Use of soldiers for April general elections
In Nigeria, soldiers are feared to a large extent and respected too. This is a product of the military regimes under which the country was subjected for very long time after Nigeria's Independence in 1960. Added to that, soldiers are naturally seen as the harshest of all the security agencies in the world.
Constitutionally, the primary duty of soldiers is to protect their country against foreign inversion as well as assist curb internal disturbances when necessary. That is why their activities are limited to the barracks where they undergo strenuous trainings to remain fit to defend the country at all times.
Their call to duty for internal civil activities is hardly one that can be easily accepted. However, there is often the fear that elections would be disrupted in some quarters by unscrupulous elements in the society. There is also the feeling that one political party or the other is out to seize power by force in one place or the other. There is another general perception that Nigeria had never had free and acceptable polls in recent times. So, it is believed that security is adequately needed to ensure success of this democratic process called voting.
Using them for the elections, therefore, may not be misplaced. The police and other security outfits have often displayed vulnerability to inducement. Probably, the reason may be that they are mostly in contact with the civil society and do know the “give and take”, syndrome. But soldiers are seen as secluded entities who are called upon for rescue.
The problem in using soldiers cannot be attributed to lack of integrity in the army. Nigerian soldiers are rated high in the world and it is a pride every citizen must associate with. They have supported democratic processes since they agreed to relinquish power in 1999. There were insinuations that they would come back when democracy suffered in recent past, but to God be the glory that they kept their words to remain in the barracks.
The problem in using them can be attributed to the few ones among them who have accepted to compromise their constitutional duties. Examples can be derived from the Niger Delta scenes, even on the highways in the Southeast. Many media outs have alleged that the military assisted in causing crises so as either to remain in the oil-rich zone and feed fat, or extort money from Oil Companies, communities and unsuspecting citizens.
Cases were reported where soldiers drafted to keep peace in Port Harcourt and the capital cities of the Niger Deltan states extorted money from motorists, sometimes by force. When the policemen, who are often ascribed to be extortionists, collected between N20 to N50, the military men would demand for N100 to N200 from each motorist. And the citizens paid out of fear. It has been reported severally how innocent citizens who failed to “roja” were killed by overzealous security personnel. And nothing was done!
Also, some of the powerful politicians have contracted soldiers and policemen as their house boys. They pay them money to do their biddings. And because of the lust for wealth or inability of their salaries to contain the demands of their nuclear and extended families, the security personnel easily yield to the inducements. Some of the politicians even struggle to fix their “political” boys in key positions in the security outfits. What do you expect from the personnel when such a politician vies for any elective position?
Therefore, those who are entertaining fears that using the soldiers cannot guarantee safety of the electoral process may be excused. One of the strongest opposition in the forthcoming general polls, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) described deployment of soldiers for the election as an anomaly.
This is because soldiers' presence creates an atmosphere of warfare, which in turn heats up the polity. National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, declared that it was an intimidation tactics of the PDP-ruled federal government.
Lar also forecloses the acceptability of entrusting the military with such responsibility in an election where their leader is a primary contestant. In his claim, “it will be difficult for the soldiers to checkmate the PDP in its devilish rigging plan, because the leader of the party, President Goodluck Jonathan, is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces”.
Another serious alarm was reported that party chieftains especially those of the ruling party in several states have sewn military uniforms for their thugs. “Once these thugs are adorned with these military uniforms, who can challenge them to know whether they are fake or genuine? Who can confront them when they engaged in their rigging antics, especially in the countryside?” Lar queried.
But the military chiefs are not comfortable with this perception about the soldiers. They seem to be pointing accusing fingers on politicians. The Nigerian Chief of Army Staff
(CAS) Lieutenant General Azubuike Ihejerika, recently in Ibadan, warned politicians not to corrupt army officers deployed to support others security agencies for the April general elections.
According to the Army chief, the presence of soldiers at the poling unit during election
would be solely to prevent violence. “Politicians should desist from act that may truncate
the exercise and ensure free, fair and credible elections that all votes will count”, he offered.
The significant thing in all these is that security is needed to ensure that hoodlums and thugs do not disrupt the elections. The soldiers are known to be men of integrity and they are supposed to value the corporate existence of the country more than any other citizen. This is another time for them to prove loyalty and love for their fatherland.
Muhammad Ajah is a writer, author, advocate of humanity and good governance based in Abuja. E-mail [email protected]