The sour relationship between the Nigerian army and the Rivers State government is not likely to end soon, it appears.
A senior army official said on Sunday that the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, and other politicians were attacking the army because it “refused to compromise the integrity” of the last general elections in the country.
But the state government has repeatedly accused the army of trying to rig the elections for the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Mr Wike and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), won the governorship election and the majority of seats in the state’s legislative house.
The election in the state was, however, marred by violence and killing. At least, two soldiers were killed in the state during the election.
“Some subversive elements tried, but failed to cause the division to compromise the integrity of the polls,” the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) quoted the General Officer Commanding (GOC), 6 Division, Port Harcourt, Jamil Sarham, to have said.
Mr Sarham, a major-general, spoke at the army divisional headquarters while receiving awards for “excellence” from two youth groups – the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Youth Council, and the Northern Youth Council of Nigeria – according to NAN.
Mr Sarham did not mention Mr Wike by name, but his comment apparently targeted the governor and other politicians, mainly members of the PDP, who accused the army chief of taking sides with the APC during the election.
The general said politicians were angry with the army because of its stance in the election, and that the army acted in the best interest of the nation by assisting the police in the elections.
He said the army officials on election duty in Rivers were “resilient and dogged” and some of them “unfortunately paid the supreme price in defence of our democracy”.
He dedicated the awards to the soldiers who lost their lives in the elections.
Brickbats have been flying about between the military authorities in Port Harcourt and Mr Wike before, during, and after the elections.
The army, in February, accused Mr Wike of trying to bribe the GOC, Mr Sarham, before the election.
“It is indeed no secret to the military authorities that Governor Wike has on various occasions made attempts to compromise the integrity of the GOC 6 Division, Maj Gen Jamil Sarham.
“Having failed, despite series of overtures and monetary pledges of millions of dollars, both in person and from cronies, it is no surprise that the frustrated Governor has resorted to this appalling campaign of calumny,” the army authorities in Port Harcourt had said through its spokesperson, Sagir Musa.
The statement was in response to an allegation that the army attempted to assassinate Mr Wike.
“The Nigerian Army does not train assassins, as such the institution or her personnel cannot be involved in sending assassins to murder a state governor, as alleged by Gov Nyesom Wike,” the army said.
The army had challenged the governor to prove his allegations against it within seven days.
The Rivers government had denied the army’s bribery allegation, describing it as “mere blackmail to cover the evil perpetrated by soldiers in the state.”
Mr Wike said in March that what played out in Rivers during the election was “the worst form of military interference in Nigeria’s electoral process”.
He accused Mr Sarham of running a parallel government in Rivers State.
“We formally request that appropriate sanctions be meted out to the GOC of the 6 Division. It has never happened that the army division becomes the operational base of a political party. This GOC became actively involved in politics. He has his own government in Rivers state. He has no respect for civil authority.
“We seek the immediate redeployment of the GOC, Major General Jamil Sarham. He cannot fight crime. Leaving the GOC here will be creating more crisis. He is here to fight crime and not to play politics. If soldiers fight crime, the way they intervened in last elections, there will be no kidnapper anywhere,” the governor said.
In Akwa Ibom, the security aide to Governor Udom Emmanuel, Iniobong Ekong, was arrested on election eve and driven about 148 kilometre from Uyo to the army divisional headquarters, Port Harcourt, on the orders of the GOC, Mr Sarham.
Mr Ekong, a retired captain in the Nigerian army, was detained in the military facilities for more than seven days.
He later told PREMIUM TIMES the army arrested and detained him so that, as a PDP chieftain, he could not take part in the presidential and national assembly elections.
“I am terribly ashamed. Up till now, I still don’t understand why the military should be involved in this kind of thing,” Mr Ekong said.