2023: Military Will Resist Pressure to Compromise Its Neutrality, Says Irabor
*Denies reports of soldiers conducting illegal abortions in north east
*Alleges external plot to destabilise nation
*Warns military saboteurs on possibility of facing firing squad
*Remain professional, Atiku/Okowa campaign pleads
Deji Elumoye and Chuks Okocha in Abuja
The Nigerian military, yesterday, previewed the 2023 general election scheduled for the first quarter of next year and reiterated its pledge never to succumb to pressure, both internal and external, to compromise the elections.
Denying some news reports doing the rounds that soldiers were conducting illegal abortions in north east, where they were prosecuting war against the Boko Haram sect, Irabor, who alleged external plot to destabilise nation, however, warned military saboteurs that there would be consequences for their actions, including the possibility of facing firing squad.
This is as the Atiku/Okowa presidential campaigns, has called on the military to shun lobbyists from the political class to compromise the 2023 elections, while at the same time, urged politicians involved in such acts to go out and campaign to the people.
The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Lucky Irabor, who disclosed this while fielding questions from journalists at the State House, Abuja, further pledged to jealously guard its neutrality during the national assignments.
The CDS, who enjoined the citizenry to have trust in the security officers and men as they remained totally committed to their neutrality, said under no condition would the Nigerian Armed give in to pressure to compromise the exercise.
Stressing that there would always be pressure, he, however, noted that necessary measures were being put in place to ensure that the military obeyed President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive to be apolitical during next year’s elections.
According to him, personnel were being trained to be more professional while Standard Operations Practice (SOP) before, during and after the elections have been codified and distributed to their men.
Explaining how prepared the military was to resisting pressure to compromise the elections, Irabor said, “I’m glad that you reiterated the commander-in-chief‘s directive to the armed forces. I’m afraid you say you have a worry. Rather than worry, I would rather think that trust should be anchored. Why?
“Of course, there will always be pressure from all quarters, wanting to induce security forces, not just the military – the security force and the police. And that’s what criminal enterprise is all about. That is what something that is wrong is all about. But what makes the difference is the professional approach to dealing with those issues. And that’s what we the military are committed to doing.
“Now, the reason why we have ramped up our training in that regard, sensitisation, a lot of engagement across, you know, the formations and units, is being undertaken. And then, more so to now articulate code of conduct for all our personnel, which has been done and distributed.
“So what, why, how should they act before, during and after the elections. These have been codified in the SOP that have been issued to them. So, it remains the duty of the commanders to ensure that the directive, as indicated, and the contents of the SOP is adhered to by every personnel in the armed forces. So, please, cease from worrying. Rather, trust and also engage others to trust that, we will keep faith to these desires.”
Responding to allegations that the military was engaged in clandestine programme of enforcing abortion for women in the North East since 2013, Irabor said, there was nothing like that.
He confirmed that he was actually requested to respond to the allegation by a foreign news medium but decided to ignore them, because there was no such programme in the military.
According to him, he carried the media along while he was in charge of the war theatre in the north east between 2016 and 2017, by taking them round the hospitals, where wounded solders were being treated, for them to have first hand information on the reality of the terror war.
He said there was no way the Nigerian Army would be involved in such programme, adding that, “We are not unaware of some extra-territorial interests, who do not want us to live in peace.
“I didn’t think I needed to dignify that report. That’s why I did not mention it. Why? I was informed by my officer, the director of Defence Information that he received a mail from Reuters, requesting to have an interview with me. And he gave me a letter written by one Alexandra Xavis, making spurious allegations, many of which have now been published by the same Reuters.
“And when I went through, I asked myself, how could a man be so laden with evil, to contemplate the content of which he wants me to respond? I said, he should go back to the person and if he wants to, that he already knows the military, if he wants to answer he should go ahead.
“But I’m not going to dignify such, because you’re saying the military since 2013, has been engaged in a planned abortion programme. And that, it’s the military that is running that programme. And then, in that letter, he also indicated that it was, perhaps, part of government’s design.
“And in that letter, he indicated 12,000 abortions had been carried out. And then went on and on to say their sources, their sources. And I say which source and, of course, there are people, who have worked in the northeast. So, I think, I mean, the problems that we’re contending with, and I shouldn’t waste my energy for such things.
“Again, it falls within the realm of ‘My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts.’So, since that is the position of Reuters, I didn’t think it was necessary for me to, you know, call them up, and then, to engage in, because that’s is outright nonsense.
“Now, on the report, my name was mentioned that at some stage, I was in charge of the operation. Yes, of course, I was. In 2013, I was not in charge, I took leadership of the operation in northeast in 2016. That I did till the later part of 2017, that is close to two years. And so, let me even confine myself to the time of my leadership of the north-east itself. The allusions they made is news to me.
“It never occurred, I never saw anything like that both from the division of center from Giwa projects down to Malari cantonment, where I lived, where we have seven division hospital that was a major hospital for the treatment of our personnel and their families. And especially, the wounded?
