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Opinion

Letter to security agents in respect of Nigeria’s elections (2) – Dr.Muiz Banire SAN

Admin l Thursday, May 05, 2022

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LAGOS, Nigeria – This is the window the President exploits in unleashing them, at times, on the opposition members and their sympathizers.

The men of the Department of State Security deal essentially with the gathering of intelligence towards the prevention and detection within Nigeria of any crime against the internal security of the nation.

The use of the military to subvert electoral process and rig in the most violent manner has led to severe criticism of involving military men in simple electoral processes. The hue and cry from the public has got to the ears of the judiciary and Their Lordships do not mince words in condemning the militarization of the electoral process in Nigeria.

One of such is the dictum of Aboki, JCA (now JSC), in the case of APC v. PDP (2015) LPELR-24349(CA) at pages 85-91 paras. C, where His Lordship opines thus: “The law does not appear to make any provision or provide a role for the Armed Forces or the Military to dabble in civil activities like elections to elect civilian leaders except, perhaps, to exercise their right of franchise to vote, in their Barracks… Of course, Section 217(2) (c) is what the Armed Forces Act is all about and the provisions therein can further be enriched or amended by further Acts of the National Assembly. See Section 217 (2) of the 1999 Constitution, and Section 1 of the Armed Forces Act, which elaborates on the functions, command structure and activities of the Armed Forces. None of the above mentioned functions has anything to do with Electoral process and the Conduct of elections in the Country to select political leaders.”

Even the item (2) (c) which talk about “suppression of insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the president, appears to be applicable only in the event of insurrection, to restore order and, even then, the Military must be invited by the President, upon fulfillment of specified conditions, prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.

Thus, even the president of Nigeria has no powers to call out the Armed Forces and unleash them (Military Officers) on a peaceful citizenry who are exercising their franchise to elect their leaders…. Who ordered the deployment of the military (soldiers) at the governorship elections? Was there any act of insurrection to warrant a call on the military to restore order? And was such deployment in accordance with Sections 217 (2) (c) and 218 (4) of the 1999 Constitution? There is nothing before us, as per the Records, to aid in the answering of the above posers positively.

We think whoever unleashed soldiers on Ekiti State to disturb the peace of the elections on 21/06/2014, acted in flagrant breach of the Constitution and flouted the provisions of the Electoral Act, which requires only the Police and other civil authorities to provide the required enabling environment of law and order for the performance of the civil duties of Election. This point was stated in the case of Yusuf V. Obasanjo (2005) 18 NWLR (pt. 956) 96 at 174-175, when, my Lord, Salami JCA (as he then was) said: “It is up to the Police to protect our nascent democracy and not the Military, otherwise the democracy might be wittingly or unwittingly militarized.

This is not what the citizenry bargained for, after wrestling power from the Military in 1999. Conscious steps should be taken to civilianize the polity and thereby ensure survival and substance of democracy.” The acknowledgment by the Tribunal, that the petition was replete with allegations of harassment, intimidation, use of force and arrest of supporters of petitioner, shows the inherent threat in the ignoble act of inviting the Military to take part in the Conduct of civil act of Conducting elections. It does not even appear reasonable to bring soldiers out of Barracks to serve as guardian angels of civil elections, as that is akin to leaving a blonde virgin in the care and custody of an active male adventurer.

Of course, the adventurous lad should not be blamed, if in the process of care, the maiden loses her innocence. Whoever makes such error does not love the maiden, and cares less about her future. … See also the recent decision of the Federal High Court, Sokoto Division, in the case of HON. BELLO MOHAMMED GORONYO & ANOR V. THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION & INEC FHC/S/CS/29/2014 delivered on 29/1/2015 where R.M. AIKAWA J. held and made the following orders; “…. any purported engagement of the Nigerian Armed Forces in the security supervision of the Election in the Federal Republic of Nigeria by any person holding the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria without an act of the National Assembly shall be unconstitutional and in view of the combined provisions of Sections 217 (2) and 218 (1) and (4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as altered)”… That, we believe is the law, and must be adhered to, in order to save the electoral process from the virus of illegality, credibility problems and absurdity.

The time has come in our learning process to establish the culture of democratic rule in the country and to strive to do the right thing, particularly when it comes to dealing with the electoral process, which is one of the pillars of democracy. In spite of the non-tolerant nature and behaviour of the political class in this country, we should, by all means, try to keep armed personnel, of whatever status and nature, from being a part and parcel of the election processes.

The state is obligated to confine the Military to their very demanding assignments especially in these times of insurgencies and encroachment into the country’s territories, by keeping them out of elections. The civilian authorities should be left to conduct and fully carry out the electoral processes at all levels. Thus, the state is obligated to ensure that citizens who are sovereign, can exercise their franchise freely, un-molested and un-disturbed.”

