Nigerian Army As Credible Partner in Deepening Democracy

18 March 2019
opinion

Nigerians with discerning minds clearly know the commitment of President Muhammadu Buhari to the peace and security of Nigeria. It is no longer a matter of conjecture that the President's resolute focus on safeguarding the lives and property of Nigerians has demonstrably moved into the stage of proactive measures and actions whenever there are signs of threats to national security.

When INEC unexpectedly shifted the date of the first round of the 2019 presidential and National Assembly elections initially scheduled to hold on February 16, many Nigerians never fully understood the reasons. Outside official niceties of insecurity threats, INEC itself, through inference, hinted of a possible violent compromise of the electoral process by incensed political actors and power monks.

The reasons deduced from the decision of the electoral umpire frighteningly yielded to the concealed, but unpleasant reality of stockpiling of arms and the contracting of armed militias to violently disrupt the electoral process to alter ballot results and deliver unearned victories to pay masters. Nigeria has experienced the gory sides of election and post-election violence or put differently, election protests, which culminate in widespread violence and killings.

Without prior warning, such protests have had a culture of becoming uncontrollable and bloody. Even where the initial idea was to peacefully stage a protest to register anger or frustrations with the outcome of the polls, the remonstrations are usually infiltrated by hoodlums, miscreants and criminals, who are usually assisted by armed political thugs and armed militias empowered by political gladiators.

So, it is easy to see bloodbath, arson, looting and vandalising of private and public properties by the so-called peaceful protesters. It leaves the nation in pains and agonies and draws the country centuries backward. In such emergency security situations, regular security is often overwhelmed or overpowered by the carefully planned and executed agenda of instigating national unrest and mayhem by desperate politicians in the guise of protesting election results.

President Buhari pictured and factored all the potential threats posed by the 2019 general elections. And the main opposition party and a coalition of opposition parties in Nigeria, threatened violence publicly or through body language.

The President hated this possibility and also knew a good leader averts mass uprisings than allow it happen before looking for remedies or chasing the shadows. When it is allowed to occur, it robs off negatively on government in multiple ways and restoration of sanity is costlier. Buhari was left with one option; that was to beef up security around the country, especially in areas notorious as flashpoints of violence during the elections.

President Buhari quickly invited the Army to complement the efforts of regular security in protecting the sanctity of the ballot. And his message to ballot box snatchers, electoral thieves and allied gangs intent on truncating Nigeria's electoral process was loud, stern and clear. Expectedly, the antagonisms, oppositions, and criticisms of the Presidency, accusing him of "militarization," of the electoral process came in torrents and very bile.

But he was not deterred. Rather it bolstered that the success of the 2019 general elections which rested on his dexterous management of security to allow Nigerians vote unmolested or intimidated and indeed, the votes should count in enthroning the leaders of their choice. He knew, Nigerians would blame him singularly for any misfortune or national security breach arising from the electoral process.

The patriotic and loyal Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and ombudsman of the counter-insurgency operations in Nigeria, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai swung into action. He promised Nigerians that the soldiers under his command would be apolitical and neutral in their side lines engagement with the 2019 electoral process.

It sounded too simplistic to be true, when Nigerians blended it with preceding experiences. Ultimately, Gen Buratai was vehement that he will not compromise any design potent enough to disrupt voters from exercising their franchise on election days or any conspiracy by armed gangs that would threaten national security before, during and after the elections.

Pleasantly, Nigerians have gone through both the presidential and National Assembly elections as well as the governorship and States Assembly elections with very negligible incidents of violence. The country has recorded zero incident of post-election violence, yet the 2019 general elections have the highest number of inconclusive ballots in recent history, which have been rescheduled for March 23, 2019.

There is a profound sentiment which Nigerians cannot conceal about the Army's involvements in the 2019 election duty. Nigerians have unanimously acknowledged Gen. Buratai, as an Army Chief who pulled back the nation from the brink of dreadful national election restiveness to peace and calm. Many Nigerians who sensed the danger of Mr. President ordering the deployment of soldiers have opined that the COAS has delivered on President Buhari's charge for a successful election devoid of any violence.

Ordinarily, it is incontestable that the Nigerian Army is too engrossed in other security threats to Nigerians such as Boko Haram terrorism, militancy, cattle rustling and armed banditry and other multifarious insurrections to be burdened with elementary duties such as providing security for elections. But some Nigerians are of a queer breed, evident in their obstinate indulgence into armed criminality.

The large reservoir of idle youths who bestrode every nook and cranny of the country, indiscernibly delight in criminality rather than eke out a decent living, perceive elections as their fertile period to make quick money from politicians. They gladly accept playing ignoble roles of thuggery and electoral thieves. These are the only auspicious times they assert their relevance or gratitude to politicians and pay masters who expend huge cash for their upkeep.

Experience has indicated that odd habits are hardly discarded by Nigerians because they survive on the illicit money they get from it. So, the deliberate heat and tension in the polity which is usually prevalent in the last weeks of electioneering campaigns; the verbal assaults on opponents; the political assassinations; the acerbic campaign songs and violent disruptions of campaigns of rivals gradually and solidly prepare the grounds for electoral violence on polling day.

There is no need to pretend, that Nigeria has attained the level of decent sanity in the electoral process. And there is no indication that the country's electoral process would be devoid of violence in the nearest future. This is discernible from the utterances of key players, especially the losers and their camp of supporters in the aftermath of the elections and when results are declared by the electoral umpire.

Therefore, there is the imperative to enlarge and deepen the participation of the Nigerian Army in the electoral process on security matters. This should be maintained until such a time, it is tested and proved that the country has regained its lost senses and prepared for ballots estranged from rancour, bitterness and violence. Nevertheless, the continuous participation of soldiers would attract some cost.

It beckons on the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) to begin to explore ways to synergize the institution of the Nigerian Army in the training of soldiers on election duty. It can be done through seminars' and refresher courses with a bias in specialized areas relevant to the Army's engagement in electoral matters. This will sufficiently equip soldiers with the perfect necessary skills and knowledge to handle such special national assignments excellently, while proudly upholding their professionalism and neutrality in the democratic process.

It is attestable that on the pedestal Nigerian soldiers have been raised by the leadership of Gen. Buratai, the country stands to benefit more if it consolidates on these gains by assisting them with adequate knowledge to sustain their stainless roles in anchoring credible and violence -free elections in the country. Nigeria needs to sustain this partnership with soldiers on security during elections.

- Onmeje wrote from the United Kingdom.

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