By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Kingsley Omonobi, Innocent Anaba, Joseph Erunke, Brisibe Perez, Henry Ojelu and Onozure Dania
ABUJA — Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, said yesterday that the Nigerian Army is in possession of intelligence showing that some politicians are planning to use mercenaries for acts of assassinations, using farmers/herders clashes as well as ethnic militias to perpetrate violence and bombings during the March 9 governorship/state Houses of Assembly elections.
His statement, however drew immediate reactions from some Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SANs, who argued it was the responsibility of the Police to maintain internal security.
Similarly, elder statesman and former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark, implored the Federal Government to withdraw soldiers deployed in the Niger Delta for election purposes to avert further killings.
Addressing Principal Staff Officers, General Officers Commanding and Field Commanders of Army formations in Abuja, the COAS said politicians have made these and other plans to use all means available to truncate the peaceful conduct of Saturdays’ elections.
He, however, warned: “We will not allow this to happen. This time around, we shall be tough on those who plan to rig or disrupt the electoral process.
“I want to, therefore, appeal to Nigerian youths to shun any attempt by any politician to use them to perpetrate violence.”
He vowed that those who killed an Army officer and three soldiers who were performing their legitimate duties in the Niger Delta will be fished out and dealt with in accordance with the law.
Buratai said: “Let no one be in doubt that those desperate politicians and criminals that attacked our troops in the course of carrying out their legitimate duties will be tracked down and brought to justice.”
Probe panel set up on complaints
On the several allegations of soldiers’ involvement in electoral infractions, the Army Chief said a high powered investigation committee had been constituted to look into all the complaints, with a view to sanctioning those found wanting.
He stated further: “There have been reports of compromises by some personnel during the elections. We have received complaints from some stakeholders, major political parties, governors of Bayelsa, Ogun and Oyo states, of allegations of misconduct as well as unprofessional conduct by some of our personnel.
“Some states have gone to the press with unsubstantiated allegations without recourse to the Nigerian Army leadership. Nonetheless, all these complaints are noted and will be addressed appropriately.
“A high-powered committee has been convened and instituted to investigate all cases of alleged misconduct by troops arising from the 2019 general elections. This is aimed at ensuring that all cases are thoroughly looked into, for the purpose of dispensation of justice and to uphold the Nigerian Army’s credibility, professionalism and apolitical stand.
“I want to use this opportunity to congratulate you all for the professional manner you executed my directives for Operation Safe Conduct.
“The proactive intervention of Nigerian Army in the recently-concluded Presidential and National Assembly elections contributed greatly to its successful conduct and credibility.
“I am glad to note that both international and local observers and, indeed, the Nigeria print and electronic media applauded the professional role played by the Nigerian Army in ensuring that a secure and conducive environment was created for eligible voters to exercise their civic rights.
“Unfortunately, some level of violence was still recorded leading to disruption of polls, burning of ballot boxes in some areas as well as loss of lives, including the death of an officer and three soldiers.
“The Nigerian Army, to a large extent, ensured that the large scale electoral malpractices and acts of thuggery aimed at disenfranchising voters as witnessed in previous elections were curbed, despite the campaign of calumny orchestrated by some politicians against us.
“Overall, I am delighted to note that the first phase of Operation Safe Conduct was a huge success.
“Despite the bomb explosion in some parts of Maiduguri and attack in Geidam, troops of Operation Lafiya Dole were able to decisively deal with the attacks and secured the area for a successful conduct of elections.
“We must, therefore, consolidate on this success and prepare adequately for the second phase of the election by reviewing our plans with a view to correcting observed lapses to ensure a peaceful poll that will reflect the wishes of Nigerians that have the right to determine those that govern them.
“Recent security threat assessment and analysis of the coming elections showed that politicians have made plans to use all means available to truncate the peaceful conduct of the elections.
“There are indications of their intent to take advantage of and to use the farmers/herders crisis, armed political thugs and ethnic militias to perpetrate acts of violence, including bombings.
“Some of them also intend to infiltrate domestic staff of political opponents, employ mercenaries to carry out acts of assassinations, use the social media for smear campaigns, hate speech and spread fake news in a bid to disrupt the peaceful conduct of the elections. We must not allow them succeed.
