Global concerns rise over army interference in 2019 polls

  • UK: INEC should be allowed to work without intimidation   
  • INEC suspends electoral processes in Rivers  
  • APC wins Lagos, Gombe, Kebbi, Kwara, Niger, Jigawa, Ogun, Katsina  
  • PDP takes Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu, Oyo, Akwa Ibom

Following the massive and unprecedented deployment of troops, Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance (ISR) aircraft across the country by military authorities during the general election, especially in the Niger Delta states of Rivers, Delta and Akwa Ibom, there were global concerns that Nigeria’s democracy was being militarised.

Leading the global watchers was the United Kingdom, which expressed concerns over reported military interference in the elections, particularly in Rivers State.

But the Defence Headquarters insisted last night that deployment of troops during the elections was constitutional even as it denied knowledge of any judgment of the Court of Appeal to the contrary.

The Nigerian Army, however, accused politicians of kitting political thugs in military uniform during the governorship and state assemblies elections held at the weekend.The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in its reaction to the development described alleged confiscation of the Rivers State governorship election results by soldiers as treasonable and demanded their immediate release to avert serious crisis in the state.

On its part, the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room condemned the conduct of the military in the elections and called for an independent inquiry into the conduct of the elections in order to unearth the anomalies that affected its credibility and those responsible for the malpractices recorded during the poll.

The UK Government, speaking through its twitter handle, @UKinnigeria, decried what it described as “military interference in the election process in Rivers State” following reports of UK election observers in Nigeria.

It said staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should be allowed to do their job without intimidation.

“Extremely concerned by reports, including from @UKinnigeria observers, of military interference in the election process in Rivers State. Monitoring the situation closely; @inecng staff must be allowed to do their job in safety, without intimidation,” it tweeted.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with THISDAY, Defence spokesman, Col. Onyema Nwachukwu, reiterated its earlier position that the role of the military was not under speculation but constitutional.

He said: “The Armed Forces does not act on its own. Whatever role the Armed Forces of Nigeria is playing in the electoral process is as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended. I have made reference several times to Section 217-220 of the Constitution. Those roles are vested in the armed forces as enshrined in the Constitution.

“The military does not act on its own. If you look at those sections, you will understand the role of the military and why it is deployed. The military does not just wake up and deploy itself.”

On the Appeal Court judgment barring deployment of military personnel during elections, he said the military had not been availed of such judgment.

“Appeal Court judgment; nobody has availed me of that judgment. We are not aware of it. Where is it? If there was any appeal court judgment, was it to the military, armed forces or the government of the day?” he queried.

On the clash between police, military and the barring of party agents from a collation centre in Port Harcourt, Nwachukwu said military personnel were not deployed to collation centres but were part of three concentric circles in the security architecture of the election.

He explained: “The military is not deployed to collation centres. What happens is that there are three concentric circles in the security architecture of the election. In the inner cordon is where you have the intelligence community, the DSS and NIA. The other cordon is where you have the police and others and we (military) are in the external or outer cordon.

“We are protecting even other security agencies, which are involved in the electoral process, the INEC officials, the observers, we are the ones protecting them from the outer cordon, ensuring that political hoodlums do not infiltrate to cause mayhem in the collation centre.”

He explained further: “For instance, if somebody wants to infiltrate a collation centre, we are the first line of defence that they are going to meet and in the cause of interaction, maybe an official does not come with his ID card and he wants to force his way in, there will be issues and in the process people will begin to insinuate.

“The role of the Armed Forces is not under speculation, it is constitutional. Our role is also complementary and supportive. The lead security agency in this election is the Nigerian Police; we are taking the back seat.”

He restated the position of the Defence Headquarters that the military remained apolitical and would not want to be dragged into the murky waters of Nigerian politics, while noting that the military code of conduct remained the guide against unprofessional conduct as it concerns military personnel.

Meanwhile the Nigerian Army at the weekend accused politicians of arming and kitting political thugs to impersonate soldiers, who are used to cause electoral infractions.

In a statement entitled: “Arming of Thugs by Politicians to Impersonate Military Personnel,” it said the situation has led to an erroneous impression that real soldiers were involved in their nefarious activities.

It said: “Credible intelligence available to the Nigerian Army (NA) has confirmed the kitting of political thugs with military uniforms and arming of same, to impersonate soldiers and perpetrate various crimes in the furtherance of the activities of their political bosses.

“Sadly, these thugs have severally been wrongly viewed and addressed as real military personnel on various social and mainstream media channels including blogs, chat rooms and messaging platforms thereby bringing the reputation of the NA on several occasions to disrepute.”

The statement signed by Army spokesman, Col. Sagir Musa, said: “The Nigerian Army understands that most civilians caught in the callous onslaught of these murderous thugs might not be able to distinguish between a genuine soldier from an impersonator, especially when they are armed with military-type weapons.

“However, several of such arrested impostors have given useful information that has led to unraveling the level of criminal involvement of some politicians in arming thugs for their depraved selfish gains. Consequently, the NA would continue with the line of investigations being pursued to bring to successful prosecution, both the arrested impostors and their sponsors.”