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Ballot snatching: Buratai backs Buhari on shot-at-sight order

…Issues Feb 22 deadline for dissenters to resign .Withdraws escorts from retired military officers

...PDP to Buratai: Don’t drag Military into politics

Andrew Orolua & Tunde Opalana, Abuja

The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, has ordered the General Officers Commanding and Commanders to fully obey the order of President Muhammadu Buhari to deal ruthlessly with ballot snatchers and electoral criminals during Saturday Presidential and National Assembly as well as March 9 governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections. General Buratai also ordered the Commanders to “deal decisively with any electoral crime or action that would be inimical to National Security.” The Chief of Army Staff gave the order on Wednesday in a meeting at the Army Headquarters Abuja with principal staff officers, General officers commanding, directors and selected field commanders. The Wednesday operational meeting was a follow-up to an earlier one held two weeks ago to strategise on the Nigerian Army’s roles during the 2019 General Elections and it came following the shift in the elections and the directive of Mr. President on Monday to put the lives of ballot box snatchers at risk. Justifying the directive, General Buratai said that “those who seek to undermine our democracy by interfering in our electoral process must be seen as enemies of Nigeria and dealt with appropriately.” Consequently, he ordered that commanders to ensure that they and their personnel do not hobnob with politicians at any level. “In this regard, 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.” “Commanders are to conduct extensive patrols within their (Area of Responsibilities) AORs. They must ensure that all flash points within their area are dominated,” he stated. “Commanders must in conjunction with the Nigeria Police Force enforce the restriction on movement within their AORs. All vehicles must be searched and suspicious persons or vehicles arrested/impounded and later handed over to the NPF. “Commanders must ensure they key into the NA Elections Security Monitoring Situation Room to send and receive near real-time information on events, as they occur in their AOR,” the COAS stated. He explained that these are proactive measures. General Buratai recalled that the election was earlier planned to commence from February 16. Unfortunately, the election did not hold as planned and has been postponed to hold on February 23 and March 9. “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 stated.

Part of his remark read thus:

“I wish to first remind all of you 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.
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, groups or entities that seek to undermine our democratic process. “As expected, Nigerians have expressed general disappointment with the postponement of the elections. The postponement has also increased apprehension in the populace and the international community with regards to safety of voters and the electoral materials. It is therefore vital that the NA alongside other security agencies rise up to the challenge of ensuring a peaceful outcome to this general election so as to give confidence to Nigerian citizens and to reassure the international community about our electoral process. “In light of this, I am pleased with the smooth activation of Op SAFE CONDUCT and the success of Op EGWU EKE III. In addition, the recent launching of the NA Situation Room for Elections Security Monitoring, will also ensure we have real time feedback from the field. “As we engage in these operations, we must remember that the army remains apolitical to ensure that no negative aspersion is cast on the NA before, during or after the elections.
“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 reemphasize 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 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. “I want to remind all here present that 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 properties. Incidences of this nature in previous elections are often planned and orchestrated by politicians and the NA has hitherto been very cautious in its approach. However, this time around the NA will adopt a proactive posture that ensures that similar incidences do not even arise.” General Buratai said that he has 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. Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has cautioned the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, to refrain himself from acts or actions that will suggest in any way that the military has become an arm of a political party. The PDP said Gen. Buratai’s allusion to its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, as well as his threats to officers and ranks to execute the order by President Muhammadu Buhari to participate in the electoral process is an aberration of our laws and a recipe for crisis. The PDP said that Atiku Abubakar spoke on the side of the law and wishes of Nigerians and cannot be intimidated by anybody no matter how highly placed. PDP spokesperson, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement counselled Gen. Buratai 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. He said: “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 into partisan politics at the risk of our national cohesion. “It is imperative to state 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 party directed President Buhari 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 our country. The PDP asked the President 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. It further counselled President Buhari and Gen. Buratai to end their rationalising of military option, as the courts have summarily dismissed their arguments that soldiers are needed to guarantee peaceful elections. “It may interest President Buhari to know that the judgment was sequel to a suit filed by the APC Leader in the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, seeking a declaration that deployment of soldiers during elections is illegal and unconstitutional. “In case, President Buhari is not aware, as usual, the court directly held that “the Armed Forces have no role in elections” and if soldiers must vote, they must do so in their barracks. “According to the court, “the time has come for us to establish the culture of democratic rule in the country and to start to do the right thing particularly when it has to do with dealing with the electoral process, which is one of the pillars of democracy. “In spite of the behaviour of the political class, we should by all means try to keep armed personnel and military from being a part and parcel of the electoral process. “The state is obligated to confine the military to their very demanding assignment, especially in this time of insurgencies by keeping them out of elections”, the court held. “The priming of the military ahead of the election, therefore, heightens the fear of plots by the APC to plunge our nation into crisis and use security forces to subjugate Nigerians, seeing that President Buhari has no chance of winning the February 23 Presidential Election”, he stated.

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