“Let me reiterate that the Nigerian Army will enforce all guidelines in support of the Nigeria Police Force to ensure the peaceful conduct of the elections in line with its constitutional roles.
“I, therefore, want to remind us all not to rest on our oars. We shall not allow those who are determined to undermine our electoral process succeed.
“These forthcoming gubernatorial and state assembly elections are very crucial. This is an election that touches on the interest of the people at the grassroots and could likely be volatile in nature.
“It is important to reiterate that politicians will employ and deploy all means to outwit one another to gain control of power at this level.
“We may recall that in the recently-concluded polls, some politicians in their quest for power, armed thugs and miscreants with automatic weapons, induced and coerced youth corps members and INEC ad-hoc staff to perpetrate acts of electoral malpractices.
“We must, therefore, continue to support the NPF and other security agencies to prevent these malpractices from occurring again. I, therefore, urge all commanders to work assiduously and closely with the civil authorities and all law abiding individuals as well as groups to ensure the success of the elections.
“During the course of the recently-concluded elections, troops of the Nigerian Army were able to make arrests of persons who perpetrated acts of electoral offences. These suspects are to be immediately handed over to the police for prosecution.
“I want to state and categorically warn that the Nigerian Army will not tolerate any acts that will undermine national security.
“This time around, we shall be tough on those who plan to rig or disrupt the electoral process. I, therefore, want to appeal to Nigerian youths to shun any attempt by any politician to use them to perpetrate violence.
“As we mourn the death of the young officer and soldiers killed in the course of their lawful duty during the recently held election, I want to assure their families that their death will not be in vain.
“In line with the tradition of the Nigerian Army, they will be given heroic burial as they are, indeed, the heroes of our democracy. I have directed that their full entitlements be paid.
“Let no one be in doubt that those desperate politicians and criminals that attacked our troops in the course of carrying out their legitimate duties will be tracked down and brought to justice.
“We have all seen the advantages of the NA Situation Room for Elections Security Monitoring. This laudable innovation to security monitoring has received accolades from different quarters and already promoting inter-agency cooperation.
“There is no doubt it assisted us in timely decision making and more timely response to situations. I want to urge all commanders to further key into the platform. As we take decisions and respond, we must have at the back of our mind that the army must remain professional and apolitical all through the electoral process.
“There have been reports of alleged compromises by some personnel during the elections. We have received complaints from some stakeholders, major political parties, governors of Bayelsa, Oyo and Ogun states of allegation of misconduct as well as unprofessional conduct by some of our personnel.
“Unfortunately some other states have gone to the press with unsubstantiated allegation without resort to the NA leadership. Nonetheless, all these complaints are noted and will be addressed appropriately.”
Army should shun publicity — Ojukwu
In his reaction, Prof Ernest Ojukwu, SAN, said: “I have not read the judgment or order by a court that the Military should be withdrawn from any zone or location in the country, so I am not in a position to give an opinion on what was decided.
“Generally speaking, obedience to rule of law primarily includes obedience to court orders by all, governments, public officers and private individuals and entities.
“I have also not read the mentioned alert by the Chief of Army Staff relating to planned assassinations. If the Army has information on such security issues, I think it will be useful to share it with all law enforcement agencies who should take appropriate measures to secure citizens lives and properties. The Army should not be engaging in gallery and staged media publicity that tend only to create panic in the society.”
Army should be careful — Sofola
Mr Olusina Sofola, SAN, on his part, said: “Ordinarily the Police is the outfit saddled with the responsibility of ensuring internal security among the citizenry of Nigeria. However in extreme situations, the military may be invited to ensure that peace is sustained.
“It follows that the military should not be involved in ensuring peace during elections. But we have an unusual situation and it may be argued that the military may be required to maintain peace during the elections. But it must be careful not to be seen as intimidating the citizenry.”
Judiciary has ruled on the matter — Quakers
Mr Norrison Quakers, SAN, said: “The judiciary has ruled that the military should not be deployed or participate in providing security during elections which is ascribed to the Police force. Security agencies have been enjoined to share information due to legal or constitutional limitations.
“It is against this backdrop that I dare say that the Chief of Army Staff’s statement that politicians want to use mercenaries to carry out assassinations is information meant for the police to investigate. If our democratic experience must deepen and thrive, our institutions must work within the ambit of our constitution and regulatory laws or statutes.”
