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Deploying soldiers for elections

Given the present divisive political climate in the country, it is not surprising that a lot of heated arguments have trailed the veracity or otherwise of deploying soldiers for the forthcoming elections.
Expectedly, such arguments have followed predictable partisan lines with the Federal Government and the opposition holding differing views. Those in support of deploying soldiers base their arguments on the fact of insecurity in the country, especially in the Northeast where a raging Boko Haram insurgency is threatening to frustrate the holding of elections there. But those opposed to deploying soldiers across the country on elections days say it is not only unsettling; it has the unintended consequence of frightening away voters from polling stations.
They say Nigerians always see soldiers as agents of any incumbent administration and so may be tempted to intimidate prospective voters into casting their ballots for the ruling party. Much as there are merits to two sides of the arguments, it still does not deviate from the fact that soldiers have a very prominent role to play in making the elections safe, especially for those willing to exercise their franchise. Given the vast geographical size of Nigeria, it would be foolhardy for anyone to expect that the police which currently are handicapped by lack of adequate manpower can effectively deploy personnel to the more than 122,000 polling booths all over the country.
If we may ask, are those politicians and political parties kicking against deployment of soldiers ready to obey the rule of law during and after the exercise, irrespective of the outcome? Also, no one is looking at the possibility of soldiers preventing whole scale rigging of the polls through ballot snatching, violence and irregular movement of election materials. Moreover, Section 217 of the 1999 Constitution and the Armed Forces Act, 2004 state “The President’s power to ‘determine the operational use of the Armed Forces in Nigeria for the purpose of maintaining and securing public safety and public order’ is a constitutional mandate donated by the constitution and the Armed Forces Act.
It is interesting to note that even Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega has been consistent in arguing that under the present circumstance, only the military has both the manpower and capability to guarantee peace on election days. Also, it is pertinent to remind those against deployment that there are precedents to this rule.
There is hardly any election in the country since the advent of the present democratic dispensation in 1999 that has not involved the active participation of soldiers for peace keeping and scaring away potential troublemakers. What the argument should be directed at is that soldiers be restricted to patrolling the highways while keeping safe distances from the polling stations. In that way, the fears of those not disposed to their presence would have been allayed.

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