By ODIMEGWU ONWUMERE
The Nigerian Army has been in the news in the recent times not for the brevity of taking up its constitutional roles of defending the territorial borders of the country, but for molestation and intimidation of the citizens it was meant to protect.
In the news recently was that the Nigerian Army played unprofessional role in the just concluded February 23 presidential and National Assembly elections. While the military had been severally fingered of taking occupation in brutal activities in some parts of the country with heavy presence in the South-East and South-South and was going free from such supposed nefarious activities that included extortion from motorists, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), had vowed not to leave any stone unturned in making sure that the military faced its music by the drum beat of those it can listen to. Hence, the party had at the party’s Abuja secretariat during its caucus meeting on March 4 geared up to petition the United Nations (UN) over the role played by the Nigerian Army during the said elections.
The move by the PDP might not be in the wrong direction given that elections were supposed to be a civil matter and not a war. The spate of killings recorded here and there during the elections was uncalled for. Many pointed accusing fingers at the Nigerian Army of being at the forefront of the killings. Before the elections, Maj. Gen Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s president, had mandated the military to shoot at sight anyone found in underhand practices during the elections. This statement raised public uproar that many Nigerians had to charaterise the command by Buhari, by dictatorial tendencies.
They did not like Buhari’s hindsight over the elections, which they saw as a “do-or-die” affair on his side for the singular purpose of winning elections for the APC. This was what took place in Ekiti last year, where the hunger for conquest to throw the PDP out of government in that state was all that Buhari wanted. And he succeeded by enthroning APC leadership in that state through his party’s bigotry of which a sitting governor of the state then was purportedly molested by federal security apparatuses and he wept like a baby before national televisions and media men.
The leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) wanted inner peace, hence on February 19, it called on the Nigerian Army not to carry out what the party characterised by “unlawful orders” from Buhari. The party took its stance at the 84th National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party. The party’s resolve was against Buhari’s earlier statement thus, “I am going to warn anybody who thinks he has enough influence in his locality to lead a body of thugs to snatch boxes or to disturb the voting system, he would do it at the expense of his own life.”
Former vice president and PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara and the party chairman, Uche Secondus, who spoke discretely at the party’s summit, frowned that the Nigerian Army or other security agencies were not instituted to obey conflagrating order no matter who issued it. Buhari who was a military, did not care to listen to the voices that told him that his dictatorial comment that soldiers should shoot at sight any ballot box snatcher negated the Electoral Act which had stipulated measures to treat ballot-vote offenders. Nonetheless, the Nigeria Police Force immediately reiterated its commitment to protect the lives of the citizens during the elections and not to kill them (even though the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) is the worst in the world, as according to the 2016 World Internal Security and Police Index (WISPI).
IGP Adamu, Acting Inspector General of Police, stated this Friday, February 22 2019 in Abuja during a chat with some stakeholders in the electoral issue. But the Nigerian Army insisted on perfecting the order from Buhari. The Nigerian Army on February 19 had lengthened its voice that such directive would however be guided by its (Army) rules of engagement. Before then, the arrowhead of what has become the most fraudulent presidential elections in Nigeria, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, their Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, chairman, had insisted that anyone found wanton during the elections would be treated according to provisions of the Electoral Act.
In the words of the Acting Director, Army Public Relations, Col Sagir Musa, “The Nigerian Army has made it sufficiently and consistently clear 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 noticeable media platforms…Our Rules of Engagement and Code of Conduct have not assigned any political role to the Nigerian Army in this regard.
“Nigerian Army’s involvement starts and ends with the provision of peaceful and secured environment for the conduct of 2019 general election; therefore, any insinuation or assertion against this declaration is mischievous and politically motivated which the Nigerian Army under the command of Lt Gen T.Y. Buratai has strongly and severally warned against. Members of the public are please requested to judge the Nigerian Army on this declaration.”
But did the Nigerian Army’s promises hold water during the elections? The same Army that said it was neutral and wouldn’t involve in the elections had earlier warned through the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, that it was ready to deal with any person or group involved in any act of security breaches during the elections. In acting according to its “Rules of Engagement and Code of Conduct”? the spokesman of the Nigerian Army, Col. Sagir Musa explained why soldiers killed 6 civilians in Rivers state during the elections.
Did you hear that 6 civilians were killed during the elections? Later, Army gave its spurious reasons for doing so. But the question is, what was the Nigerian Army doing in the field of elections when the country had Police? As if that was not enough, some soldiers in Yola reportedly killed three persons in the Numan Local Government Area of Adamawa State. These persons were said to be celebrating the electoral victory of Buhari. Then-again, during the early days of struggle to attain Biafra by peaceful means, according to Wikipedia, the South-East Based Coalition of Human Rights Organizations (SBCHROs) estimated that (sic) about 80 members of the pro-Biafra group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and their supporters, have been killed by Nigerian security operatives under the directive of the Nigerian government between August 30, 2015 and February 9, 2016.
By June 19 2018, the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, Intersociety, disclosed the names of 150 pro-Biafra activists in a peaceful protest allegedly massacred by the Nigerian Army. And the number of IPOB members extra-judicially killed by apparent soldiers was in the increase.
However, by March 5, the death toll In Rivers was reportedly up to 30 in Abonnema Town, Akuku-Toru Local Government Area, Rivers State. Residents were pleading that Army should be withdrawn from the March 8 guber election across the country, with fear that they lack words to express their displeasure in the hands of Army. Women and children were in apprehension mood and protested over the presence Army in elections, yet Army was calling on the PDP that the party’s stance that Army was unprofessional during the elections was an act to blackmail the Army.
Whichever, with these and other underreported anti-social activities carried out by the Nigerian Army, the PDP in its resolve to take the Army to the UN, was a mission long overdue. Nigerians and groups of goodwill cannot allow the unprintable behaviours of the Nigerian Army destroy the citizens’ inner peace in the name of applying “Rules of Engagement and Code of Conduct”.
Odimegwu Onwumere writes from Rivers State. Tel: +2348057778358. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org