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2019 Elections: Happy survival

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.”

Officials count votes in front of voters during the presidential and parliamentary elections on February 23, 2019, at a polling station in Port Harcourt, southern Nigeria. – Nigerians began voting for a new president on February 23, after a week-long delay that has raised political tempers, sparked conspiracy claims and stoked fears of violence. Some 120,000 polling stations began opening from 0700 GMT, although there were indications of a delay in the delivery of some materials and deployment of staff, AFP reporters said. (Photo AFP)

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.

Lagos politics and the ubiquitous Igbo

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!


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.