By Sumaila Ogbaje, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
It’s no longer news that Nigeria experienced long history of military rule, during which members of Nigerian Armed Forces twice truncated democratically elected governments. The first was in 1966, and the second in 1983. The military presided over the affairs of Nigeria for a cumulative period of 29 years.
Experts have viewed military government as an antithesis to democratic governance, as the country’s constitution is often suspended to give way for decrees as seen in Nigeria when the military took over.
These periods were viewed as the era of military intervention in Nigerian politics, where the centre was governed by military Head of State and the states by Military Administrators.
Nigeria will be heading for election in February 2023, which will make it 24 years of unhindered democratic governance since the end of the military regime in 1999.
This is a huge step towards consolidating democracy in the country, in spite of the challenges being encountered within the period arising from bad governance by elected officials, poverty, insecurity, among others.
Recent military coups in some African countries had sparked fears in Nigeria owing to numerous challenges bedeviling the nation.
They include over a decade of insecurity, ranging from terrorism and insurgency in the North-East, banditry in the North- West and North-Central as well as secessionist agitation in the South-East and South-West.
In spite of these obvious threats, the Armed Forces of Nigeria has continued to demonstrate unalloyed loyalty to the nation, providing support to civil authorities in the protection and defence of Nigeria.
The military has also come out at different times to reaffirm its commitment to protecting democracy and civil rule in the country, warning that it will deal decisively with any personnel found engaging in any act of disobedience to democratic order.
In the words of a former Commander of United States Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, an apolitical military was essential to maintaining balance among all institutions in a country, as the military often confront threats of active pandemic, civil unrest and economic crisis.
Votel said that resolving these crises would require coordinated efforts involving the federal government and state governments, the military, press, business communities and academia.
According to him, although, the military is an entity within the executive branch, its place within the constitutional order requires special consideration and respect to secure the intentions of the nation’s forefathers.
The four-star general posited that the U.S. military had at one time or the other came under intense scrutiny, but had managed to maintain the esteem of the people it served.
“For our democratic system to work, civilian leadership must have trust and confidence in the military and its leaders, without concerns of partisanship. Like those civilian leaders, every person who joins a military branch, both enlisted members and officers, takes an oath “to support and defend the constitution.”
According to him, that shared loyalty to the constitution should give elected leaders the confidence that the military and its leaders are serving the common good.
“It therefore behooves that elected leaders would always want prudent military advice that is free of political bias,’’ he said.
Before and after the 2015 general elections in Nigeria, there were accusations and counter accusations about involvement of some senior officers of the Nigerian Army in the various elections, which the military hierarchy took decisive measures to address.
Before the 2019 elections, the then Chief of Army Staff, retired Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, set up of a “Special Standing Court Martial’’ to try any partisan personnel during the general elections.
Buratai had warned that any Nigerian Army personnel found hobnobbing with politicians or being partisan will be investigated and sent to the Special Standing Court Martial.
He added that any officer or soldier who wishes to be sympathetic to political, religious or ethnic cause should voluntarily retire from the Nigerian Army.
So, as the 2023 general elections draw near, the current military hierarchy has also drummed its determination to ensure smooth and safe conduct of all elections come 2023 across the country.
During the just concluded Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Second Quarter Conference in Abuja, the Army Chief, Lt.-Gen. Faruk Yahaya, ordered for a review of Nigerian Army Rules of Engagement and Code of Conduct ahead of the general elections.
Yahaya directed all personnel of the Nigerian Army to remain apolitical while providing enabling and secured environment for electoral processes to thrive, assuring that the army would continue to enhance civil-military relations and provide necessary support in aid of civil authority.
He said that the Nigerian Army must continue to discharge its constitutional roles in support of the civil authority without compromise.
“Accordingly, commanders are reminded that as the 2023 General Elections approaches, troops under their command must remain apolitical and operate professionally.
“They must continuously review their contingency plans for the provision of security support through an effective mechanism of cooperation with other security stakeholders.
“As earlier highlighted during my opening remarks, the reviewed Rules of Engagement and Code of Conduct for Operation Safe Conduct guiding troops during the upcoming 2023 General Elections will be distributed in earnest.
“I therefore urge you to thoroughly sensitise troops on their contents and implore them to operate in accordance with extant provisions throughout the period,’’ he said.
Also, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen. Lucky Irabor, reiterated the commitment of the armed forces to supporting and protecting democratic governance and institutions to effectively discharge their constitutional responsibilities.
Irabor, while addressing newsmen recently, warned politicians and their supporters who are planning to cause trouble during the 2023 general elections to desist, saying the military would not stand by and watch anyone cause trouble before, during and after the elections.
He said that though it was obvious that some individuals were not desirous of peaceful elections, the armed forces would give necessary support to the civil authority to ensure peaceful conduct of the elections.
According to him, the military will ensure a peaceful period during the upcoming elections, so that everyone will have a country to be proud of.
The CDS also advised those desirous of getting political positions and appointments after elections to conduct themselves peacefully.
“Anyone who is looking forward to be elected, must do it within the ambit of the provisions of the law, because we will not in any way stand aside and see those who perpetrate violence all because they are looking for political office or appointive offices.
“Nigeria remains a nation that must live in peace, desire to live in peace, and Nigerians deserve to live in peace.
“And so, we will not allow criminals among those or if you like, thugs that might have made themselves available for anyone to use.
“We are working very closely with the police and we stand ready to give them all the support that is necessary, because going forward, Nigeria must be peaceful and that is what we are looking forward to,” he said.
Indeed, Nigerians are looking forward for peaceful elections and happily the Nigerian Army has pledged unalloyed loyalty to sustain and deepen democracy. (NANFeatures)