By Kingsley Omonobi, Joseph Erunke & Dirisu Yakubu
•Says PDP candidate trying to incite Army against constituted authority
•Obey orders, be loyal 100 per cent or resign, Buratai tells officers, soldiers
•Don’t politicise military, PDP warns, adds Buhari lacks powers to deploy soldiers for election
•Leave politics, tackle insurgency, Atiku replies COAS
•FEC backs Buhari’s order on ballot box snatchers
ABUJA — Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, yesterday, asked the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, to withdraw his statement asking the Army to disobey the president’s directive to be ruthless on ballot box snatchers.
Speaking at a meeting he held with Principal Staff Officers, General Officers Commanding and Brigade Commanders ahead of the polls billed to commence this Saturday, Buratai warned politicians and their supporters against testing the will of the army, insisting that those found to have violated the law, will be treated in line with President Buhari’s directive.
At an emergency caucus meeting of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Abuja last Monday, the President warned that anyone who foments trouble, especially by carrying ballot boxes, would be doing so at the “expense of his life.”
”Anybody who decides to snatch boxes or lead thugs to disturb the election, maybe that would be the last unlawful action you would take. I have given the military and police the order to be ruthless.
”I am going to warn anybody who thinks he would lead a body of thugs in his locality to snatch boxes or to disturb the voting system; he would do it at the expense of his/her own life,” the president said.
Reacting to the President’s orders, PDP Presidential Candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, speaking at the 84th emergency meeting of the PDP national executive council, said Buhari was not involved in the struggle for democracy in Nigeria.
“I want to direct this message to our military commanders and officers. You know that the military commanders and officers are not bound to execute orders that are manifestly unlawful,” Atiku said.
“This is the law, this is the tradition in the military; so if you are a professional military officer and soldier and also a policeman, you are not bound to execute an order that is manifestly unlawful, no matter who issues that order.”
Atiku’s statement unfortunate — COAS
Buratai, who said that Atiku’s statement was unfortunate given that he was in the highest level of government in the country before and knew fully that the Nigerian Army in particular and the military in general are meant to obey the orders of the Commander-In-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces to the latter, said they will treat Buhari’s latest order with exception.
Alhaji Abubakar however, fired back at the Army Chief, urging him to channel his energy to tackling insurgency in some parts of the country rather than dabbling into partisan realm.
On its part, the PDP warned Buratai not to drag officers and men of the military into the murky waters of partisan politics, adding that President Buhari lacks the powers to deploy the military for election purposes, as there is a subsisting judgement of the Court of Appeal, which on February 15, 2015, held that the President has no powers to deploy soldiers in the conduct of elections.
FEC backs Buhari’s directives
This came as the Federal Executive Council, FEC, yesterday, backed President Buhari’s directives to security agencies to be ruthless with ballot box snatchers in the coming polls.
Briefing State House correspondents after the weekly FEC presided over by the President at the Council Chamber, Presidential Villa, Abuja, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said: “Absolutely. I mean if you want to intimidate voters to steal the mandate of the people, you should be able to face the wrath of the law.”
Speaking at a meeting he held with the Principal Staff Officers, General Officers Commanding and Brigade Commanders ahead of the polls billed to commence this Saturday, Buratai warned politicians and their supporters against testing the will of the army, insisting that those found to have violated the law, will be treated in line with President Buhari’s directive.
Although, he did not categorically mention the former Vice President’s name, his description of the subject of his address pointed to the PDP presidential candidate.
His words: “It is unfortunate to hear persons who are aspiring to rule this country again inciting the army to disobedience. We have consistently stated our position in the political dispensation to remain neutral and apolitical.
“However, direct and public incitement of the Nigerian Military against democracy and constituted civil authority will not be tolerated. I request such persons to withdraw this inciting statement. Let me re-emphasize loud and clear that the Nigerian Army is a professional army.”
Turning to the Army personnel, Buratai said:”The foundation of military professionalism is discipline and without discipline an army cannot stand. One of our core values is loyalty to constituted authority.
