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Military’s resurgence in Nigeria’s democracy

By News Express on 14/12/2016

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In what could pass as the most poetic expression of democracy, the renowned political scientist, Professor John Keane, in his widely acclaimed book, The Life and Death of Democracy, stated the following: “History is often said to be a catalogue of human sorrows, an unending story of bootlicking, a slaughterhouse of crimes. It is not always so.”

He added: “The mould of cruel servitude can be shattered, as happened 2,600 years ago, when Greeks living on the south-eastern fringes of Europe laid claim to an invention that now ranks in historical importance with the wheel, the printing press, the steam engine and the cloning of stem cells.”

Dr Keane said democracy, as it were, was born of resistance to tyranny; just as he reasoned that Greeks’ claimed invention at first caused no great stir, but that few spotted its novelty.

His words: “Some condemned it for bringing chaos into the world. Nobody predicted its universal appeal. It seemed simply to be part of the great cycle of human affairs – yet, one more example of power struggles among foes.”

Democracy represents to him, an invention which was soon to be seen differently.

Democracy, in the words of Prof Keane, was to magnetise millions and to arouse passions on a world-scale. Understandably so, since it required human beings to picture themselves afresh, to live as they had never before lived. The invention was a potent form of wishful thinking that is still with us today: the Greeks called it dêmokratia.

The above commentary from one of the global political thinkers, which at first sounded like the little book of lamentations, could be compared to the inglorious roles played by the Nigerian military and the police, in the just-concluded Rivers State rerun legislative polls. The disturbing partisanship of the Nigerian armed forces is reminiscent of the 40 years that the Nigerian military took over power and ruled Nigeria in the most lawless form, in such a way that the Constitution was in suspension, until overwhelming public pressures forced the military back to their barracks in 1999. The resurgence of the military in the political firmament of Nigeria is deeply troubling. This development, ugly as it is, must be arrested immediately; because of the long-term damage it would inflict in the credibility and integrity of the Nigerian military as an institution. 

When President Muhammadu Buhari came on board last year, he made the Army chief, Lieut.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, to constitute a board of inquiry, which investigated alleged partisanship of the military in some past elections. Over three dozen military officers trained with billions of public fund were prematurely retired as a result, even though many of these indicted officers are in courts challenging their sack. But to now witness a worst case scenario of the same military behaving like dogs that eat their vomit, with the open and brazen partisanship as seen in the Rivers State rerun election, is indeed traumatising.

But before delving fully into these shows of shame put up by the officers and men of the Nigerian armed forces and the police in these sets of elections, we need to properly anchor the electoral events from the prism of the nation’s political landscape on a national scale. Rivers State which, obviously, is Nigeria’s richest crude oil state, is also the nation’s hot-bed of inter-party rivalries between the nation’s two significant political parties, known as the People Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The national ruling party is All Progressive Congress, while the party controlling Rivers State is the People’s Democratic Party. Rivers State is the state of birth of the wife of the immediate past president, Mrs Patience Goodluck Jonathan. Rivers State was ruled for eight years, prior to 2015, by Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the main financier of President Buhari’s presidential campaign, or so it seemed. He was rewarded with a top-level federal cabinet job as Transportation Minister, which is easily, one of the juiciest posts in modern-day Nigeria.

The immediate past president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, was the standard-bearer of the PDP during last year’s presidential poll, which he voluntarily conceded victory even as the then incumbent. His action would for a long time to come remain unprecedented on the African continent, given that ruling parties in most African nations usually manipulate the electoral system to remain perpetually in political offices.

The rerun parliamentary election in Rivers State was occasioned by the legal cancellation of last year’s election in which the Peoples Democratic Party swept virtually all of the parliamentary seats, both in Rivers State House of Assembly and the Senate and House of Representatives seats, to represent Rivers at the National Assembly. The party at the centre saw the annulment as an opportunity of a life to gain entry into Rivers State.

But The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) refused to re-conduct fresh election to fill up the gaps not until unbearable pressures were brought to bear on them. The electoral commission was said to be waiting for the green light from the party in control of power in Abuja before re-conducting a sham election, but the Rivets State Governor Nyesom Wike, a senior lawyer married to a respected judge, is so popular that even with the withdrawal of all his security apparatuses the ordinary people stood behind him and defended their electoral decisions substantially, even at great risks to their lives.

The chairman of INEC is suspected to be playing to the gallery in support of the party at the centre. Since coming into office, the electoral panel has virtually not discharged its statutory duties without blemish.

The Professor Yakubu Mahmood-led INEC again, did not disappoint critics because his officials largely colluded with bad eggs in the military and police to unleash electoral manipulations of unquantifiable scale during the December 10, 2016 rerun elections in Rivers State. From the abundance of recorded evidence available on the social media and even from eye witnesses, the roles played by the military and police to sabotage, undermine and scuttle the will of Rivers State electorate are despicable.

