Buratai’s Stern Threat to Electoral Saboteurs and other Issues
By Abdulsalam Mahmud
When the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai said that the Nigerian Army would not hesitate to deal appropriately with persons who attempt to scuttle the hitch-free conduct of the 2019 polls, many people were rattled.
The questions running on their minds are: How will the Army deal with electoral saboteurs? And then, did the constitution saddles the military with any critical role during elections?
With the police being overwhelmed in managing internal security, deployment of soldiers has surged in most states as they deal with a range of crises: Boko Haram attacks in the North-East, Niger Delta’s simmering unrest in the South-South, herders-farmers conflict in North-Central and widespread robberies and kidnapping in other parts of the country.
There were fear and possibilities of attacks from terrorist groups in the northeast and aggressive protest from adherents of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) among many others which could disrupt the elections.
But as far as Buratai is concerned, individuals, entity or group with intents to foment chaos during the general elections, are enemies of Nigeria’s democracy and must be treated harshly. He issued the threat at a meeting with Principal Staff Officers, General Officers Commanding and Brigade Commanders at the Nigerian Army Headquarters, in Abuja.
Buratai, who spoke few days to the first round of elections, pointed out that the Nigerian Army has zero tolerance for criminal and violent activities which can undermine the country’s nascent democracy.
“I wish to remind all of you that the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable. Hence, those who seek to undermine our democracy by interfering in our electoral process must be seen as enemies of Nigeria and dealt with appropriately. Our role is aptly captured in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and we must defend Nigeria’s territorial integrity, as well as act in aid of civil authority when called upon to do so. Therefore, commanders must work with all stakeholders, interest groups and agencies to avert any act by any individual, groups or entities that seek to undermine our democratic process,” he said.
The COAS, added that the Nigerian Army will rise up, challenge and foil the retrogressive plots of desperate politicians and those with proclivity to cause mayhem during the elections.
He said: “It is vital that the NA, alongside other security agencies, rise up to the challenge of ensuring a peaceful outcome to this general election, so as to give confidence to Nigerian citizens and to reassure the international community about our electoral process.”
Soon after his warning, purveyors of fake news and hate speeches engaged in campaign of calumny to smear the reputation of the army through posting offensive image and videos on social media.
It was not surprising that the timely response through press releases by the new Army Spokesperson, Colonel Sagir Musa helped to control the negative and offensive narratives.
In one of such press releases, the army spokesperson said that “the attention of the Nigerian Army (NA) has been drawn to a picture of four armed men dressed in what looks like military camouflage in a 4 x 4 finger sign, supposedly connoting the campaign symbol of a political party, which is against the rules and regulations of the Nigerian Army.
“The NA wishes to disassociate itself from the picture even as it has commenced an immediate investigation with the view to ascertain the source and authenticity of the pictures and the “soldiers” involved. If the outcome of the investigation confirms this to be true, then appropriate sanctions would be meted on the culprits.”
He added that the NA will also investigative a video which had trended online, showing some soldiers manhandling an innocent man.
Then, hardly had the Army launched their investigations on the ‘fake’ social media footages, when one of its officers was accused of meddling into Rivers State’s politics.
However, the Army swiftly debunked the story. It assured that none of its personnel will be involved in political campaigns, escort of VIPs for political missions and above all, aiding or supporting any political party as has been circulated in official circulars and statements.
Colonel Musa urged members of the public to always ignore information attributed to the Nigerian Army that are contrary to its core values, professionalism, respect for others and open declaration on the rules of engagement.
Even though, the President and National Assembly elections have been concluded nationwide, which fewer casualties, some groups and individuals have commended the Nigerian military and other security agencies for the efforts in ensuring a peaceful election across Nigeria. For instance, the Coalition of Civil Society Organizations on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution commended the Nigerian military for its efforts at ensuring peace, stability and security even though the forecast for security and life during the election had been grim.
The group commended the Nigerian Army for its preparedness in ensuring a hitch-free exercise in compliance with the rule of law. It said the Nigerian troops had adequately dealt with violence that could have erupted during and after the last elections within the ambit of the law.
He said a review of the military security architecture showed that the Nigerian military has continued to maintain a high standard of compliance with its human rights obligations to the citizenry through the continuous engagement by the Department of Civil-Military Relations.
With more elections coming up soon, it is hoped that the military and other security agencies will do better.
Abdulsalam Mahmud is a Staff Writer with the PRNigeria