One major issue emerging from the governorship and state assembly elections conducted in most states of the nation, particularly Rivers State is the heaving presence of security forces. Scores of security operatives, including military officers, were drafted to lock down the states shortly before, during and after the elections with immediate consequences on peoples’ rights and freedom.
The history of post-colonial electoral engineering in Nigeria is replete with instances of militarism and violence during elections. What comes to mind when we look at the roles played by the military in the electioneering process is the fact that the military’s integrity and respect is at risk if it allows itself to become puppet in the hands of politicians.
INEC’s responsibility to effectively discharge their duties during and after the elections has often been a challenge and has continued to threaten Nigeria’s effort to achieve sustainable democracy. The mode of involving security forces and how they carry out their duties in the electoral process in Nigeria can also be adduced as part of the causes of violence and insecurity during elections.
It is not surprising therefore that one issue which has drawn criticism and the fury of Nigerians is the deployment of the military during elections particularly the 2019 Presidential/National Assembly and Governorship/State Assembly elections, with the later recording a more terrifying experience. Rather than relying on the police to provide the security needed during the gubernatorial elections, a large detachment of soldiers and other security operatives were deployed to assist and ensure a “peaceful” conduct of the elections.
In Rivers State, tensions reached high heavens when men of the Nigerian Army were alleged to have provided security for political thugs to cart away with election materials, humiliate INEC staff and take over the state headquarters of INEC. Any of these claims if true, is shameful and should be condemned by all advocates of democracy.
If election in other parts of the country was “heavily militarized”, the military/security presence in the gubernatorial elections in Rivers State was massive, with a deployment of over 30,000 strong security contingent to oversee security concerns during the election.
The Inter-Party Advisory council condemned the role of the military in the Rivers State elections.
Secretary of the National media committee of IPAC, Mr. Akinloye Oyeniyi said while commending INEC for suspending the Rivers State elections process said.
“Having got reports of skirmishes from our state chapters where elections here conducted, we can tell that the governorship elections witnessed very low turnout and widespread violence in some states and we are not happy about these developments.
“Apart from the unprecedented heavy military siege, uncontrollable killings, harassment of both voters and electoral officials as well as the taking over of results collation centers in Rivers State, all in a bid to upturn the people’s choice, by the police and military personnel, which have ultimately led to the suspension of the ongoing governorship election collation is a gross setback for our dear country democratically.
“Therefore, IPAC as the recognized body of all political parties in the country, is expressing complete disapproval of these undemocratic actions and we are calling on President Muhammadu Buhari, the Abdulsalami-led National Peace Committee as well as elder statesmen and women and well-meaning Nigerians to prevail upon all the parties involved to strictly respect the constitution of the land, which solely resides the power to elect persons into offices”.
Also Speaking, Barrister Clement Dawari argued that it is illegal for the government to use the military to maintain law and order during election.
Relying on Sections 215 and 217 of the 1999 constitution, he noted that the president of the country has the powers to deploy the armed forces, but that such powers are only applicable to the suppression of insurrection, including insurgency and aiding the police to restore order when it has broken down.
He said, “It is imperative to maintain that the effects of the militarization of the elections in most parts of the country, particularly in Rivers State is believed to have been mostly felt by members of Nigeria’s main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party. Asides that, citizens were harassed illegally, some killed, others brutally injured by the armed forces, all in all attempt to subvert the will of the people. It is shameful and should be condemned by all”.
According to him, “The army and other security agencies are meant to be backups to the police, and should intervene only when the police are posed with an overwhelming situation. But we saw how the military took over the electoral process for some selfish politicians. I weep for our democracy, and if nothing is done to put an end to this show of tyranny, we’re not too far from a society of lawlessness”.
A reason offered by the presidency and other defense chiefs on the deployment of military troops is to secure lives and property; and in the process, ensure “transparent” elections. But one troubling issue remains the show of political partisanship by the security forces. Security forces that should protect lives and properties of the citizens and the electoral umpire, INEC were used by desperate politicians to unleash terror on innocent citizens, compromise elections result and create tension in the political atmosphere.
This not only threatens our democracy as a nation, but also passes a wrong message to the international community.
The actions of the military not only affect the political scene, but it could also instigate violence particularly in the South-South region of the country. A militant group under the aegis of the Amalgamated Niger Delta Volunteer Force threatened to unleash fresh attacks on oil installations across the Niger Delta region if the activities of the military were not addressed.
In a statement titled, “Operation Red Warning: desist or we march force with force”, a member of the group, Comrade Orunene Alagborigha told journalists that the Niger Delta region has suffered deaths and desecrations in the electioneering process, and warned of the groups intended response to the actions of the military.
He said, “We are pained at the current developments in the Niger Delta especially in Rivers State where our mothers, young girls, and youths have been raped, killed at point blank, brutalized and the entire community forced out of their homes into the forest, swamps and exposed to all manner of harm and danger; traditional institutions and shrives brazening desecrated all in an attempt to foist upon the people alien and undemocratic governance process of selection thus depriving our people their fundamental rights to vote and elect leaders of their choice at all levels as enshrined in our constitution.
They said “We are equally aware of the plans by the federal government to instigate crises through the military as an excuse to declaring a state of emergency and unleashing more mayhem on our people. We are too civilized to allow this to happen in this 21st century.
“It is clear that war has been declared upon us and we hereby put the international community on notice that as a peaceful people, we are not afraid and never cowards.
Most Nigerians, particularly the political class are yet to exemplify the kind of democratic credentials which allows for what could be called, “politics based on principles and non-violence”. Given this foregoing, it may be difficult for Nigeria to have a completely demilitarized election as it happens in other popular democracies.
Attempts however must be made by the federal government and importantly, the country’s electoral body (INEC) to limit the role of the military to situations which cannot be brought under control by the police and other para-military agencies, and not the outright involvement military personnel as we saw in the March 9th elections.