The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, yesterday faulted the advice by the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, that the Nigerian Army should disregard President Muhammadu Buhari's directive to deal ruthlessly with ballot box snatchers during the coming general elections.
Buratai described the former vice president's statement as unfortunate given that he was once at the highest level of government in the country and knows that the army, in particular, and the military, in general, are meant to obey the orders of the commander-in-chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces.
The COAS, who made the comments at a meeting he held with the principal staff officers, general officers commanding and brigade commanders ahead of the polls billed to commence this Saturday, asked Atiku to not only withdraw the statement but also apologise for allegedly attempting to incite the army against what he termed "constituted authority" it is meant to fully obey."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.
"However, 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. Let me reemphasise loud and clear, that the Nigerian Army is a professional army. "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 100 per cent," Buratai said.He warned politicians and their supporters against testing the will of the army, insisting that those found to have violated the law would be treated in line with Buhari's directive.
Although Buratai did not categorically mention the former vice president's name, his description of his target pointed to the PDP presidential candidate.He warned officers against playing partisan roles, saying those with such feelings had up to Friday, February 22 to resign.
Buratai also described any individual, entity or group that intends to engage in violent activities during the presidential and National Assembly elections as enemies of democracy."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. Therefore, commanders must work with all stakeholders, interest groups and agencies to avert any act by any individual, group or entity that seeks to undermine our democratic process."
In a reaction, the PDP warned Buratai, to refrain himself from actions that will suggest in any way that the military has become an arm of a political party.The PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, yesterday said that Buratai's allusion to its candidate, Atiku, as well as threats to officers and ranks to execute the alleged unlawful order by President Buhari to participate in the electoral process was an aberration and a recipe for crisis.
The party also stated that Atiku spoke on the side of the law and wishes of Nigerians and cannot be intimidated by anybody, no matter how highly placed."Buratai is counseled to note that the loyalty of the military is to the state and that the president lacks the powers, under our laws, to deploy soldiers for the conduct of elections.
"Our party urges Gen. Buratai to concentrate on his very demanding assignment of protecting the territorial integrity of our nation and ending insurgency rather than dabbling in partisan politics at the risk of our national cohesion," the statement added.The PDP further noted that "by trying to drag the military to participate in the February 23 presidential elections, President Buhari plots to suspend our constitution, assume the position of an emperor, trigger unrest, subvert our electoral process and derail our democracy."
The opposition party drew attention to the judgment of the Federal High Court, Lagos on March 23, 2015, wherein the court, presided over by Justice Ibrahim Buba, directly outlawed the deployment of troops in the conduct of elections in the country.PDP urged Buhari to also avail himself of the subsisting judgment of the Court of Appeal, which on February 15, 2015, held that the president has no powers to deploy soldiers in the conduct of elections.
The Buhari's directive has continued to attract condemnation from across the country. Atiku and other PDP leaders who met with the party's stakeholders in Kaduna yesterday said the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) was panicking over the possibility of losing the general elections.
The PDP candidate, who addressed a crowd of supporters at the Kaduna International Trade Fair complex, advised them to come out en masse to vote despite the alleged intimidation and threats coming from President Buhari and other APC leaders concerning the elections."The ruling party has seen the handwriting on the wall, that Nigerians are no longer in their support and their leaders are now intimidating and threatening voters all over. We should not succumb to the threats and undemocratic actions. Nigerians should come out on Saturday and vote them out of power in order to revive the country to the path of economic development."
Besides, the PDP National Chairman, Uche Secondus, who condemned the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai for deliberately using the casualty figures arising from a crisis to further cause tension and acrimony, urged party supporters not to engage in any form of violence in order not to play into the hands of a failing government."You all should go out and vote, guard your votes under an atmosphere of peace. Just like you can see today, the APC is raising spurious allegations. They are saying INEC has compromised. And they are saying that the military should shoot people. We in PDP are law-abiding, we don't involve ourselves in rigging. They are now afraid of losing elections, so they want to cause confusion. It will not work."
The National Vice Chairman, South-South Zone of the PDP, Emmanuel Ogidi, insisted that Buhari should apologise to Nigerians over his shooting order.In an exclusive interview with The Guardian in Lagos yesterday, Ogidi said: "There is a law on ballot box snatching and that is two years imprisonment. It is also old fashion to steal ballot box. If you run away with a ballot box, how will you enter the result? Moreover, even if an armed robber that had killed a person is caught, you have no right to kill the armed robber, not to talk of ballot box snatchers. He didn't do well as a president and he should apologise to the nation."
Women in PDP in Rivers State described the Buhari's directive as a blank cheque for genocide. The Commissioner for Women Affairs, Mrs. Ukel Oyaghiri, who spoke on behalf of the women in Port Harcourt yesterday, said the president's statement and the unusual influx of military personnel into several communities ahead of the Saturday election had left many to be apprehensive.
"This statement promotes extra-judicial killings. We are petrified by this order, as it threatens our right to exist as a people. It is a blank cheque for genocide. Our laws provide a penalty for snatching of ballot boxes. How about those who will shoot innocent citizens on the pretext that they are ballot box snatchers? How about security forces, who directly interfere with the electoral process? How about those who seize result sheets?" she queried.
A group, the Unique Women Fellowship, described Buhari's order as a "recipe for extra judicial killings". The president of the group with over 24 members, Mrs. Omowumi Popoola, at a press conference held in Ibadan, Oyo State, appealed to the president to apologise to Nigerians for his order.
A pro-democracy and non-governmental organisation, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) urged the top hierarchy of the military to be wary of falling foul of International Criminal Court (ICC) binding injunctions against committing crimes against humanity by carrying out what it described as a totally unlawful order of Buhari of the APC to shoot on sight suspected snatchers of the ballot boxes,
HURIWA said Buhari could not validly exercise the powers of the commander-in-chief in line with section 217 (1) of the constitution and subsequent provisions on the operational modalities of the armed forces during this election in the absence of a valid supporting legislation by the National Assembly, besides the fact that he is also a candidate in the election.
The group said Buhari would be committing high treason punishable under both municipal and global crimes' laws should he authorise unlawful deployment of lethal weapons extra-legally during the conduct of an election in which he is one of the over 70 contestants.HURIWA reminded the military heads that they would inevitably be arrested in Europe, America or any other jurisdictions and flown into the ICC for prosecution should any Nigerian citizen be killed extra-legally based on the "jaundiced and politically toxic but all together unconstitutional shoot-on-sight order."
In a statement yesterday in Abuja by the National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, HURIWA reminded the military hierarchy that their loyalty for now and during the periods of the elections is to the people of Nigeria and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and not to either the APC, PDP or the holder of the office of president.
The Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) Worldwide condemned the directives given by Buhari, saying the speech was undemocratic.In a statement signed in Yenagoa by its Secretary General, Mr. Alfred Kemepado, the IYC stated that it would not tolerate anybody within her territories who will do anything illegal, including snatching of ballot boxes to undermine the sanctity of the electoral process.
However, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) threw its weight behind Buhari directive on ballot box snatchers.In a statement by its Director, Prof. Ishaq Akintola, the group insisted that ballot box snatchers are killers who deserve no mercy. According to the group, those who are criticising the president are doing so out of error or ignorance. Buhari is not the first to call for action against hoodlums carrying illegal arms.
He cited the example of former President Olusegun Obasanjo who, he said, gave an order to the police to shoot criminals on sight.Noting that the president has the full backing of section 33(2)(a) of the 1999 Constitution, Akintola argued that the president's order is legitimate and constitutional.