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On military deployment for elections

A major issue dotting our political architecture is whether or not the military should be deployed to provide security at the polls. As accusations and counter-accusations continue to trail the proposal, there are insinuations that politicians are busy recruiting private armies and equipping them with weapons to unleash mayhem on real and perceived enemies.

While the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has supported the move, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its presidential candidate, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, insist that the use of the military is undemocratic because it is believed that soldiers have the tendency to violate fundamental human rights of the citizenry by scaring voters away. An attempt by the APC to stop the Federal Government from using the military suffered a setback at the House of Representatives, while the Senate President, Senator David Mark, also rejected the demand as well as an attempt at summoning the security chiefs and the National Security Adviser to explain their roles in the alleged interference with the operations of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Then we need to ask these questions: Can’t the Nigeria Police enforce law and order during the forthcoming polls? Are the politicians and political parties kicking against the use of the military ready to obey the rule of law during and after the exercise, irrespective of the outcome? Those who criticise military deployment argued further that it would suppress voters’ independence, saying it’s an attempt at manipulating the process in favour of the ruling party, while the supporters of military deployment also point to these two factors. First, the general insecurity in the country, especially in the Northeast, which exposes the lives of electoral officials and party agents to serious danger due to the Boko Haram insurgency. Second, the possibility of rigging through ballot box snatching, thuggery and irregular movement of election materials. Advocates of deployment have equally claimed that the President is empowered by law to deploy the military for operational purposes. Section 8 of the Armed Forces Act ,specifically states that the President shall have the power to deploy the armed forces. The then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) candidate in governorship election in Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, once commended President Goodluck Jonathan on this saying, “what the Edo election has confirmed is that when the President and Commander-in-Chief puts the country first and he conducts himself as a statesman not just as a party leader, credible elections are possible. This is because people were apprehensive that the Nigerian Army could be misused. But of course, I told them I didn’t think they were right”.

In what could be described as a clear departure from this provision, Section 215 of the 1999 Constitution (As amended), states that the maintenance of internal security including law and order during elections shall be the duty of the Nigeria Police Force. Similarly, two different courts have also ruled that the Federal Government should desist from deploying the armed forces in the conduct of elections. A judgment delivered by Justice R. M. Aikawa of the Federal High Court in Sokoto, in the suit marked: FHC/S/CS/29/2014 among others, had restrained the President and INEC “from engaging the service of the Nigerian armed forces in the security supervision of elections in any manner whatsoever in any part of Nigeria, without the Act of the National Assembly”. Justice Abdul Aboki, in his lead judgment during the Ekiti State Governorship Election Appeal on February 16 also held that “the President of Nigeria has no powers to call on the Nigerian armed forces and to unleash them on peaceful citizens, who are exercising their franchise to elect their leaders”.

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