Even the usually calm coalition of non-governmental groups, known commonly as Situation Room, has authored a report of the election in which the ugly undemocratic roles of the military and police came into sharp rebuke. The group, made up of over 70 registered non-governmental bodies, also lampooned the Independent National Electoral Commission for officials their reprehensible misconduct during the election in Rivers State.

In the considered opinion of the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, the military and police messed up their public images, thus: “In two wards in Gokana Local Government (B Dere CP School Ward 4 & Bomu Ward 7 units 1-8) Situation Room observers were watching the close of voting and early counting at the school and church locations with a cluster of units which was proceeding without any significant problem.”

The observers ruled that in both cases a team of police and military personnel arrived and removed all of the election materials and officials from the location.

“In Bomu, presiding officers at 3pm were waiting to count and telling voters they were waiting for their supervisor. The situation was calm.

A combined team of police and army personnel arrived in Hiluxes with an armoured personnel carrier, chased voters away, and carried away materials and ad hoc staff. In B Dere, the security team was accompanied by a party agent for one of the major parties and departed with party supporters from the location.”

“Situation Room observers interviewed voters from Bodo (St Pius School Ward, who reported that materials were taken away by a combined team of personnel after a contrived security incident which started with Police SARS personnel shooting in the air in the vicinity of the polling units).

“Interviews and media reports have named Mbeari John Meebari being shot and killed in this incident. There are serious allegations by observers, the public and party representatives, of the same incidents happening systematically in at least Etche, Andoni, and Eleme local governments, in addition to Gokana.

“The credibility of an election hinges on a fair process in the build-up to the poll, a conducive environment and a transparent counting of votes.”

The violent disruption of voting and collation in the areas observed means that these polls will not be accepted locally as credible, and conduct observed has called into question the neutrality of security forces and of election officials.

In their considered opinion, INEC has issued an interim statement effectively labeling the poll a success, but the non-partisan observers stated: “If this statement pre-dates the breakdown seen on the afternoon of Saturday 10th December, this needs correcting.

“A failure to acknowledge the serious issues in the poll and the impact on collation would call INEC’s own credibility into question.”

Apart from this documented body of evidence by these non-governmental institutions, this writer followed the election very closely. But, regrettably, the video evidence of where armed and uniformed police operatives were seen openly brandishing weapons and successfully overpowering electoral officials to steal away electoral materials, including ballot papers and result sheets, is to put it mildly shameful and reprehensible.

The operatives of the Nigerian Army were also captured by cameramen openly siding with the All Progressives Congress to intimidate, harass, and physically manhandle electoral officials and, in some cases, steal electoral materials, is condemnable. The need to investigate these proven cases of broad day light electoral robberies cannot be over emphasised.

Again, let me say straight away that it is an act of un-patriotism for federal officials to illegally deploy soldiers and police to steal election materials, so as to manipulate the outcome. These misconducts are treasonable and, indeed, offend the constitutional basis of our existence as a democracy. To foist preconceived outcome of an election on the people and to impose a set of impostors as winners is a major impeachable and criminal offence, because it means that those who are eventually railroaded into offices through such a criminally-contrived electoral process lack the legitimacy and authority of the people.

The Nigerian Constitution, section 14 (2) (a) provides clearly that, “Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government, through this Constitution, derives all its powers and authority.”

The pre-election activities, such as the last campaign rallies by both political parties, were largely viewed as clear declarations of war, but that of the All Progressives Congress which controls the Presidency appeared more frightening, because of the monumental misuse of the power over the deployment of police and soldiers which specifically empowers the President to so do. And, from what played out during the rerun election in which known agents of APC were seen dictating to armed security forces who to arrest and which election materials to steal away, it has become necessary for serious review of the conducts of the armed security forces to be carried out so the commanders who issued out such partisan and criminal orders are punished and the Armed forces sanitised of these scourge of anti-democratic forces.

The drafters of the Constitution made copious provisions for the existence of security forces but it seemed that too much commanding duties and powers are left so open to insider-abuses, by both the civilian president and serving military and police commanders, who may have large doses of character flaws and ethical challenges.

But even with the imperfections which allowed the Presidency to so use the armed security forces to manipulate electoral system, the National Assembly also provided a supervisory role to ensure that democracy is not undermined on the altar of pursuit of blind partisan goals by the political parties in power. The decision by the National Assembly to whittle down the powers of the President over the police is commendable, but should be extended to the armed forces in such a way that operatives of the military are not deployed by the party in power at the centre to rig elections to favour their members.

This resurgence of the military and the police in partisan political activities must be effectively checked if we ever hope to see that democracy and constitutionalism are alive in Nigeria.

RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He can be reached via 08033327672 (sms only) or via doziebiko@yahoo.com

Source News Express

Posted 14/12/2016 2:48:40 PM

 

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