IN line with precedents established by his predecessors, President Muhammadu Buhari ignored court rulings (including the verdict by Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court, Lagos in March 2015) that presidents lack the power to deploy the military for electoral duties as it negates democratic practice.
Shortly before the rescheduled Presidential and National Assembly elections, Buhari deployed the military and ordered them to be ruthless with ballot box snatchers and ensure election riggers “paid with their lives”. Responding, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen Tukur Buratai, affirmed that the Army would carry out the President’s order in line with constitutional injunctions.
If the Army and other armed state agencies had restricted themselves to safeguarding the election materials, electoral officials, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, facilities and the electorate , few Nigerians would have reasons to complain.
The sanctity and integrity of the 2019 general elections were grievously injured. In many parts of the country the armed forces played direct roles in the elections, chasing away accredited political party agents, newsmen and election monitors from INEC collation centres. They were also widely accused of tampering with sensitive electoral materials.
The armed forces failed to stop hoodlums who operated freely in parts of Lagos during the presidential poll, disenfranchising a section of the populace through violence, intimidation and ballot-snatching. The situation further deteriorated in oil-rich Niger Delta State, especially Rivers State, which was virtually turned into a war zone.
There were widespread shootings and many lives were lost. The INEC had no choice but to suspend the Governorship and State Assembly elections in Rivers State pending an inquiry into the virtual anarchy perpetrated by people in army uniforms.
The Nigerian Army has distanced itself from the brigandage of uniformed armed men in Rivers State, promising to set up a forensic probe. It is curious and unacceptable that despite the heavy military mobilisation in the state alleged hoodlums in military gear were still able to terrorise residents and voters unchecked.
The disruptive activities of the military was largely responsible for the poor voter turnout during the March 9, 2019 elections. People no longer felt safe. Many voters believed their votes no longer counted. This is bad for our democracy. At this rate, incumbent politicians will no longer feel they need the people’s vote to win or remain in power. That is a recipe for bad governance.
We must go beyond internal Army probe of these ugly incidents. The President must act or he would not be able to absolve himself from blame. The Army must steer clear of elections and recommit themselves to their core constitutional mandate.