“That again, we had unfettered access by all the members of the media, I recall the engagement I had with the media all through and I take them there, to all the wards except, of course, the mortuary we were trying to build at a time. The whole essence of having to have that kind of engagement was to say, look, this war is real.
“The deaths, and the wounds inflicted on our troops are real. Please, go and see, because we need you to work with us to be able to make… and I’m glad that it paid off. And that is why today, in the north east, sanity, not only has it returned, we have continued to play our path.
“Now, of course, we’re not unaware that there are extra-territorial elements, who really do not want to have us live in peace. Who really do not want us to move forward. I am also aware that, of course, the war economy has affected a good number of people. So, now that we’re making progress, they think we need to return to that status quo ante.”
On activities of some members of the Army, who were sabotaging their efforts, Irabor admitted that there would always be bad eggs in every human organisation.
Thus, while noting that some of the soldiers caught in such unwholesome practices had been arrested and disciplined for various offences, including divulging codified information to the adversaries and stealing of ammunitions, the defence chief said some of the saboteurs were yet to be executed, because the magnitude of their offences were considered minor.
He however, warned that the military would not hesitate to apply the rules of capital punishment of death by firing squad if the saboteurs continued in their evil ways, adding that the military had improved on the process of recruitment into the army in order to prevent the engagement of criminals and renegades into the service.
The CDS also seized the opportunity to deny reports that soldiers were targeting some people in parts of the country, particularly, the southeast, for rougher treatment, saying it was possible, because the military was composed of people from all parts of the federation.
His words: “The Armed Forces are peopled by people from 774 local government of this country. And there is no single unit or formation where you have only a group of soldiers coming from a particular part of the country.
“So, what will be the interest? Sometimes, the consciousness of the people is what has been transmitted to their consciousness. Perhaps, it might be necessary to interrogate them and see how we can reconscientise our people to know that. We are in this together.
“What do I stand to gain? Yes, I’m the CDS. I know the officers and men that I lead, I know what we have transmitted into them by the way of training, I know the fundamentals, our ethics. So, it’s what you don’t know that makes illusions.
“And I think I will also join to appeal to you, to reconscientise our people for them to know the apparatus of the state in terms of looking at the issue of security are for the good of the people and not against the people. We are not against the people. So, there’s no way the military will go and shoot people. It’s not possible. We won’t do that and it was not done during ENDSARS.”
Irabor spoke of the key achievements of the military in the effort to keep the country safe, including more recruitment into all branches of the security services, routing of insurgency and banditry as well as the action to curtail oil theft leading to increase in crude oil production.
He also said over 300,000 people had been freed from the hands of abductors since 2014,while refugees who fled the north east due to insurgency had started to return to their homes.
The defence boss added that former insurgents now being de-radicalised would graduate in February next year before their reintegration into the society.
On the fight against banditry, he said the armed forces had strangulated the bandits’ supply chain and destroyed several hideouts, adding that, the military efforts had averted several communal clashes and restored socio-economic activities in troubled areas, while several criminal elements were arrested including drug dealers, weapon suppliers, kidnappers, cultists and religious extremist.
On crude oil theft, he noted Nigeria’s colossal loses of oil revenue as at 2014 that was about N1.92 Trillion, was because piracy and kidnapping were unprecedented, just as several illegal pipeline connections were used to steal crude oil and illegal entry of unauthorized vessels undetected.
He stressed that between January and July 2022, Nigeria lost about 437, 000 barrels of oil per day to criminal entities, but that, as part of the solution, Falcon Eye Maritime intelligence facility was commissioned in July 2021, offshore Patrol Vessels were purchased, and operational deployments and capabilities were rejigged.
“The President directed the CDS to coordinate the kinetic and non-kinetic interventions to curb oil thefts. Through several joint operations, security operatives destroyed 959 metal tanks, 737 ovens, 452 dug-out pits, 355 cooking pots, 179 wooden boats, recovered 35.8 million litres of crude, 22 million litres of diesel, 25,000 litres of PMS, 207 pumping machine and 12 welding machines,” the CDS explained.
Meanwhile, the Atiku/Okowa campaigns, reacting to Irabor’s comments, said, the military should operate within the rules and ensure a credible election.
According to one of the spokesmen of the campaign, Kola Ologbodiyan, “Our campaign urged the military hierarchy to ensure that the rank and file operate within the confines of the rules of carrying out the responsibility of internal security.
“What is important is for the military to guarantee a credible poll to our nation. They have the duty of protecting the territorial integrity of our nation and a duty of conformity with the laws.
“The politicians, who are putting pressure on the military should go and engage the people, who will vote; they should go and sell their promises if they will be bought by them, they should stop mounting pressure on the military, they should face the electorate, who should govern them.
“If you look at the political climate of our nation today, you will agree with me that the presidential candidate of our party, Atiku Abubakar, who is campaigning and also talking to Nigerians are marketing policies, promises that he plans into his government, when he is sworn in as president on May 29, as such, we counsel other politicians to stop mounting pressure on the military,” Ologbodiyan stated.