Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
The Nigerian Army has declared that its soldiers do not guard civilians, especially politicians, and electoral materials during, before and after elections in the country.
The General Officer Commanding (GOC), 6 Division of the Nigerian Army, Major-General Jamil Sarham, made the statement yesterday in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, while speaking at the opening of the 2018 Correspondents’ Week of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Rivers State Council, with the theme: ‘Promoting Security in 2019 Elections: The Role of the Media’.
He was reacting to allegation by Director General of Initiative for Credible Elections, Ledum Mitee, that about six trucks of soldiers guard only one politician in Rivers State.
Mitee posited that such development does not send the right signal about the neutrality of the armed forces during elections.
But in his contribution, Sarham, who was represented by the Commander, 56 Signals Brigade, Brigadier-General Basset Etuk, said the Nigerian army does not get involved in electoral activities but only support the Nigerian Police and other security agencies involved in the process.
He also denied that soldiers could be authorised to guard a civilian, especially a politician.
Etuk said: “You will all agree with me that the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, has done a lot since he assumed command and administration of the Nigerian army. His vision is to have a professional and responsible Nigerian army in the discharge of its duties.
“On many fora, he has said the Nigerian army is apolitical and this has transcended to all men and officers of the Nigerian army. When troops are called out for internal security operations, it is as usual with the authorisation of the Commander-in-Chief and we have our rules of engagement.
“The Nigerian army does not have any business with elections. All we do is to support the police and other security agencies that are normally deployed for such elections. So, if you see a soldier escorting a ballot box, that order must have been passed illegally.
“You cannot see a military man involved in electoral activities. I make bold to say that soldiers do not guard civilians.” He also drew attention to incidents of seized army uniforms by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), stating that it implied that there could be people faking to be soldiers.
Also, presenting a paper on the theme of the Correspondents’ Week, a senior lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, Rivers State University, Professor Godwin Okon, canvassed for immunity for journalists practising in the country.
Okon described election period as a defining moment in the history of any country, saying the 2019 election will be a defining moment for Nigerians.
He said: “Election period is always a defining moment in the country’s timeline. The 2019 elections will be a defining moment for Nigeria and it is better we rise up to the occasion.”
On the need for the protection of journalists during elections, Okon said: “The journalists in this country is the conscience of the society and should be accorded a place of honour in the general scheme of things.
“This honour on its own attracts privileges and immunities. If this understanding holds sway, there will be no place for the harassment, intimidation and assault on journalists as often characterised by forceful snatching and smashing of their cameras and handsets.”
Earlier in his welcome address, Chairman of Correspondents’ Chapel of the NUJ, Chief Ernest Chinwo, said tension is building up as political parties and all relevant stakeholders step up activities towards the advancement of their interests during the 2019 elections.
Chinwo said: “Expectations are high and tension is once more building up as political parties and all relevant stakeholders step up activities towards the advancement of their interests in the 2019 general election.
“Some people are once more scared considering their experiences during the 2015 elections: some lost loved ones, some were maimed while others escaped by the whiskers in the violence that characterised the last elections. Indeed, prophets of doom are already predicting bloodshed and all forms of harm in the forthcoming elections.
“While the electorate suffered untold hardship and violence, the greatest victims were arguably journalists whose duty it was to report the goings-on in the various polling units across the length and breadth of the state.”