The engagement of the Nigerian military in electoral matters and duties remains controversial, constitutionally problematic and democratically challenging. Constitutionally and statutorily, members of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are Nigerians and entitled to exercise their democratic franchise of electing those that will pilot the affairs of the country.
Members of the armed forces are affected by the policies and programmes of the government at the state and federal levels. Some of them have wives, brothers, sisters, cousins and relatives that are in school, pay house rents and go to the market.
The members of the armed forces ply the same roads like every other Nigerian and breath the same air. Based on all these, it will be inequitable, unjust and undemocratic to disallow them from exercising their democratic franchise. The big issue and the bone of contention is the engagement of the military with the electoral process. As pointed out, the establishment and composition of the Armed Forces of the Federation is governed by section 217 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and there is nothing in the said section that authorizes the Armed Forces to engage in or be involved in the electoral process.
The Armed Forces Act, made pursuant to section 217(2) (d) of the Constitution of Nigeria provides that the Armed Forces of the Federation shall comprise the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Air Force respectively.
It provides that the Armed Forces shall be charged with the defence of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by land, sea and air and with such other duties as the National Assembly may, from time to time, prescribe or direct by an Act.
It provides that the Navy shall, in particular, be further charged with enforcing and assisting in co-ordinating the enforcement of all customs, laws, including anti-bunkering, fishery and immigration laws of Nigeria at sea; enforcing and assisting in co-ordinating the enforcement of national and international maritime laws ascribed or acceded to by Nigeria; making of charts and co-ordinating of all national hydrographic surveys; and promoting, co-ordinating and enforcing safety regulations in the territorial waters and the Exclusive Economic Zone of Nigeria.
On the other hand, the Air Force shall, in particular, be further charged with enforcing and assisting in co-ordinating the enforcement of international law, conventions, practices and customs ascribed or acceded to by Nigeria relating to aerial or space activities in the Nigerian air space; co-ordinating and enforcing of national and international air laws acceded or ascribed to by Nigeria; and delineating, demarcating and co-ordinating of all aerial surveys and security zones of the Nigerian air space. It can be seen that there is no express constitutional or statutory provision allowing the Nigerian military to engage in the electoral process other than in the area of exercising their democratic franchise.
However, the Constitution gives the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the right and the power to organise, undertake and supervise elections and in this wise, it is their right, duty and responsibility to call in aid groups and organisations that will assist them realize this constitutional and statutory mandate.
Part of the “calling in aid” can be seen from an innocuous news report that appeared in “ThisDay Newspaper” of July 16, 2018 (https://www.thisdaylive. com/index.php/2018/07/16/2019) with the caption “2019: Navy to Provide Logistics, Security for INEC, Voters”. It read as follows: “Ahead of 2009 general election, the Nigerian Navy has put its platforms and personnel in good stead to provide logistic support for INEC in movement of electoral materials and staff to coastal areas in the South-South states.
The Flag Officer Commanding Central Naval Command (CNC) Rear Admiral Saleh Usman disclosed this at the weekend when he led top naval officers to inspect naval formations in Delta State. Usman who was accompanied by the Commander of Nigerian Navy Ship Delta (NNS Delta) Commodore Ibrahim Dewu, said the inspection was to assess the readiness of the naval officers and platforms for the 2019 elections considering the coastal terrain of his area of responsibility.
He said that the coastal areas in the South-South “have always been a major problem for the INEC in terms of timely distribution of election materials as well as movement of electoral officers.”
At this level, the Nigerian people have no issues as the Navy understands the terrain and has the equipment and the personnel to ferry electoral officers and electoral materials to the difficult and dangerous coastal areas. The Navy has the capacity to protect the materials and protect the personnel. To the credit of the Navy, the Nigerian people have not really complained about their performance. The same thing goes for the Nigerian Air Force.
The electoral management body has relied on them in the past to move electoral materials to difficult areas and terrains.
They have assisted in the quick evacuation and safeguarding of materials. The main challenge remains with the Nigerian Army and the rules of engagement in the electoral process. Issues and challenges unrelated to the electoral process have seen the Nigerian military engaging in internal security operations in 34 states of the country.
According to a Daily Trust, Sunday, July 8, 2018 report, the Nigerian Military are engaged in Operation Safe Heaven covering Bauchi, Kaduna and Plateau State; Operation Harbin Kunama created to tackle banditry and cattle rustling covering Zamfara State; Operation Sharan Daji created to tackle communal clashes, banditry and kidnapping covering Zamfara, Kano, Niger, Kaduna, Kebbi and Sokoto; Operation Harbin Kunama 11 created to tackle cattle rustling and kidnapping covering Kano, Kaduna and Bauchi; Operation Karamin Goro created to tackle banditry, kidnapping and cattle rustling covering Kaduna and Niger states and operation Ayem Akpatuma created following farmer/ herders clashes and militia groups covering Benue, Taraba, Zamfara and Nasarawa.
We also have operation Total Freedom created to tackle farmers/herders conflict covering Kogi State; Operation Shirin Harbi created to tackle youth restiveness covering Gombe and Bauchi; Operation Awatse created to tackle vandals covering the South-West; Operation Crocodile Smile created to address the issue of militancy and sea piracy covering South-South; Operation Delta Safe created to take care of oil installations covering Niger Delta States; Operation Python Dance 1 &11created to tackle the issue of cultism, kidnapping and Biafra covering South-East; Operation Lafiya Dole created to curtail the Boko Haram crisis covering the North Eastern States; Operation Gama Aiki created to curtail the Boko Haram crisis covering the North Eastern States; Operation Safe Corridor created to curtail the Boko Haram crisis covering the North Eastern States; Operation Thunder Strike created to check insurgency covering the South-East; and Operation Whirl Stroke 1 & 11 created to tackle banditry, kidnapping and cattle rustling covering Zamfara, Benue and Taraba states.
While it is politically correct to insist that the military must keep away from elections and the electoral process, the reality of the Nigerian situation is that the military are already on ground in almost all the states of the federation.
It will be disastrous to insist that they must pull out of the states because of elections while they were called in to deal with specific situations. It is the desperation of a section of the political elite that engage in the politics of “do or die” laced with mindless violence that has thrust the military into the mainstream of the electoral process.
Through the inter agency consultative committee on election security, the military provides parameter security for elections; assists in guarding and protecting the water ways and escorts election materials and personnel in difficult terrain. We must empower the Police Force and get them to take over the maintenance of law and order as soon as the military has stabilized the situation in some of the states where they are engaged in internal security operations.
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