mrs Ibisaki Amachree, an INEC ad hoc staff member, who unfortunately died on her way back from electoral duties in Degema LGA, we wish to state that she was not a corps member and that NYSC, Rivers State did not lose any corps member during the February 23 elections.”

The GOC also disclosed that a lot of maneuvers by political actors were witnessed in the division’s Area of Responsibility (AOR), covering Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers States, during the elections.

He noted that the maneuvers were normal in a democracy, but stressed that most worrisome and dangerous was the employment of political thugs by some desperate politicians to disrupt a legitimate national process for their pecuniary gains.

Maj Gen Sarham said: “Equally of grave concern is the daring attempt by the Governor of Rivers State, Barr Nyesom Wike, to compromise security agencies, particularly troops of 6 Division, with hefty financial inducements to help him in his illegitimate act of thwarting a free and fair electoral process to his favour, while accusing the Nigerian Army and its command hierarchy of bias, daily.

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