By Owei Lakemfa
NIGERIANS who are alive today, should wish themselves happy survival because scores of their compatriots have been sent to untimely graves within the last five weeks in election-related violence.
Perhaps the most heart rendering is the case of 61-year-old Sir Daperi Amachree. His daughter, Ibisaki Amachree, a computer scientist and ad hoc official of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in Bakana, Degema Local Government Area of Rivers State, was shot dead during the Presidential and National Assembly Elections on February 23. She had concluded the elections and was going to submit her report for collation when a bullet took her precious and irreplaceable life.
Amachree posted the photograph of his daughter, who was also his first child, on Facebook and wrote: “Here lies my beautiful daughter Ibisaki, a post-graduate degree holder, full of cheer, love and kindness and mother of two. She was shot dead yesterday by a trigger happy and jittery soldier while she was on a national assignment with INEC. I have never arranged for the death of any youth. I hate violence and thuggery. If law enforcement agents have to kill an enemy, should it be my responsible and peaceful daughter? …She was among the dozens of young lives lost on that day.”
Ibisaki’s death, again, raises the issue of the role of soldiers in elections and national politics.
When I was a kid in Lagos, the then capital of the country, it was rare to see a soldier in uniform. They simply blended with the populace. They were not heard, and were rarely seen. One day, there was a commotion; it was caused when a soldier in camouflage walked down the street. Some adults thought it was a change of uniform. But an obviously informed person explained it was camouflage and was worn in war. So the talk shifted to whether there was going to be war. Such was the oddity. But today, it is not only common place, but it is also not uncommon to see policemen on the streets in camouflage.
But no oddity surpassed soldiers playing the role of the political leaders of the country. In the process, the country was plunged into a bloody Civil War reinforcing the fact that as an institution, the military given its training, orientation and mandate, is unsuitable for civil duties or governance.
In the last 20 years since soldiers were forced back to the barracks, the country has been struggling to de-militarise governance; to re-orientate the country after a cumulative 29-year military rule. This has, of course, not been easy, especially when many in politics, including Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari, are beneficiaries of military coups that enabled them at various times to be Heads of the Nigerian State.
Even today, many Nigerians who were weaned in the military era, have not lived down the culture of militarisation nor have many in the armed forces. This is the situation the country found itself as we went into the 2019 elections with the armed forces playing roles which are neither captured in the electoral law nor our constitution.
It is the INEC that is charged with conducting the elections with the police providing security. Even so, the police is not allowed to carry arms at polling booths.
So, the involvement of the armed forces in elections which is purely a civil matter, is a gross violation of the constitution. When we should speak as a collective; that the armed forces should stay clear of elections and allow Nigerians a free choice of candidates at all levels, I am distressed reading even senior lawyers justify such brazen violation by claiming that the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, used the military in a similar fashion when it was the ruling party. Such persons had also weeks ago, justified the directive of President Buhari that the military and police should shoot ballot box snatchers at sight. So rather than the soldiers being in their barracks performing their civic responsibility of voting for candidates of their choice, they were out in the streets on military operations.
On Wednesday March 6, the army announced that it had uncovered plots by some politicians to disrupt the March 9 gubernatorial elections by setting off bombs, using herdsmen, thugs, assassination, and smear campaigns on the social media. Clearly, the army is not equipped to deal with these, and all that was required was for it to avail the police with such information and not to assume that it is its responsibility to handle such matters.
The subordination of the armed forces under civilian control must be absolute; the military has no initiative to take on elections which is a purely civil matter. Therefore the European Union, EU, Election Observers that went to the Nigerian Army enquiring about security measures for the March 9 elections were neither helping our democracy nor assisting our military to concentrate on its core mandate. The EU Deputy Chief Election Observer, Hannah Roberts, said the team was visiting the Chief of Army Staff and his subordinates because: “It is important for us to understand some of the security challenges you have and the way you see things going forward.” This is a blatant interference in Nigeria’s internal affairs. If the foreigners truthfully wanted to understand Nigeria’s security challenges in the elections, it is to the police or government they should have gone, not the army. In any case, Nigeria has a Minister of Defence who can speak on such matters on behalf of the entire armed forces.
No Observer Mission will do that anywhere in Europe. Belgium where the EU has its headquarters and which is also the home country of Ms. Maria Arena, the Head of the EU Electoral Observer Mission to Nigeria, went without an elected government for 589 days (2010-2011) and nobody consulted its army on the security measures in place. Rather, the civil authorities were allowed to sort out the disagreements between the warring Flemish and Wallons. In the European Parliamentary elections, no European army is involved in its conduct. The first elections held in Nigeria was 96 six years ago; so no European should come here and insult us as if Nigeria is new to holding elections.
Whatever the machinations and intrigues, whether local or international, what is certain to me, is that Nigeria will survive. Happy survival to all!