“Loyalty must be 100 per cent. I shall leave you in no doubt as to our resolve to bequeath a professionally responsive army to Nigeria and Nigerians.”
The army chief disclosed that personnel attached to retired Army Generals, especially those who have become politicians will be withdrawn just as he said no political actors will be allowed Army escort.
“Should any officer or soldier have doubts as to his loyalty to the Nigerian State as presently constituted, such a person has up to February 22, 2019 to resign. There is no room for indiscipline or disobedience to lawful orders in the Nigerian Army today.
“I want to remind all here present that the act of electoral thuggery, snatching of ballot boxes, illegal possession of election materials and similar crimes are intended to mar an election and create deliberate avenues for post-election violence and mayhem.
“Such actions can also become more damaging when they are widespread, leading to destruction of lives and properties. Incidences of this nature in previous elections are often planned and orchestrated by politicians and the Nigerian Army has hitherto been very cautious in its approach.
“However, this time around the Nigerian Army will adopt a proactive posture that ensures that similar incidences do not even arise.
“Accordingly, in addition to my earlier directives to you in the last Operations Conference, I wish to lay emphasis on the following actions that all commanders are to abide by. Commanders must deal decisively with any electoral crime or action that would be inimical to national security.
“Commanders are to ensure that they and their personnel do not hobnob with politicians at any level. In this regard, there will be no military escort for any politician and all Nigerian Army personnel are to stay clear of retired military officers especially those who are now politicians until after the elections.
“Commanders are to conduct extensive patrols within their AORs. They must ensure that all flash points within the area are dominated.
“Commanders must, in conjunction with the Nigerian Police Force enforce the restriction on movement within their AORs. All vehicles must be searched and suspicious persons or vehicles arrested/impounded and later handed over to the police.
“Commanders must ensure they key into the NA Elections Security Monitoring Situation Room to send and receive near real-time information on events, as they occur in their areas of responsibilities.
“I have laid emphasis on these few points to remind everyone that these are delicate times and the NA must support Nigeria’s march towards enduring democracy. In the course of the conference, I will expect every one of you to comment on your preparations for the elections as it affects your various areas of responsibilities.
“Our role in support of democracy cannot be overemphasized; hence all hands must be on deck to ensure we have a successful outing for the next elections.”
He thanked the president for what he called “his invaluable support to the Nigerian Army towards ensuring success in our various operations.
“The Nigerian Army must remain totally committed to the defence of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Remember that the Nigerian Army must continue to remain apolitical, professional and responsive in the discharge of its constitutional roles,” he further stressed.
Why we’re meeting again, by COAS
The Chief of Army Staff reminded the army officers that the meeting was called to review strategies adopted two weeks ago towards the conduct of general election which he noted, was later postponed.
“You will all recall that just two weeks ago, we all met here for an Operations Conference that was held to strategize on the Nigerian Army’s roles during the 2019 General Elections, which was earlier planned to commence from February 16.
“Unfortunately, the election did not hold as planned and has been postponed to hold on February 23 and March 9. This shift in date has necessitated a need to review some of the decisions taken at the last conference and also to reiterate some of the directives passed to you in light of the postponement of the elections.
“I wish to first remind all of you that the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable. Hence those who seek to undermine our democracy by interfering in our electoral process must be seen as enemies of Nigeria and dealt with appropriately.
“Our role is aptly captured in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and we must defend Nigeria’s territorial integrity as well as act in aid of civil authority when called upon to do so.
“Therefore, commanders must work with all stakeholders, interest groups and agencies to avert any act by any individual, groups or entities that seek to undermine our democratic process.
“As expected, Nigerians have expressed general disappointment with the postponement of the elections. The postponement has also increased apprehension in the populace and the international community with regards to safety of voters and the electoral materials.
“It is therefore, vital that the Nigerian Army alongside other security agencies rise up to the challenge of ensuring a peaceful outcome to this general election so as to give confidence to Nigerian citizens and to reassure the international community about our electoral process.