COAS acting outside his powers — Bob
Mr Solomon Bob, a lawyer and a member of House of Reps-elect, said: “The Chief of Army Staff is acting outside the purview of his powers. If indeed he has such information, it is for him to share it with the police, and not to usurp the constitutional responsibility of other agencies of government.
“Also, Chief Clark’s call is in order. This administration is engaging in outright illegality by deploying the military for election purposes, particularly to suppress voter turnout in the Niger Delta which is opposition stronghold, and also to help members of the ruling party rig elections.”
Army needed more in N-East than N-Delta — Mbaebie
Another lawyer, Mr Israel Mbaebie, said: “Events that play out in Nigeria these days smack of the theatre of the worst absurd. We have the Ministry of Interior, DSS, Police and other bodies that are constitutionally mandated to safeguard our internal security.
“The role of the military is and remains the defence of our external integrity/sovereignty in times of war, external aggression and sometimes in times of national emergencies.
“The military making such pronouncements at this time is totally uncalled for. Internal security is outside the precincts of the military and I, therefore, totally and unequivocally condemn it in the strongest of terms. There was absolutely no basis for the military to make that pronouncement.
“With regards to military presence in the Niger Delta, I do not honestly think that the people of Niger Delta needed a court order to remove the military from their place as their presence is actually uncalled for considering that bombings by militants do not occur anymore there.
“It is actually a paradox that while military presence needed to be increased in the North-East to checkmate insurgency, military personnel are being stationed in the Niger Delta. I am therefore, in agreement that the military personnel stationed in the Niger Delta should be redeployed to flash-points of the North East. That’s where they are actually needed.”
Similarly, Mr Terry Badmus, said: “The role of security agencies is not mutually exclusive, and they can synergise when necessary, especially where one is more proactive than the others when it comes to issues of emergency.
“On the call for military withdrawal, please note that the court order is in reference to election duty and not against any breakdown of law and order that may mar the election which the constitution itself back.”
Pull Army out of N-Delta now, says Clark
Meanwhile, in apparent response to the Chief of Army Staff’s statement, elder statesman and former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark, yesterday called on the Federal Government to obey the law and pull the Army out of the Niger Delta states to forestall further hostilities and unnecessary killings in the region.
Clark, at a press conference at his Kiagbodo country home in Delta State, also enjoined Deltans to re-elect Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of the PDP, because he has performed well.
He said: “The presidential election has come and gone and February 28 deadline for the military’s Operation Python Dance has elapsed. I, therefore, strongly advise that the Army be withdrawn, to forestall further hostilities and unnecessary killings in the region.
“It is on record that the Army in January gave the impression that Operation Python Dance would last between January and February 28, 2019. I am informed that the purpose of this military operation is for the security of the area, particularly in the South-South and South-East and that it has nothing to do with the elections.
“By what I have seen, as earlier suspected, the military was more involved in the conduct of the just concluded Presidential and National Assembly elections than even the police. My concern, mostly in the South-South and South-East is ridiculous.
“It is now clear to us that the involvement of the army was purposeful — to intimidate and prevent South-South and South-East voters from exercising their franchise and to aid and abet the manipulation of votes to favour the incumbent and to determine the general voting pattern in the country.
“The Federal Government needs to be reminded that deployment of the military on election duties is an aberration, and same as has been pronounced upon and consequently laid to rest in the Court of Appeal in the case of All Progressives Congress v Peoples Democratic Party and Ors. CA/EK/EPT/GOV/1/2015 delivered on Monday, 16th day of February 2015.’’
Regarding the governorship contest in Delta State, he stated: “I am appealing to all Deltans, politicians and contestants of political offices in Delta State to distance themselves from anything that will cause bloodletting in the state.
“The governorship election of Saturday, March 9 2019, is not about Governor Okowa, as a person but it is about the unity of the state, the need to sustain equity and justice so that every senatorial district can have a sense of belonging in peace, political relevance and economic prosperity.
“This unity is in each senatorial zone, which is having a taste of the governorship of the state to foster understanding and goodwill that translate to economic and political stability.
“This Saturday March 9, 2019, Deltans, irrespective of ethnic nationality, will decide who the governor of Delta State becomes. We should collectively vote for Okowa to have a second term because not doing so is entrenching injustice, discrimination and promoting primordial sentiment that has held the state backward.”