A Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana, on Thursday said the Nigerian Armed Forces have no role whatsoever in the conduct of elections in the country.
Mr. Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, was reacting to a presentation by the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Attahiru Jega, on the floor of the Senate, Wednesday.
Mr. Jega had restated the commission’s preparedness to conduct the general elections on March 28 and April 11, but insisted that only the military could guarantee security for the polls.
However, in a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES, Mr. Falana argued that the maintenance of internal security, including law and order during elections, were exclusive responsibilities of the Nigeria Police.
Citing Section 215 of the 1999, he said it was erroneous on the part of the INEC chairman to insist that only the military could guarantee security during the forthcoming elections.
Mr. Falana also criticised the Senate President, David Mark, for turning down the request by some lawmakers for service chiefs and the national security adviser to be summoned to explain their alleged interference in the constitutional duties of INEC.
By failing to summon the military high command to clear any doubt on the election dates, the Lagos lawyer said Mr. Mark’s statement that May 29 handover date was sacrosanct had become an empty assurance.
“Once INEC has discharged its constitutional duty of fixing election dates, the onus is on the Police to provide security and maintain law and order,” Mr. Falana said. “Since election is not a military duty, the police force is at liberty to collaborate with other law enforcement agencies like the Nigeria Customs Service, Nigerian Civil Defence Corps, and Nigerian Prisons Service, etc.”
Mr. Falana accused former President Olusegun Obasanjo of dragging the military into the conduct of elections when he illegally deployed troops to manipulate the 2003 general elections.
However, he said the courts have consistently advised the Federal Government to desist from involving the Armed Forces in the conduct of elections.
Citing the Appeal Court ruling in Yussuf versus Obasanjo, 2005, 18 NWLR (PT956), 96, he quoted the court to have said, “It is up to the police to protect our nascent democracy and not the military, otherwise the democracy might be wittingly or unwittingly militarized. This is not what the citizenry bargained for in wrestling power from the military in 1999. Conscious step or steps should be taken to civilianize the polity to ensure the survival and sustenance of democracy.”
In another ruling in the case between Buhari and Obasanjo, 2005, 1 WRN 1 at 200, the court again held that “In spite of the non-tolerant nature and behavior of our political class in this country, we should by all means try to keep armed personnel of whatever status or nature from being part and parcel of our election process. The civilian authorities should be left to conduct and carry out fully the electoral processes at all levels”.
In upholding the judgment of the lower court, the Supreme Court in Buhari v Obasanjo, 2005, 50 WRN 1 at 313, held that the State is obligated to ensure “citizens who are sovereign can exercise their franchise freely, unmolested and undisturbed.”
Mr. Falana also cited two recent rulings by the Federal High Court and the Appeal Court that barred the government from deploying troops for election duties.
He cited the ruling on the Ekiti governorship election where the Appeal Court held that even the President of Nigeria has no powers to call on the Nigerian Armed Forces and to unleash them on peaceful citizens, who are exercising their franchise.
The court further held that whoever unleashed soldiers on the Ekiti State disturbed the peace of the election on June 21, 2014; acted in flagrant breach of the Constitution and flouted the provisions of the Electoral Act, which required an enabling environment by civil authorities in the conduct of elections.
“In the light of the foregoing, Professor Attahiru Jega should ensure that INEC is not further blackmailed by the military hierarchy,” Mr. Falana said. “On their own part, the National Security Adviser and the Service Chiefs should desist from usurping the constitutional responsibility of the INEC and the Nigeria Police Force.”