- Citing Court of Appeal judgment banning military from election duties, PDP cautions COAS not to drag Army into politics
Kingsley Nwezeh and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, Wednesday accused the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, of inciting the military to disobey President Muhammadu Buhari’s lawful orders, saying this is an unthinkable proposition in the military.
The president had told his All Progressives Congress (APC) party leaders at a meeting on Monday that he had asked the military and the police to deal ruthlessly with ballot box snatchers, saying miscreants who attempt to disrupt Saturday’s presidential and National Assembly elections would do so at the expense of their lives.
Buhari’s statement received searing attacks from opposition parties’ leaders, one of them Atiku, who at an emergency meeting of the PDP leadership, advised the Army not to obey unlawful orders.
But Buratai took issues with Atiku Wednesday and demanded that the PDP presidential candidate withdraws his advice which he said was tantamount to incitement.
“It is unfortunate to hear persons who are aspiring to rule this country again inciting the army to disobedience,” the army chief said, adding: “We have consistently stated our position in the political dispensation to remain neutral and apolitical.”
He added: “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.”
The PDP quickly rose to the defence of its candidate last night in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, warning the army chief not to drag the troops into politics.
Buratai, who spoke at a meeting with principal staff officers, and military commanders at the Army Headquarters, Abuja, however, said the military remained apolitical, warning that incitement would not be tolerated.
He said: “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 100 per cent. I shall leave you in no doubt as to our resolve to bequeath a professionally responsive army to Nigeria and Nigerians.”
He warned that officers who are not given to loyalty should resign before the election.
He added: “Should any officer or soldier have doubts as to his loyalty to the Nigerian state as presently constituted, such a person has up to February 22, 2019 to resign. There is no room for indiscipline or disobedience to lawful orders in the Nigerian Army today.”
He said those seeking to undermine democracy should be regarded as enemies of democracy.
Buratai told the officers: “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.”
Buratai noted that electoral thuggery, ballot box snatching and illegal possession of electoral materials, are acts designed to mar elections.
He warned commanders not to hobnob with politicians, restrict movements within their areas of responsibility and conduct extensive patrols while suspicious persons and vehicles are to be searched.
He directed commanders to deal decisively with any electoral crime or action that would be inimical to national security, and advised them to ensure that they and their personnel do not hobnob with politicians at any level.
The army chief said there would be no military escort for any politician, warning soldiers to stay clear of retired military officers, especially those who are now politicians until after the elections.
He said: “Commanders are to conduct extensive patrols within their Area of Responsibility (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.”
The army chief further directed commanders to 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).
PDP: Don’t Drag Army into Politics
The PDP replied the army chief immediately and cautioned him not to drag the army into politics, advising him to refrain from acts or actions that would suggest in any way that the military has become an arm of a political party.
It described Buratai’s allusion to Atiku as well as his threats to officers and ranks to execute the unlawful order by Buhari to participate in the electoral process as an aberration of laws and a recipe for crisis.
The main opposition party said that Buratai should concentrate on his very demanding assignment of protecting the territorial integrity of the nation and ending insurgency rather than dabbling into partisan politics at the risk of national cohesion.
The PDP said Buratai should note that the loyalty of the military is to the state and that the president lacks the powers, under the laws, to deploy soldiers for the conduct of elections.
It stated: “It is imperative to state that by trying to drag the military to participate in the February 23 presidential elections, President Buhari plots to suspend our constitution, assume the position of an emperor, trigger unrest, subvert our electoral process and derail our democracy.”
The party urged Buhari to avail himself to the judgment of the Federal High Court, Lagos on March 23, 2015, wherein the court, presided over by Justice Ibrahim Buba, directly outlawed the deployment of troops in the conduct of elections in the country.
The PDP also said Buhari should also avail himself of the subsisting judgment of the Court of Appeal, which on February 15, 2015, held that the president has no powers to deploy soldiers in the conduct of elections.
It also counselled Buhari and Buratai to end their rationalising military option, as the courts have summarily dismissed their arguments that soldiers are needed to guarantee peaceful elections.
The PDP said it might interest Buhari to know that the judgment was sequel to a suit filed by the APC leader in the House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, seeking a declaration that deployment of soldiers during elections is illegal and unconstitutional.
“In case, President Buhari is not aware, as usual, the court directly held that the armed forces have no role in elections and if soldiers must vote, they must do so in their barracks,”it said.
The PDP said the court had held: “The time has come for us to establish the culture of democratic rule in the country and to start to do the right thing particularly when it has to do with dealing with the electoral process, which is one of the pillars of democracy.
“In spite of the behaviour of the political class, we should by all means try to keep armed personnel and military from being a part and parcel of the electoral process.
“The state is obligated to confine the military to their very demanding assignment, especially in this time of insurgencies by keeping them out of elections.”