On Tuesday, a pro-democracy group known as Impact Future Nigeria (IFN) staged a peaceful protest in Abuja over the militarisation of the 2019 general elections.
After marching on some roads in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), members of the group, who carried placards with different inscriptions, proceeded to the United States Embassy to express their concerns to the international community. Some of the inscriptions on the placards read: “Our democracy is in danger’’ and “Stop using army in our elections.”
The Convener of IFN, Miss May Uneku, said that the protest was part of efforts to ensure that the governorship and houses of assembly polls slated for March 9 are not militarised.
The SDW members, numbering over 100, who protested at the headquarters of the INEC in Maitama, Abuja yesterday, cautioned the commission against postponing the polls.
Also led by Uneku of the Impact Future Nigeria, the women carried placards with different inscriptions to press home their demands. Some of the placards read: ‘Nepotism must stop’, ‘Restore our stolen mandate’, ‘No place for tyranny in modern democracy’, ‘Save our democracy’, ‘Black cloud over Nigeria’, ‘Let our votes count,’ ‘Steal our votes, steal our future’ and ‘INEC secure our husbands.’
Uneku, who insisted that the police remained the lead agency for election security, urged the army to steer clear of polling units, adding that the low voters turnout in some parts of the country in the February 23 election was attributed to high presence of military personnel.
“Unfortunately, these military men helped President Muhammadu Buhari to rig the presidential election for him to come back.
“We condemn in totality the involvement of military in our elections. During the just-concluded polls, people were killed. The elections were a total charade because there are video and pictorial evidence of people screaming for their lives, military men were harassing and shooting people.
“In 2015, there were court judgements in Abuja, Sokoto and Lagos – two federal high court verdicts and one Court of Appeal judgement – against the involvement of the military, that the president had no powers to involve the military in elections.
“But a few days to the 2019 elections, President Buhari categorically said the military should shoot anybody that would pick ballot boxes. Though we are not supporting those who will snatch ballot boxes but that pronouncement caused a lot of rancour as military men harassed, intimidated voters.”
They presented a petition to the commission, in which they alleged that the February 23 elections were characterised by violence, arson, harassment, intimidation and vandalism.
Speaking on behalf of INEC chairman, the Assistant Director (Safety), Kelechi Mmaduneme, commended the women for their peaceful conduct. He assured the protesters that the issues raised in the petition would be addressed by the electoral body.
Also, the leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Chief Edwin Clark, the Ijaw National Congress (INC) and the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) said the violence witnessed in some states during the presidential and National Assembly elections were worsened by the heavy military deployment. They declared that security during elections was the duty of the police not soldiers.
Clark, who spoke yesterday at Kiagbodo, Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State, said he was disappointed that the military was more involved in the elections than even the police.
He particularly condemned the killings in Abonnema, Asari-Toru Local Councils of Rivers State and the electoral violence in Bassambiri, Nembe, Brass, Sagbama and various parts of the Southern Ijaw councils in Bayelsa.
“It is rather very appalling to hear desperate politicians who do not enjoy popularity in their constituencies sponsoring some of this violence and killings. There have been cases and reports of the military intimidating every available person on their way to connive and cajole the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials to perpetrate electoral fraud resulting in violence and deaths,” Clark said.
The Ijaw National Congress, at a separate event, flayed the military deployment in the Niger Delta, warning that no amount of intimidation would cow Niger Deltans from voting the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidates.
The spokesman of the steering committee of the INC and former Minister of Police Affairs, Alowei Fredrick Bozimo, said: “The position the Ijaw people have taken is that we’ll all support the PDP in the forthcoming gubernatorial election, specifically Okowa as the candidate of the PDP in Delta State, and all other gubernatorial candidates of the party in the states where the Ijaw nation is predominant, namely Edo, Delta, Ondo, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers. The PDP and the Ijaw share the same aspiration of restructuring when it comes to the liberation of our people.”
The Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) urged the security agencies and INEC to be transparent in the conduct of the forthcoming elections.
President of the group, Eric Omare, said: “The violence recorded in the presidential and National Assembly elections and the infamous role played by security agencies must not be repeated in the Niger Delta.”
But the army may still be involved in the Saturday’s elections as the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, yesterday said recent security threat assessment and analysis of the coming elections showed that politicians had made plans to use all means available to truncate the peaceful conduct of the polls.
Buratai, who disclosed this at a meeting with principal staff officers, general officers commanding operational commanders and directors held at the army headquarters, said there were indications of the politicians’ intent to take advantage of and to use the farmers/herders crisis, armed political thugs and ethnic militias to perpetrate acts of violence, including bombings.
Buratai also said that the Nigerian Army had received complaints from some stakeholders, major political parties, governors of Bayelsa, Oyo and Ogun states of allegation of misconduct by some soldiers.
“Unfortunately some other states have gone to the press with unsubstantiated allegation without resort to the army leadership.
“Nonetheless, all these complaints are noted and will be addressed appropriately. A high-powered committee has been convened and instituted to investigate all cases of alleged misconduct by troops arising from the 2019 general elections. This is aimed at ensuring that all cases are thoroughly looked into for the purpose of dispensation of justice and to uphold Nigerian Army’s credibility, professionalism and apolitical stand.”
According to him, some of the politicians also intend to infiltrate domestic staff of political opponents, employ mercenaries to carry out acts of assassinations, use the social media for smear campaigns, hate speeches and spread fake news in a bid to disrupt the peaceful conduct of the elections.
Buratai reiterated that the Nigerian Army would enforce all guidelines in support of the Nigeria Police to ensure the peaceful conduct of the elections in line with its constitutional roles.
He said the proactive intervention of the army in the February 23 polls contributed greatly to its successful conduct and credibility.
“Unfortunately, some level of violence was still recorded leading to disruption of polls, burning of ballot boxes in some areas as well as loss of lives, including the death of an officer and three soldiers.
“The Nigerian Army, to a larger extent, ensured that the large scale electoral malpractices and acts of thuggery aimed at disenfranchising voters as witnessed in previous elections were curbed despite the campaign of calumny orchetrated by some politicians against us.
“Despite the bomb explosion in some parts of Maiduguri and an attack in Geidam, troops of Operation LAFIYA DOLE were able to decisively defeat the attacks and secured the area for a successful conduct of elections.
“We must therefore consolidate on this success and prepare adequately for the second phase of the election by reviewing our plans with a view to correcting observed lapses.
“I want to state and categorically warn that the Nigerian Army will not tolerate any acts that will undermine national security. This time around we shall be tough on those who plan to rig or disrupt the electoral process. I therefore appeal to Nigerian youths to shun any attempt by any politician to use them to perpetrate any form of violence.”