By Femi Falana, SAN
In 2014, the PDP-led government deployed platoons of armed soldiers to Ekiti State for the governorship. A week before the election the army banned two APC governors- Comrade Adams Oshiomole and Mr. Rotimi Amaechi from entering Ekiti State. During the election the voters were subjected to horrendous harrassment by the armed troops. The Court of Appeal condemned the illegal militarisation of the election. Embarrassed by the judicial indictment the authorities of the Nigerian Army probed the intimidation of voters in Ekiti State and flushed out the military personnel who exposed the Nigerian Armed Forces to ridicule.
Yesterday, the Nigerian Army reacted to the report of the fact finding committee set up by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which investigated the circumstances surrounding the postponement of the Rivers State governorship election. In rejecting the indictment of the military personnel who engaged in the intimidation and killing of unarmed voters in Port Harcourt the Nigerian Army has justified its intervention in the election. It is highly curious that the Nigerian Army which has set up a panel to probe the illegal activities of its personnel in the Rivers State governorship election can turn round to attack INEC for arriving at the same conclusion.
Deployment of the armed forces illegal, unconstitutional
However, it is pertinent to point out that as a result the several cases filed by the chieftains of the former ACN and CPC as well as APC from 2003 – 2015 our courts declared the deployment of the armed forces in the conduct of elections in Nigeria illegal and unconstitutional. Consequently, the amendments of the Electoral Act 2010 on March 27, 2015 empowered INEC to deploy security agencies during elections. Specifically, Section 29(3) of the Electoral Act as amended provides that:
“Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law and for purposes of securing the vote, the Commission shall be responsible for requesting for the deployment of relevant security personnel necessary for elections or registration of voters and shall assign them in the manner determined by the Commission in consolation with the relevant security agencies:
Provided that the Commission shall only request for the employment of the Nigerian Armed Forces only for the purposes of securing the distribution and delivery of election materials and protection of elections officials. “
From the information at our disposal the Nigerian Army was not deployed by the INEC to provide security in any of the collation centres in Rivers State during the Governorship election on March 9, 2019. Neither were they deployed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. Therefore, the Federal Government is called upon to investigate the illegal deployment of the armed personnel in Rivers State and other states during the 2019 general elections with a view to sanctioning the military personnel and their civilian collaborators who engaged in the intimidation and brutal killing of voters who trooped out to exercise their franchise on March 9, 2019.
Having fought the PDP-led government for turning elections in Nigeria into a “do or die” affair President Buhari owes the country and posterity a duty to put an end to the militarisation of the electoral process. After all, in Buhari vs. Obasanjo (2005) 50 WRN 1 at 311 the Supreme Court (per pats-Acholonu JSC of blessed memory) had condemned “the nationwide spread of ineptitude violence, intimidation and other acts of terrorisation as well as other barefaced acts that literally chill the bones and wound as William Shakespeare said in Macbeth (‘make the sitteth heart knock at my few evidence the use of nature’) some of the revelations that is, where the few evidence was led and proved, are blood cuddling.
That in this day and age in this country that has been independent for 45 years we can still witness horrendous acts by security officers who ought to dutifully ensure peace and tranquility in the election process, suddenly turning themselves into agents of destruction, and introduced mayhem to what ordinarily would have been a civilized way of exercising franchise by the people who are sovereign, is regrettable. I ascribe the nefarious activities of thugs and the few security officers and party men to lack of understanding of the philosophy and ethics behind election in a democratic State and lack of understanding of the dynamics of election processes.”