Military under fire for interference in electoral process

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*Soldiers on the street of Port Harcourt, Rivers State

The Nigerian military has been roundly condemned for its interference in the governorship and state legislative elections held across the country last Saturday, March 9.

In Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Imo and some other states, it was alleged that politicians used soldiers to invade polling units, unleash violence on voters, disrupt polling processes and cart away electoral materials.

Reacting to the skirmishes the Inter-Party Advisory Council condemned the electoral violence in Rivers and Akwa Ibom states.

IPAC, which is the umbrella body of all political parties, also condemned the role of the military in the Rivers State elections which the Independent National Electoral Commission has suspended.

In a statement by the secretary of the national media committee of IPAC, Mr. Akinloye Oyeniyi, the organisation said: “Having got reports of skirmishes from our state chapters where elections were conducted, we can tell that the governorship elections witnessed very low turnout and widespread electoral violence in some states and we are really not happy about these developments.

“Apart from the unprecedented heavy military siege, uncontrollable killings, harassment of both voters and electoral officials as well as the taking over of results collation centres in Rivers State, all in a bid to upturn the people’s choice, by the police and military personnel, which have ultimately led to the suspension of the ongoing governorship election collation is a gross setback for our dear country democratically.

“It also totally will render the outcome not credible thereby lacking legitimacy. Therefore, IPAC as the recognised body of all political parties in the country, is expressing complete disapproval of these undemocratic actions; and we are calling on President Muhammadu Buhari, the Abdulsalami-led National Peace Committee as well as elder statesmen and women and well-meaning Nigerians to prevail upon all the parties involved to strictly respect the Constitution of the land, which solely resides the power to elect persons into offices in the people of Nigeria.”

Also reacting, the British High Commission in Nigeria expressed concerns over the report of the involvement in the election in Rivers State.

The commission was reacting to reports from its election observers about the tension at the collation centre in Port Harcourt.

In its twitter handle, @UKinnigeria, the commission wrote: “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.”

Also, the Centre for Transparency Advocacy (CTA) alleged that the police and military personnel were involved in the disruption of the voting process, harassment of INEC officials and election observers during the election.

The Acting Executive Director of CTA, Faith Nwadishi, who presented the group’s interim report on the election said although the security agents appeared to have conducted themselves well in many voting units across the country, the organisation’ observers reported unprofessional behaviour by some of them.

The group recalled an incident where INEC officials and observers were allegedly held hostage and their personal effects, including phones, seized at Ward 7, Unit 14, in Oruk Anam in Akwa Ibom State.

“Our observers also reported that security agents raided a nearby polling unit. A CTA observer narrowly escaped being held by the marauding security agents.

“Our observers reported that there was adequate deployment of security agents, though in many of the units, they acted more like onlookers than law enforcement agents. They failed to act even when electoral crimes were committed in their presence.

For its part, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) lashed out at the military describing the alleged confiscation of the Rivers State governorship election results by soldiers as “treasonable”.

The party, in a statement issued by its spokesman, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said the use of soldiers to ambush the electoral process and confiscate results was an extreme scheme by the All Progressives Congress (APC) to enmesh the Rivers State governorship election in controversy, seeing that there was no way they could take away victory from the PDP.

“The PDP completely revile this subversive act by soldiers, who seized and diverted the results to an army barracks in Port Harcourt and calls on all lovers of democracy, to unite against this brazen attack on our democracy by the Buhari presidency and All Progressives Congress (APC). Such barefaced assault is only akin to a coup d’état and should not be allowed to stand.”

Ologbondiyan stressed that what the APC and its compromised soldiers fail to note is that the PDP already “has valid documents of all the results as delivered from all the polling units where elections held across the state and that the figures are with all the stakeholders.”

Reacting, defence spokesman, Col. Onyema Nwachukwu, stated that the role of the military is not under speculation but constitutional.

ThisDay quotes him as saying: “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.

“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.

“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 said.

Besides, the Nigerian Army had, 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,” the army said the situation had led to an erroneous impression that real soldiers were involved in their nefarious activities.

“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 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,” it the army in a statement issued by its spokesman, Col. Sagir Musa.

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