Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Military’s Resurgence In Our Democracy

By Emmanuel Onwubiko
IN what could pass as the most poetic expression of democracy, the renowned political scientist Professor John Keane made the following opening statement in his widely acclaimed book The Life and Death of Democracy, thus: “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.”
Dr Keane said democracy 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.
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 policy in the just ended Rivers State rerun parliamentary 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 not 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 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 Chief of Army staff Lt. Gen Tukur Buratai to constitute a board of inquiry which investigated alleged partisanship of the military in some past elections and 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 vomits with the open and brazen partisanship as seen in the Rivers State rerun election is indeed traumatising.
Rivers State also the nation’s hot bed of inter-party rivalries between the nation’s two main political parties known as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC).
The rerun legislative re-run elections in Rivers State were occasioned by the legal cancellation of last year’s election in which the People’s Democratic Party swept virtually all of the parliamentary seats both within Rivers State House of Assembly and the Senate and House of Representatives seats to represent the State of Rivers at the National Assembly. The party at the center saw the annulment as an opportunity of a life to gain entry into Rivers State.
From 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 the Rivers State electorate are despicable.

Even 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 groups also criticized the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for some lapses during the election in Rivers State.
In the opinion of the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, the military and police did not do well enough. “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 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 its considered opinion,   INEC has issued an interim statement effectively labeling the poll a success.  But the non-partisan observers stated that if this statement pre-dates the breakdown seen on the rerun day, needs to do a postmortem assessment of its performance.
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 of evidence by these non-governmental institutions, this writer followed the election very closely and regrettably, the video evidence of where armed and uniformed police operatives were seen openly brandishing weapons. This is troubling.
The Nigerian Constitution under Section 14 (2) (a) provides 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. 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  use the armed security forces during elections the National Assembly is  also provided a supervisory role to ensure that democracy is not undermined on the alter 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 center 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.
*Onwubiko heads Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria.


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