The first acknowledged opposition to democracy in Africa is the military perhaps with few countries as exceptions that are yet to taste military intervention. At the slightest mistake of civilians in power, the military strikes to taste power. The army is a revered institution. It is a major component of a nation state. It is a rule that nations must have armies in case of any eventuality. The army is the life wire of any country in times of trouble. When there is war, the army is drafted to duty. But armies are not all about war. They are trained to offer help to stabilize their countries when the conventional law enforcement agencies, especially the police are under heavy challenge that they cannot contain.
Army’s role in internal security is limited to throwing its might behind the police and other paramilitary agencies primarily to douse tension. Once that is done, the army withdraws to where it rightly belongs.
Times without number, Nigeria has had to call on its army to assist in one or two situations. In 2009, when Boko Haram held Bauchi, Borno, Yobe and Gombe states with its jugular, killing, maiming, burning and looting, Nigeria ran to the military for help. In no time, soldiers caught Muhammed Yusuf, Boko Haram leader and the police murdered him without intensive interrogation, an act that caused the escalation of the insurgency we are battling to defeat.
Then there was a sudden twist to the tale. After arresting Muhammed Yusuf, the army handed him over to the police for further investigation but before you could say Boko, he had been posted to his ancestors. His death in police custody marked a turning point in the un-abating murderous campaign of Boko Haram. Perhaps if the police had not instantly murdered Muhammed Yusuf before thorough investigation, things could not have been like what Nigeria is passing through today. Our military and the police cannot be said to be the worst in the world despite their shortcomings. They have been discharging their duties creditably at peace missions abroad but found wanting at home perhaps due to sharp corrupt practices that has eaten deep into the system which finally consumed the ‘dreaded’ Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
If one may ask, what makes the police and other security agencies to be their brother’s killer instead of keeper at home? If they can strive to keep the peace in foreign lands, why are they finding it difficult to do same at home?
Because the kind of creation we are, we have been calling out the military to help in the conduct of mere elections. Elsewhere, elections are conducted with ease and pride but over here, they are like bloody wars. Political parties and their candidates always run sleazy campaigns. All they do is to run down opponents without telling the voters what they have in stock to offer. For all they care, the electorates can go to hell. All they are after is to get into office and perfect corrupt practices for selfish interest. How they do that does not matter so long the end result justifies the means. How to get politicians to play by the rules remains a national headache that must be corrected.
As a way out, the military was brought into the electoral process. As was said, the essence of dragging the military into the process was to use them to sanitize the system. But what was the end result? The ‘almighty’ military crashed on its face by its poor conduct. Rather than being an impartial umpire, it usually takes sides with the party that offers the right bet.
The 2014 gubernatorial elections in Ekiti and Osun states exposed the underbelly of the military. Both states were before then under opposition party, but the party in control of the central government, which was at the helm wanted to control those two states at all cost, and there was a willing military for that heinous crime.
To achieve its aim, the party deployed the willing military which was under its control to both states. It first used the willing military to test the ground in Ekiti state, where the election was held on June 21, 2014. The soldiers took no quarters in the discharge of their duties. Many claimed that the soldiers acted a script the way they conducted their duties, citing their harassment of opposition chieftains, who were prevented from entering the town to campaign for their party’s gubernatorial candidate, Kayode Fayemi. On the other hand, the PDP, they said, was given a free hand to campaign and insult opposition party members with military support.
One may be tempted to dismiss these claims, but what happened shortly after the election showed that doing so may be hasty. A patriotic military officer, Captain Sagir Koli, who was among those deployed for election duty, said he was shocked by what he saw during the election. The army, he said, was favorably disposed to the PDP, adding that his boss, a general, looked the other way while atrocities were being committed. At the end of it all, PDP was declared the winner.
In Osun state, PDP could not have its way in the August 9, 2014 gubernatorial election because the people were fully prepared for any eventuality. The effective mobilization put-in-place by Governor Rauf Aregbesola paid handsomely. He vowed not to allow the mess in Ekiti state to happen in Osun. Yet, despite the strategy put-in-place, the military to justify the fee still harassed the people, prevented many from leaving their homes to exercise their franchise. What happened in those states compared to the smear campaign by the military against Muhammadu Buhari of APC was a child’s play.
Buhari’s West African School Certificate (WASC) was said to be missing from the army’s record where he served and retired as a general. A sponsored officer went on air to make the declaration, insinuating that Buhari may not have the certificate. But, the subsequent release of his results by his alma mater forced the compromised military high command to keep silent and their sponsors put to shame.
As those who politicized the military are no more on the saddle of power, the army is now doing a soul searching to ascertain where rain started to wet the institution to such a devastating level. The army set up a high powered Board of Inquiry to investigate, among other things, alleged malpractices and involvement of its personnel in Ekiti and Osun states gubernatorial elections in 2014.
The Board also looked into any other states in Nigeria where other allegations of misconduct were made during the 2015 elections. The army said: “The essence of the board is to prevent future professional misconduct by officers and men in the performance of their constitutional roles while strengthening the Nigerian Army’s support to democratic values and structures in Nigeria”.
What happened during the Ekiti and Osun elections is a big shame to Nigeria as a nation. Why is it that Nigeria cannot conduct peaceful, free and fair elections when some of its neighboring countries that cannot match its resources do so with ease? What is it about elections that make our leaders lose their sense of reason and turn it to a ‘do or die’ affair? Must the leaders bring in the military to do their dirty job for them in their desperation to win at all cost? It is good that the military is beaming a search light on itself to ensure that its men are not used for cheap political battles in future. Never again should what was witnessed in Ekiti and Osun in 2014 happen on our land. Nigerians should always prepare to defend their rights no matter the threat. The military and other security agencies are servants to the people because they are paid from public purse for the job they do. The only strength they can boast of is the gun. Minus the gun, a village wrestler is as good as any other security agent. That rubbish should be punished and stopped. We can all revolt to defend our rights if need be.
As Boko Haram remains committed to disfiguring Nigeria, I suggest those soldiers and other security operatives involved in election malpractices be posted to the war zone to perfection their criminal actions against fellow criminals.
Muhammad is a commentator on national issues