“In light of this, I am pleased with the smooth activation of Operation Safe Conduct and the success of Operation Egwu Eke III. In addition, the recent launching of the Nigerian Army Situation Room for Elections Security Monitoring, will also ensure we have real time feedback from the field.
“As we engage in these operations, we must remember that the army remains apolitical to ensure that no negative aspersion is cast on the Nigerian Army before, during or after the elections.”
Atiku to COAS: Leave politics, tackle insurgency
On his part, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar through the spokesman of the PDP Campaign Council, Kassim Afegbua, said: “The Chief of Army Staff should be guided appropriately by relevant international protocols and conventions coupled with other domestic extant laws relating to the conduct of elections which do not prescribe any role whatsoever for the military.
“The military should devote its time and energy on the battle against insurgency across the country instead of blowing hot air where there is none just to create panic in the minds of Nigerians.
“It will be good to notify the COAS that Nigerians will remain resolute before, during and after the elections in defence of their constitutional rights to vote and be voted for without let or hindrance. We have since alerted our supporters to be law-abiding and conduct themselves within the labyrinth of the law during the election and voting process. This country is so dear to us, hence we will caution against any attempt to plunge it into avoidable crisis.”
Don’t politicise our military, PDP warns Buratai
The PDP in a statement signed by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan yesterday, enjoined General Buratai to be guided by the provisions of the laws in his utterances especially as they relate to democracy.
He said, “General Buratai is counselled to note that the loyalty of the military is to the state and that the President lacks the powers, under our laws, to deploy soldiers for the conduct of election.
“The PDP states that Atiku Abubakar spoke on the side of the law and wishes of Nigerians and cannot be intimidated by any body no matter how highly placed.
“Our party urges General Buratai to concentrate on his very demanding assignment of protecting the territorial integrity of our nation and ending insurgency rather than dabbling into partisan politics at the risk of our national cohesion.
“It is imperative to state that by trying to drag the military to participate in the February 23 Presidential election, President Buhari plots to suspend our constitution, assume the position of an emperor, trigger unrest, subvert our electoral process and derail our democracy.
Buhari lacks powers to deploy soldiers for election — PDP
“The party directs President Buhari to the judgment of the Federal High Court, Lagos on March 23, 2015, wherein the court, presided over by Justice Ibrahim Buba, directly outlawed the deployment of troops in the conduct of elections in our country.
“President Buhari should also avail himself of the subsisting judgement of the Court of Appeal, which on February 15, 2015, held that the President has no powers to deploy soldiers in the conduct of elections.
“The PDP further counsels President Buhari and General Buratai to end their rationalizing of military option, as the courts have summarily dismissed their arguments that soldiers are needed to guarantee peaceful elections.”
“It may interest President Buhari to know that the judgement was sequel to a suit by the APC Leader in the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, seeking a declaration that deployment of soldiers during elections is illegal and unconstitutional.
“In case, President Buhari is not aware, as usual, that the court directly held that “the Armed Forces have no role in elections” and if soldiers must vote, they must do so in their barracks.
“The time has come for us to establish the culture of democratic rule in the country and to start to do the right thing particularly when it has to do with dealing with the electoral process, which is one of the pillars of democracy.
“In spite of the behaviour of the political class, we should by all means try to keep armed personnel and military from being a part and parcel of the electoral process.
“The state is obligated to confine the military to their very demanding assignment, especially in this time of insurgencies by keeping them out of elections’, the court held.
“The priming of the military ahead of the election, therefore, heightens the fear of plots by the APC to plunge our nation into crisis and use security forces to subjugate Nigerians, seeing that President Buhari has no chance of winning the February 23 Presidential election.
“The PDP therefore, cautions President Buhari not to allow his desperation to push him to corrupt the patriotism of our military and use them against innocent Nigerians, whose only demand is for a free, fair and credible election.”