President Goodluck Jonathan lacks the power to deploy soldiers for the conduct of election without the approval of the National Assembly, a federal court ruled Monday.
Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court in Lagos held that the practice of deploying troops of the Nigerian Armed Forces in the conduct of elections when there is no uprising is “anti-democratic” and not in tandem with civil rule and constitutional democracy.
“The armed forces have no role in elections,” the judge said.
“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. The state is also obligated to ensure that citizens exercise their franchise freely and unmolested.”
Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos), a member of the House of Representatives, had filed the suit before the court seeking a declaration that deployment of soldiers during elections in illegal and unconstitutional.
Joined as respondents in the suit were Mr. Jonathan; the Chief of Defence Staff; the Chief of Army Staff; the Chief of Air Staff; the Chief of Naval Staff; and the Attorney-General of the Federation.
The deployment of soldiers during previous elections held in Ondo, Anambra, Ekiti, and Osun were contrary to the Nigerian Constitution, Mr. Gbajabiamila’s lawyer, Seni Adio, told the court.
The judge backed the lawyer’s arguments, noting that the president lacks the powers to deploy soldiers any time he wants.
Mr. Buba dismissed the respondents’ arguments that Mr. Gbajabiamila did not have the legal right to institute the suit and that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
He also dismissed their arguments that the soldiers are needed to ensure peaceful polls, noting that the military was not needed for such civil duties.
Recently, a Court of Appeal in Abuja barred the use of soldiers in the conduct of elections, stating that it was a violation of Section 217(2)(c) of the Constitution and Section 1 of the Armed Forces Act.
The appellate court had relied on a judgment by a Federal High Court in Sokoto last January also barring the use of armed forces in the conduct of elections.
Mr. Buba said that he was bound by the appellate court’s decision and quoted copiously from its ruling.
The judge said that the law does not make provision for the military to be involved in civil activities, and if soldiers must vote, it must be in their barracks.
He also said the appellate court directly interpreted the Constitution when it held that Sections 215 and 217 jointly limit the president’s power to deploy soldiers to the suppression of insurrection and to aid the police to restore order when it has broken down.
“I am bound by the decision of the Court of Appeal and equally persuaded by the decision of Federal High Court, Sokoto, which also persuaded the Court of Appeal.
“It is in this regard that the court will say that its duty in interpreting the constitution has been simplified and made easy by the decisions I have referred to extensively.”