The Nigerian military has come under criticism by international and local observers over its conduct in the 2019 general elections, especially its apparent unprofessional conduct in the gubernatorial elections.
The European Union (EU), United Kingdom and the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) have all condemned its unbecoming conduct in the electoral process, which climaxed in open show of partisanship to temporal wielders of political power in the country.
Specifically, the EU alleged curious denial of access to polling and collation centres, especially in Rivers State.
In their opinion contained in the preliminary report released shortly after the elections, the access denial amounted to compromise of the transparency and trust in the electoral process.
On its part, the CUPP viewed the conduct of the military as tantamount to ousting of the democratic process in ways that are felonious.
Nonetheless, the foreign observers emphasised the need for electoral reforms to address the obvious shortcomings of the elections through an inclusive national conversation.
Expectedly, this damning report on the military drew the attention of the military establishment, which has refuted the allegations.
In its response, it said the allegations were untrue and baseless with the potentiality of misleading members of the public about its image. It averred that there was no credible record of alleged involvement in the course of the 2019 elections and that the military was a responsible organisation that discharged itself professionally to the applause of “many individuals, foreign and local elections observers.”
Furthermore, it reiterated its commitment to “remain apolitical, neutral and professional in the conduct of the 2019 general election and in all its assigned roles across the nation in line with the directive of the Chief of Army Staff.” The military authority added that its role so far was clearly “to assist civil authority and the Nigerian police to have a secure and peaceful conduct of the elections.”
However, despite denial, it made public that the Chief of Army Staff has set-up a committee to investigate all complaints relating to alleged professional misconduct by military personnel in the conduct of the general elections.
There is no reason to be surprised about this hurt image of the military. We had warned against this eventuality when the service chiefs threw caution to the winds and graced the presidential flag-off of the incumbent. It was not only unprofessional; it represented role disorientation and reckless display of partisanship.
The military is an element of the state and its loyalty is to the state and not interim occupiers of the governmental tier, which itself is just an element of the state, fleeting in nature.
Election is wholly a civic and civil affair and has nothing to do with the military. Election approximates the democratic method, that process in which eligible adults enter the voting platform and cast their ballot and by so doing transferring their consent to constitute a legitimate government.
Compromising that process in any way inherently delegitimizes the government that is the outcome of a rigged process. It should be emphasised that the military too as part of the citizenry are expected to vote in an elections but without open demonstration of partisanship as they reportedly did in some instances, especially in Rivers State.
There is no gainsaying that the integrity of the military is at stake and the current hierarchy of the military is to be held responsible. Today, Nigerians barely have any faith in the police institution due to its socialisation to malpractices and subjecting the military to that same process is dangerous and would be tragic for the country.
The current leadership of the military appeared bereft of the meaning of civil-military relations. As experts have rightly articulated, “civil-military relations refers to those patterns of relations between the military and the civil society. It involves perception as well as physical interactions between the uniformed men and women and the civil society in the transformation of society.”
Civil society is not to be mistaken here to mean non-governmental organisations; it means the society as a whole. It is to be noted that it was the destruction of civil-military relations and the descent to personalised rule in Liberia and Sierra Leone that led to the advent of new militarism (armed non-state actors) that almost destroyed those countries. Our country may not be lucky after an initial civil war in the 1960s.
It must be said without any form of ambiguity that military professionalism is at stake. Viewed against its meddlesomeness in Osun and Ekiti elections, it is simply unfortunate.
The failure to conduct a simple act of electing leaders seamlessly has sullied the image of the country. This is obviously not the change we thought we had. It may be argued that the behaviour of politicians is responsible for the deployment of the military, it is worse when incumbents politicise that institution.
The military is ever quick to cite the fact that it is acting in aid of civil authority, whatever the law; military colluding with politicians is counterproductive to the rule of law and democracy. Above all, it is a disservice to our men and women in uniform and the institution they belong—the military.
Therefore, as well-meaning Nigerians and observers have done, we advise on the need to revisit the 2010 Electoral Act Amendment Bill, which contains provisions that restrain the military from meddling in the country’s electoral process. It is regrettable that the president failed to sign that Bill before the 2019 elections.
In the main, the military authorities should note that the nation would not like to tolerate any acts of the military that are capable of disrupting the majesty of democracy again.