However, to the extent that the various security agencies play a role in the maintenance of internal security, it goes without saying that they all are supposed to partake in the pivotal role of entrenching lasting democracy in Nigeria. Giving the volatility of our nation and innumerable flashpoints growing in Nigeria, the conduct of elections cannot take place without the security agents. Nigeria has a history of violence in the conduct of elections.

This unenviable history is anything but recent. It is a general belief that the closest Nigeria ever had to a free and fair election was the annulled June 12, 1993 election and possibly the 2015 election. With the unfolding security challenges in the country, particularly the recent attack on the personnel of INEC, it is imperative that security around the poling areas be fortified, lest the predictions and pessimism of many men of goodwill becomes a reality.

Thus, in one form or the other, military men would still be required in the protection of key installations during the elections and the securing of conflict zones in the nation. By the latest Electoral Act,  ‘Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law and for the purpose of securing the votes, the commission shall be responsible for requesting for the deployment  of relevant security personnel  necessary for elections or registration of voters and shall assign them in the manner determined by the Commission in consultation with the relevant security agencies:  provided that the Commission only requests  for the deployment of the Nigerian Armed Forces for the purpose of securing  the distribution and delivery of election materials and protection of election officials’. Notably also is the reality that the number of police personnel in the country is highly inadequate to make any impact in the securing of our electoral atmosphere.

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This explains why even several other men of other para military outfits such as the Immigration and Customs service are often brought in additionally.   In carrying out this assignment of providing conducive atmosphere for our elections, however, it is crucial that you, the security agents must be conversant with your roles and the various electoral offences in order to know when to react and act. I have gone this length to expose us and you, the security agents, to the roles you are meant to play in the conduct of elections.

This is necessary in order for you not to feign ignorance of this role. From the above, the duty cast upon you is not only sacred but crucial to the conduct of free and fair elections. The transparency and credibility of our elections largely depend on the professional handling of your briefs. It is in this connection that I write to seek your cooperation and objectivity in the execution of your duties. It must be borne in mind by you, the security agents, that beyond the call of duty, the outcome of the elections will equally impact on you and your families respectively.

Today, virtually all of you, the security agents in the country, complain of inadequate welfare. You complain of lack of tools to work with. You complain of lack of professional development. You complain of prejudices in the management of your affairs, particularly promotions and appointments within your respective organizations. Beyond all these professional malfeasances, you live in the same society like us in which everything will seem to have collapsed.

Your children attend substandard schools where they even manage to access one. Some of your children that manage to graduate from the derelict colleges and universities after years of strike actions, end up being unemployed; your colleagues and your relatives are daily cut down in their prime as a result of insecurity; you and your relatives patronize health facilities that are near comatose; poverty is striking most of you and your relatives while the political class lives in opulence.

The leadership of the country, beyond perfunctory acknowledgment of your existence, does not appreciate the crucial role you play in the lives of its members and the society at large. Where is the infrastructure that will make your life and that of your relatives comfortable? Such is non-existent and where it manages to exist, it is dilapidated!

Your lives are daily wasted due to lack of protective equipment essential to the discharge of your duties. All these are happening because incompetent people find their ways into leadership through you, security agents’ connivance. Can you pause a bit and evaluate the magnitude of woes wrecked on the society through your compromises?

How far can the miserable sums or favours extended to you sustain you and your relatives? You definitely need to resist the temptation of the political thieves masquerading as leaders, particularly during the conduct of elections.

Your allegiance is to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and not the various personalities in power. Give it to the present President, all allegations might be true against him except the compromise or encouragement of the security agents in the rigging of elections.

Save and except for the last Kogi Governorship election where the allegation was that he seemed to choose to look the other way, his performance in this regard has been above average even in places traditionally dominated by the opposition like in the 2017 and 2021 Anambra Governorship elections in which All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) has always won.

This is simply borne out of his own personal experiences which he wouldn’t want perpetrated further. Since the President therefore insulates you against the hawks in the political parties, take advantage and do the right thing through the discharge of your responsibilities without fear or favour.

This is my simple admonition to you. For those who will, however, not heed this warning or caution, we can but only pray that they and their relatives reap the benefit of their ineptitude. A word is enough for the wise.  It is a projection of how uncivilized a people are where a mere process of changing guards is done in a violent manner like we experience in our motor parks.

Election is the lynchpin of democracy.  A claim to free and fair election remains a mirage where elections are held under insecure circumstances. This can only be achieved where the security agents involved are willing to discharge their duties without minding whose ox is gored.

It is clear from the above that one of the banes of the Nigeria’s democracy is complicity on the part of the security agencies. Rather than being even-handed in the discharge of their duties, some security operatives have turned themselves into mercenaries who are available for hire by the highest bidder. A reorientation is therefore of utmost importance in this aspect.

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