Nigeria is currently practicing its 20th years of uninterrupted democracy. Sadly, elections in the country since the installation of civil rule in 1999 have always been characterized by electoral crime and violence in addition to the proliferating insecurity which have continued to plague some parts of the country.
Free, fair and credible elections is a critical element of democracy but on the contrary, this tenet and principle as it is obtainable in ideal democracies has been severely subverted in Nigeria as most political contenders hardly play by the rules during elections.
The 2019 elections may have come and gone but the controversies surrounding the conduct of the elections and most especially, the militarization of the process have been greeted with public fury. This therefore necessitates review of our electoral process.
Since the return to civil rule, never have we seen the Nigerian military become so partisan in elections as was seen in the just concluded polls. The military were used by politicians to perpetuate violence and rigging in an attempt to influence the results of the polls to their favour.
There were reports that the army blocked domestic and international observers from monitoring the conduct of the elections and also barred party agents from observing collation of results at some collation centers. Consequently, the foregoing has called to question the professionalism and constitutional duty of the military.
After the conduct of the gubernatorial and State House of Assemblies elections, series of videos surfaced online showing the military abetting electoral crime. In one of the viral videos, soldiers were seen invading a house in Rivers State and even running after residents with guns. The earlier conducted presidential and national Assembly elections did not fare better either.
Commenting on the ignoble role played by the military in the 2019 elections, This Day editorial of March17, 2019 noted: “never in the history of elections in Nigeria did we witness such impunity in the election process as seen in the past four weeks. Men in uniform intimidated or blocked voters from getting to polling stations, snatched ballot boxes and instigated needless violence in some theatres across the country.”
Although the military have strongly denied the allegations that its men were used to sabotage the electoral process, no arrest has been effected on the culprits.
Even though the supporters of militarization of electoral process have put their argument on the basis of insecurity in the country, this is not enough reason for the military to get involved in the electoral process owing to the shameful conduct they displayed in the recent election.
The constitution of Nigeria specifically section 215 (3) mandate the Nigeria police to maintain public order and secure public safety. Furthermore, the Supreme Court had on different occasions delivered clear-cut rulings that the military had no role to play in the conduct of elections.
Election is the cornerstone of every ideal democracy. If Nigeria democracy must be solidified, elections in the country should be demilitarized and our electoral process should undergo urgent reforms. The military should see elections as an entirely civic exercise and should only be involved when called upon.
The Nigeria Police and its sister agencies should be trained and retrained on how to tackle election related violence and crime before, during and after elections. It is appropriate that legislation be made to restrict the military to the barracks on Election Day.