"The Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai yesterday said those seeking to undermine the forthcoming general elections would be treated as enemies of Nigeria.
This is coming on the heels of remarks by President Muhammadu Buhari that he had instructed the military and the police to deal ruthlessly with ballot box snatchers and thugs.
But the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Atiku Abubakar described the president's order as unlawful which should not be obeyed by the military.
Speaking at the Army Headquarters in Abuja during a meeting with Principal Staff Officers (PSOs), General Officers Commanding (GOCs) and Directors, Buratai also the army is bound to obey orders from constituted authority.
"It is unfortunate to hear persons who are aspiring to rule this country again inciting the army to disobedience. We have consistently stated our position in the political dispensation to remain neutral and apolitical," he said, adding that "direct and public incitement of the Nigerian Military against democracy and constituted civil authority will not be tolerated, I request such persons to withdraw this inciting statement."
Though the Army chief did not mention Atiku's name, his comments were seen as a reply to the former vice president.
"The act of electoral thuggery, snatching of ballot boxes, illegal possession of elections materials and similar crimes are intended to mar an election and create deliberate avenues for post-election violence and mayhem.
"Such actions can also become more damaging when they are widespread, leading to destruction of lives and property," Buratai said.
He added that "The unity of Nigeria is not negotiable, hence those who seek to undermine our democracy by interfering in our electoral process must be seen as enemies of Nigeria and dealt with appropriately."
He said electoral sabotage in previous elections were often planned and orchestrated by politicians and the Army had been cautious in its approach. "However, This time around the Army will adopt a proactive posture that ensures that similar incidences do not even arise," he said.
Loyalty must be 100% - Buratai
The COAS said two weeks ago, the officers held an Operations Conference to strategize on the 2019 general elections earlier slated to commence from February 16.
"Unfortunately, the election did not hold as planned and has been postponed to hold on 23 Feb 19 and 9 Mar 19. This shift in date has necessitated a need to review some of the decisions taken at the last conference and also to reiterate some of the directives Passed to you in light of the postponement of the elections," he said.
According to him, "Our role is aptly captured in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and we must defend Nigeria's territorial integrity as well as act in aid of civil authority when called upon to do so.
"The foundation of military professionalism is discipline and without discipline an army cannot stand. One of our core values is loyalty to constituted authority. Loyalty must be hundred per cent.
"I shall leave you in no doubt as to our resolve to bequeath a professionally responsive army to Nigeria and Nigerians.
"Should any officer or soldier have doubts as to his loyalty to the Nigerian State as presently constituted, such a person has up to 22 February 2019 to resign. There is no room for indiscipline or disobedience to lawful orders in the NA today.
"In addition to my earlier directives to you in the last Operations Conference, I wish to lay emphasis on the following actions that all commanders are to abide by.
Commanders must deal decisively with any electoral crime or action that would be inimical to National Security.
"Commanders are to ensure that they and their personnel do not hobnob with politicians at any level."
'No military escort for politicians, retired officers'
Buratai said "there will be no military escort for any politician and all NA personnel are to stay clear of retired military officers especially those who are now politicians until after the elections."
Daily Trust reports that many retired military officers have joined partisan politics. Only recently, over 70 former military administrators and officers endorsed President Buhari for reelection.
He said commanders must ensure they key into the Army Elections Security Monitoring Situation Room to send and receive near real-time information on events, as they occur in their Area of Responsibility.
"Commanders are to conduct extensive patrols within their Area of Responsibility. They must ensure that all flash points within the area are dominated.
"Commanders must in conjunction with the NPF enforce the restriction on movement within their Area of Responsibility.
"All vehicles must be searched and suspicious persons or vehicles arrested/impounded and later handed over to the NPF.
"I have laid emphasis on these few points to remind everyone that these are delicate times and the Nigerian Army must support Nigeria's march towards enduring democracy," Buratai said, adding that the Nigerian Army must continue to remain apolitical, professional and responsive in the discharge of its constitutional roles.