September 25, 2017

We need soldiers for the coming elections by Niran Adedokun

We need soldiers for the coming elections by Niran Adedokun

If you discount the Nigerian civil war and the Boko Haram insurgency that has raged for the better part of the last decade, nothing would account for more loss of innocent Nigerian lives like post electoral violence. No election, even before Nigeria’s independence has gone without a measure of discontent, if not violence. Elections, rather than solve problems in Nigeria, have almost always added to it.

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If you discount the Nigerian civil war and the Boko Haram insurgency that has raged for the better part of the last decade, nothing would account for more loss of innocent Nigerian lives like post electoral violence. No election, even before Nigeria’s independence has gone without a measure of discontent, if not violence. Elections, rather than solve problems in Nigeria, have almost always added to it.

I will attempt a count. Although the 1959 elections did not come with any loss of lives or property, there were widespread reports of intimidation and harassment of political opponents. Thugs created an atmosphere of fear and insecurity through myriad acts of political terrorism.

Our first post-Independence elections in 1964 and 1965 brought varying levels of accusations of rigging and manipulation which led to an uprising where polling agents and party supporters were killed with property destroyed. At the end of the day, reports had it that 2,000 people were killed and 5,000 houses burnt. The violence also contributed to the eventual collapse of the First Republic in 1966.

The next general elections in Nigeria would be 13 years later when General Olusegun Obasanjo handed over to Alhaji Shehu Shagari in 1979. Although this passed without violence, perhaps because it was supervised by a military administration, the brazen manipulation of the 1983 elections triggered violent protests in some parts of Ondo State. This was in reaction to perceived rigging of the gubernatorial election in favour of the candidate of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) Chief  Akin Omoboriowo.

At the end of the protests, many important members of the NPN and key allies of Omoboriowo in the state were killed. This included Majority Leader of Ondo State House of Assembly, Hon. Tunde Agunbiade, his wife, two children, a driver and five other people as well as Hon. Olaiya Fagbamigbe, a member of the National Assembly and Secretary of NPN in Ondo State, who was burnt to death along with ten members of his household. More than 300 houses, including the office of the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) in Akure were also destroyed.

Although the 2011 elections were rated to be at par with the June 12, 1993 presidential elections in terms of transparency and credibility, violence nevertheless erupted as the process of declaration of results was going on. At the end, more than 800 people, including young men and women who were on national service from other parts of the country had already lost their lives.  Some were shot, some macheted and others slaughtered like cows in three days of violence across 12 states in the northern part of the country.

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Now as we move toward the 2015 consolidation elections, the stakes seem higher than ever.  As of December 2014, a period during which political parties were merely involved in their internal selection process, the National Human Rights Commission has recorded 58 deaths. These deaths, although grossly underreported in my opinion, are a sign of the crisis that has been severally foretold as a likely fall out of the 2015 elections.

This is why I find the current argument against the expediency of deploying men of the armed forces to provide security during the elections as totally unnecessary given our circumstances. Those who are averse to the use of military men say that soldiers should not be part of a civil activity like the elections. But I am saying that until Nigeria gets to a place where her citizens respect the will of the majority and learn to seek redress from established democratic institutions, we must do everything possible to safeguard the votes of the majority and preserve lives, which cannot be brought back once consumed by violence.

The opposition seems worried that the federal government might employ the services of men of the armed forces to intimidate people and swing the elections in favour of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) but I think the opposition should prefer losing the elections unfairly to the loss of innocent Nigerians, which cannot be brought back. Especially as there are courts in the land empowered to address the issues of electoral injustice and the opposition has been a proud beneficiary of the system in the past. In any case, members of the armed forces have proved to be unbiased in more than one election in which they have participated massively during the Jonathan administration.

One of this was the April, 2012 governorship election in Edo State where a series of actual and imagined acts of violence got everyone worried.  Even Governor Adams Oshiomhole alleged that he was the target of a truck that crashed into his convoy killing three journalists during his electioneering campaign.

The Federal Government then deployed a total of 3,500 soldiers on election duty. This was understandably seen as a ploy by the Peoples Democratic Party-controlled Federal Government to employ the security forces in a bid to get Oshiomhole out of office by force.

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But none of that happened! Oshiomhole coasted home to victory and later applauded President Goodluck Jonathan for providing the leadership that saw to a free and fair election in the state.

Oshiomole said at the Presidential Villa two days after his victory: “…For me, what the Edo election has confirmed is that when the President and Commander-in-Chief puts the country first and he conducts himself as a statesman, not just as a party leader, credible elections are possible because people were apprehensive that the Nigerian Army could be misused. But of course I told them I didn’t think they were right, but the President’s clear directive was that the vote must count. He warned that there will be no rigging; no manipulation, no ballot snatching and orders were given to the army to ensure none of those things happened and the army carried out the order. The Police IG was similarly instructed, he deployed his men probably much more than we probably needed and they delivered the President’s orders. The SSS were fantastic because they were always at the collating centres where some of the manipulations can take place… And the SSS did a fantastic job, two plus two was four not five not 15 and a lot of that made a lot of difference…”

However, with the groundswell of opposition this time around, it is might be expedient for the president to initiate a meeting where he would seek the understanding of parties who oppose the use of the military. A meeting where he should assure all of his best intentions. This is a moment when everyone must put the survival and interest of Nigeria above their individual sentiments.

Of course the military may not be able to solve all the problems that these elections may present but we must be seen to have done our best to forestall violence and loss of lives. The only responsible thing to do is put our best foot forward and leave the rest to God

Twitter:@niranadedokun

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Radi8
InnJoo Reborn

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