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Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Nigerian military and illegal election duty
“…It must be stated, by way of emphasis, that the Armed Forces have no role in the conduct of election (and) must not be involved except perhaps, in the area of providing logistics services to the agencies of government in the preparation for the election.”
—Justice Abdul Aboki of Court of Appeal, Abuja, on Monday, February 16, 2015
The courts have spoken! The Nigerian judiciary has ruled that the deployment of troops for election purposes is an aberration, an infraction on the Nigerian constitution and the Electoral Act. First, a Federal High Court sitting in Sokoto on Thursday, January 29, 2015 had declared that the deployment of military for election duties in the country is unconstitutional.
Justice Mohammed Rilwan, who gave the ruling while delivering judgment in a suit challenging the deployment of the military for election duties, said that apart from protecting Nigeria’s territorial integrity, there is no constitutional provision for the deployment of the military for elections. In the case instituted by the Deputy Speaker of the Sokoto State House of Assembly, Bello Goronyo, the Judge said that for the Federal Government to do so, it must have recourse to the National Assembly which would enact such a law.
On Monday, February 16, 2015, the Justice Abdul Aboki-led five-man Appeal Court sitting in Abuja upheld the position of the Federal High Court, Sokoto, on the matter. Justice Aboki gave the ruling in the Ekiti governorship election appeal case which was resolved in favour of the Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose. Justice Aboki raised some fundamental questions in coming to the conclusion reached which ousted the role of the military in elections.
According to eminent justices of the Appeal Court, Abuja, “The question is that who ordered deployment of military or soldiers in the Ekiti governorship election? Was there any act of insurrection to warrant the call on the military to restore order? And was such deployment in accordance with Sections 217 (2)(c) and 218(4) of the constitution?” Their lordships submitted that, “There is nothing before us in the records in answering the posers positively.”
“With this, whoever unleashed soldiers on Ekiti State disturbed the peace of the election on June 21, 2014, acted in flagrant breach of the constitution, and flouted the provisions of the Electoral Act which required an enabling environment by civil authorities in the conduct of elections.”
The appellate court therefore barred the use of the Armed Forces in the conduct of future elections in the country. The court further averred that “Even the President of Nigeria has no powers to call on the Nigerian Armed Forces to unleash them on peaceful citizenry who are exercising their franchise to elect their leaders.”
These two judgments cited above are heartwarming particularly at this critical juncture where the role of the military in politics is being viewed with distrust. It will be recalled that a couple of weeks back, an audio tape was allegedly released by one Captain Sagir Koli where a purported rigging plan of the June 21, 2014 governorship election in Ekiti State was perfected.
The recording professedly captured some political actors in a meeting discussing strategies for rigging the Ekiti governorship election where they also allegedly gave directives to the military to favour the PDP, claiming they were working for the Presidency. Two of the dramatis personae were reported to have owned up to attending the meeting but disagreed with the context.
It will be recalled that on June 19, 2014, the same military denied some All Progressives Congress stalwarts entry into Ado-Ekiti on a spurious “order from above.” It is this patent partisanship coupled with the fact that recently the National Security Adviser wrote to the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission saying that the security agencies would not be able to provide security for the earlier scheduled elections on February 14 and 28 thereby causing INEC to shift the polls by six weeks that make these judicial pronouncements laudable.
It will also be recalled that just last week, the national leader of the APC and a former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, raised the alarm about the siege laid to his house in Lagos by some soldiers. It also did happen that in Imo State last week, some soldiers allegedly acting on the orders of a minister of state blocked the entrance to the Imo State Government House with Armoured Personnel Carriers. The APC had also cried out that the telephone lines of its national chairman and many of its chieftains may have been bugged. These are ominous. No wonder former president Olusegun Obasanjo also alleged partisanship on the part of the military.
Now that the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal, which is a superior court, have both made legal pronouncements on the role of the military in elections, what is the implication of these judgments on our elections?
To my own mind, it does not bode well. Nigerian Armed Forces (Army, Navy and Air Force) as well as all major security agencies (Police, Civil Defence, Department of State Security Services, Federal Road Safety Commission, etc), about 16 of them, are all members of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security established by INEC in 2011 to provide some logistic support to the commission particularly in the distribution of both sensitive and non-sensitive election materials as well as provisioning of security for election personnel and materials. It is good that the appeal court had said the military can help out with the logistics. However, exempting them from providing election security needs to be revisited.
Just last Friday, February 13, the National Human Rights Commission released a 80-page report where it stated that 58 persons had died in election violence across the country between December 3, 2014 and January 31, 2015. The Chairman, Governing Council of the commission, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, while highlighting the contents of the report, noted that the 58 deaths had resulted from 49 election-related violence across 22 states in the country. If we had lost 58 lives within 60 days, that shows how volatile the forthcoming elections has been and will be. Can we then leave election security solely in the hands of the Nigeria Police, DSS and NSCDC? Will they be able to effectively police and secure the North-East zone and other hotspots across the country? It will be a suicidal gamble.
In order not to act ultra vires, I hereby enjoin President Goodluck Jonathan to do the needful as prescribed by Section 217 (2) (c) by writing to the National Assembly on the need to approve the military deployment in aid of INEC which is a civil authority. This can and should be done now that the National Assembly is back to work after their recess. In approving this however, a well spelt-out code of conduct must be handed down to the military about their limited role of providing logistic support to INEC as well as complementing the police and the DSS in providing election security. Any breach of this code should be visited with stiff punishment.