By Tonnie Iredia
Last week, the media was replete with tributes marking the 73rd birthday anniversary of former President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB). I was also thrilled by the interview he granted on the occasion where he made two profound and related pronouncements-one, that it is dangerous to involve the military in elections and the other, that the Nigerian Military would soon be compromised. Last year, some top army personnel and the leadership of our electoral body were not too happy with me for expressing similar opinions. Now that a personality like Babangida has publicly expressed the same “offending” opinions, I have no option than to ‘agree with IBB’.
An election in Nigeria is obviously tedious because the lucrative nature of our ‘winner- takes-all’ political system tends to oil all forms of mischief. As a result, securing our election process cannot be overstated. But we cannot equate the enforcement of electoral law with an insurrection which requires a military force to suppress. The Nigerian Police ought to be able to handle any electoral malpractice. There is thus no need to draft heavily armed military personnel to election venues where majority of the participants are harmless voters who are not at war but eager to elect the candidates of their choice. The argument of some analysts that the atmosphere of peace which the military forcefully creates could assure some voters of safety stands logic on its head. It reminds one of a recent show in which a comedian claimed he got his wife to learn how to drive a trailer so that that she can get used to driving their ‘KEKE NAPEP’ car!
For Nigerians to get used to free and fair elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should not rely on the strange tradition of a physically enforced democratic ethos. Instead, the commission should use its status of independence to take charge of its mandate. It should cultivate the confidence of the people by operating efficiently. It should sustain its new vigour to end basic and routine problems such as the lateness of men and materials to election venues. Although inter-agency support could be useful sometimes, the commission needs to evolve a system that disallows other institutions that are propelled by materialism from soiling its work. Investing on technology is no doubt a more reliable option than the use of compromised law enforcement agents. For example, it was INEC’s plan ‘B’ and not security agencies that thwarted the attempt by unscrupulous persons to use software to rig the Osun election
Besides, the law enforcement agencies have on several occasions proven to be part of INEC’s challenges. First, they can be overzealous as INEC found in Osun recently where its own officialswere arrested around 9p.m., on the eve of the election while on their way to their duty posts and were not released until about 6am the next day, a situation that almost disrupted the distribution of electoral materials in some areas. Second, the unfettered use of security agents in Osun exposed the inexplicable securing of election by masked security men with unknown identity.
History having shown that the use of security agencies in elections compromises such agencies, the Military needs to be wary of the assignment. One great legacy that our present military leadership can bequeath to its successors is to halt the use of the military for mundane civil duties. If as IBB pointed out, seeing military personnel on the streets alone is an anomaly, asking them to man check points which exposes them to converting such posts to toll gates as policemen do, will no doubt dissuade them from high military ethical traditions. Some operatives will even find a way of being posted to checkpoints rather than fighting the current insurgency in the nation making it difficult for us to distance the rumoured military mutinies in the North East of the country from the civilianization of our soldiers.
The stand of the Military High Command that the publicity of the purported refusal of deployment of soldiers to war zones is the act of an impostor may be correct but it is simplistic to stop at that. Is all well with our military? If yes, it is curious that the famous Col. Abubakar Dangiwa Umar has listed possible causes of what he calls “imminent service-wide revolt” to include “dubious recruitment method, poor training and equipment, lack of motivation and deployment of soldiers to purely police duty like checkpoints at which they are seen soliciting and receiving bribe”.
Can such people fight a war? America does not think so judging by the testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, by its Air Force Chief of staff, Gen. Mark Welsh III, that the Nigerian military is, “quite frankly, becoming afraid to even engage”. The revelation by a former British military attaché to Nigeria, Col. James Hall that in Mali last year, Nigerian peacekeepers, had to buy pick-up trucks while their armor kept breaking down is similarly instructive.
Can we then blame wives of soldiers serving in Maiduguri who reportedly took to the streets the other day to protest a planned deployment of their husbands to reclaim Gwoza and other volatile areas which were seized by insurgents? How come such protests were not heard of during the dangerous days of ECOMOG deployments to Liberia and Sierra Leone? It will be good to examine the allegation of the protesters that their husbands are being sent to war zones without adequate weapons.
To the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal who says the legislator does not tamper with military budgets, it is a great pity that soldiers who sacrifice their lives are not well cared for. The Speaker claimed that the last time he passed by the barracks in Bauchi, what he saw was an eyesore suggesting that “the welfare of our men is still unattended to”. We submit that it is time to care more for our military personnel, preserve their splendid isolation and prepare them not for election duties but for war in a world where attack is obviously the best form of defence.