*Says no room for disobedience to lawful orders
* Asks officers, soldiers in doubt of their loyalty to resign before Feb. 23
By Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja
Ahead of Saturday’s presidential and National Assembly election, the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, Wednesday accused the Presidential Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and some other presidential candidates of inciting the military to disobey lawful order.
Buratai, who demanded that a statement credited to the former Vice President be withdrawn, said it was unfortunate that some presidential hopefuls aspiring to “rule the country again” were inciting the military.
The PDP flag bearer and former Vice President had, in his speech at the NEC meeting of the party, urged the military not to carry out unlawful orders, following President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive that ballot box snatchers risk losing their lives.
Speaking at a meeting with principal staff officers, and military commanders at the Army Headquarters, Abuja, Buratai said the military remained apolitical, stating that such incitement would not be tolerated.
“It is unfortunate to hear persons who are aspiring to rule this country again inciting the army to disobedience. We have consistently stated our position in the political dispensation to remain neutral and apolitical.
“However, direct and public incitement of the Nigerian Military against democracy and constituted civil authority will not be tolerated. I request such persons to withdraw this inciting statement.
“Let me re-emphasise loud and clear, that the Nigerian Army is a professional army. The foundation of military professionalism is discipline and without discipline an army cannot stand.
“One of our core values is loyalty to constituted authority. Loyalty must be hundred per cent. I shall leave you in no doubt as to our resolve to bequeath a professionally responsive army to Nigeria and Nigerians”, he said.
He warned that officers who are not given to loyalty should resign before the election.
“Should any officer or soldier have doubts as to his loyalty to the Nigerian State as presently constituted, such a person has up to 22 February 2019 to resign. There is no room for indiscipline or disobedience to lawful orders in the Nigerian Army today”, he said.
He said those seeking to undermine democracy should be regarded as enemies of democracy.
“I wish to first remind all of you that the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable. Hence those who seek to undermine our democracy by interfering in our electoral process must be seen as enemies of Nigeria and dealt with appropriately.
“Our role is aptly captured in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and we must defend Nigeria’s territorial integrity as well as act in aid of civil authority when called upon to do so.
“Therefore, commanders must work with all stakeholders, interest groups and agencies to avert any act by any individual, groups or entities that seek to undermine our democratic process”, he said.
Buratai noted that the political thuggery, ballot box snatching and illegal possession of electoral materials were acts designed to mar elections.
He warned commanders not to hobnob with politicians, restrict movements within their areas of responsibility, conduct extensive patrols while suspicious persons and vehicles are to be searched, arrested and impounded.
“I want to remind all here present that the act of electoral thuggery, snatching of ballot boxes, illegal possession of elections materials and similar crimes are intended to mar an election and create deliberate avenues for post-election violence and mayhem.
“Such actions can also become more damaging when they are widespread, leading to destruction of lives and properties. Incidences of this nature in previous elections are often planned and orchestrated by politicians and the NA has hitherto been very cautious in its approach.
“However, this time around the NA will adopt a proactive posture that ensures that similar incidences do not even arise. Accordingly, in addition to my earlier directives to you in the last Operations Conference, I wish to lay emphasis on the following actions that all commanders are to abide by”.
“Commanders must deal decisively with any electoral crime or action that would be inimical to National Security. Commanders are to ensure that they and their personnel do not hobnob with politicians at any level.
“In this regard, there will be no military escort for any politician and all NA personnel are to stay clear of retired military officers especially those who are now politicians until after the elections.
“Commanders are to conduct extensive patrols within their Area of Responsiblity (AORs). They must ensure that all flash points within the area are dominated.
“Commanders must in conjunction with the Nigerian Police enforce the restriction on movement within their AORs. All vehicles must be searched and suspicious persons or vehicles arrested/impounded and later hand over to the NPF”, he said.
The army chief further directed that “commanders must ensure they key into the NA Elections Security Monitoring Situation Room to send and receive near real-time information on events, as they occur in their Area of Responsibility (AOR).
“I have laid emphasis on these few points to remind everyone that these are delicate times and the NA must support Nigeria’s march towards enduring democracy”.