The debate has been on-going on the involvement of the military in the electoral process, I have watched with apt attention on the dimension the discourse has taken and the different positions that has been opined by different commentators, including the legality or otherwise of the military involvement in the electoral process.
This has been made more complex if considered on the premise that military service chiefs actually influence the postponement of the election from the Valentine’s Day verdict to a new date in March.
While many commentators has harangued political and apolitical positions, this piece will take a different angle and examine how the military question can be analysed within the human rights and election discourse.
Many has taken strong opposition to the deployment of the military for election duties and are quick to raise different positions on the impact, as well as the rational and legal consequence of the involvement of the military,most importantly is the registered fear of examining whether the involvement of the military will affect the outcome of the election.
This fear is genuine against the backdrop of the recent EkitiGate saga and the challenge of the militarisation of the elections in Ekiti and Osun state by HURIDAC (a civil society organisation) cum the two recent judgments of the Sokoto High Court and the Ekiti electoral tribunal.
As difficult as this discourse may be, not only in the legal parlance, but also applying rationality and moral checks will provide problematic results.
To build a consensus on this issue can only be achieved if the issue is addressed from the peoples’ perspective. In practice, this implies that we need to examine how the involvement of the military will affect the Nigerians’ right to vote. The right to vote encapsulates series of other human rights. The human rights protective mechanism is very important and contributes towards ensuring a secure environment for the election.
In Nigeria, the right to vote is a fundamental human right derived from the right of Nigerians to participate in the government of their country and embedded in the Nigeria consititution and Nigeria’s human rights obligations, nationally and internationally. It is also important to note that the right to vote can only be guaranteed by ensuring the protection and promotion of other rights including freedom of movement, expression, association, etc.
Ironically, only the government can violates these rights, including members of the military and other security forces.
The government, including the military and other security agencies has the responsibility to protect this right. In doing this, it presupposes adhering strictly to human rights responsibility to promote and protect obligations. Responsibility to promote is to ensure the enjoyment of inherent benefits of the provisions of these rights. In practice, this means that the government (including the military and other security forces) should not interfere or prevent the enjoyment of these rights either by law or practice.
The responsibility to protect obligations, presupposes that the government (including the military and other security forces) should prevent any third party from infringing on the enjoyment of these rights. This includes provisions of strong institutions (including the military and security institutions) to ensure policies and practices that will ensure the protection of these obligations.
These analyses show that is it not just the identity or the military institutions per se, that operate around the electoral process that poses a risk to these rights, but most importantly it is their conduct and behaviour in carrying out their duty that also poses a great risk.
The duties of these securities forces is imbedded in the constitutions, The Nigeria Army has the constitutional responsibility to defend the territory of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by land, …and can perform such other duties as the National Assembly may, from time to time, prescribe or direct by an Act Or by the deplorement by the President for operation purposes.
However, it is the Police’s constitutional duty to maintain public order and to prevent and detect crime. The law empowers the police to play the major role of policing the election and protecting the rights of Nigerians to vote, and it is only when the police resources prove inadequate to maintain law and order that the army can be called upon to assist the police in their duties.
However, this constitutional empowerment is the only thing the police has. In Nigeria, they are unfortunately bereft of credibility, trust, honesty, reliance and efficiency in carrying out these roles. It is the absence of an efficient and effective policing that have necessitated the debate around the involvement of the military.
The weakness of the police is the basis of military involvement in election policing.
I am of the view that those who opposes the involvement of the military in electoral duties are doing this on the basis that the ruling party can use the military to rig the election. The EkitiGate saga is an indication of how the military can be manipulated and Mis-used.
However, the police on the other hand portends “clear and present danger” as far as the election is concerned. Even manipulators do not trust or have confidence in the police. It is precisely this weakness that has created the gap for other security forces to come into the election policing terrain. We should also consider the fact that if the police cannot be trusted, relying solely on the police will present an unsecured election, and such election would be devoid of credibility and unacceptable.
We should also be aware that the military has already been playing crime prevention roles, they have been deployed in 32 out of 36 states of the federation to make us feel safe and secured.
There is a fundamental error committed by the military chiefs, linking their constitutional role to the election. Whether we are voting or not, they have the role to protect Nigerian territory from external threats and from armed insurgents like Boko Haram, and this role should not be linked to elections.
The Indepedent National Electoral comision (INEC) continues to rely on the army as the third tier of security for the election. This means that they are not supposed to be visible around poling unit, and that they can only come in as an intervention force in case of any major crises.
It is also important to consider the position of international human right law. Though the law did not make specific provision for the use of military during election, it does make the obligation to the national government to ensure that human rights of Nigerians are protected including the right to life in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Most importantly, the Vienna Convention on Laws of Treaties obligate national governments to ensure that they do everything possible not to defeat the purpose and object of the treaties which they are states parties. It has however been affirmed that the Geneva Convention gives governments the right to use the military to prevent civilian casualties. This includes the situation we are facing in the North-East of the country with Boko Haram, as we are adjudged to be involved in non-international armed conflict.
However, the arguments cannot just be legally simple, it must be rational as well. The principle of rationality in this case suggests that the army contributes in the protection of life of Nigerians, against the backdrop of the increased political violence, where the police struggle to cope.
The question here is, can the military help to mitigate these losses of lives due to political violence. Definitely yes, since the police are incapable of doing so effectively. If we continue to address the issue from an election perspective, we will continue to miss the point, Yes, the military should have no role to play on electoral process, but the military has an obligation to protect the lives of Nigeria from both external and internal enemies, as such if election provide a threat, the military should help to mitigate this threat. This is also what we have seen in many part of the world, when the military were drafted into many humanitarian duties.
The cornerstone of this argument is not to raise strong opposition to the use of the military in the electoral process, but to raise very sturdy opposition to the partisanship or manipulative use of the military. This remains a risk to the professionalism of the military and recent events tends to be gradually confirming this risk.
One can draw an inference that the fear of the judiciary is not to make this role unconstitutional, but majorly to ensure and protect the military from unconstitutional assignments. Even though the president has the power to deploy the military for electoral operations, it will be unconstitutional to deploy the military for criminal activities, playing direct or complicit role to rig election.
The debate on the use of the military will continue to raise the bar of military involvement around elections, there are two main questions seeking for answer: Do Nigerians really need the military to police election?
If we do, how do we guarantee that they will be nonpartisan?
The Indepedent National Electoral comision (INEC) remains the main institution to find answers to these questions. In addition, there are three hurdles that INEC need to address:
If the Military is needed, how will legal cover for their role around the elections be secured, as illegality cannot be cordoned.
How will INEC guarantee the nonpartisanship of the military?
How to ensure that the military are not directly or indirectly involved in committing human rights violations?
The entry point for INEC is to consider the possibility of agreeing with the military on strong human rights and highly professional rules of engagement for all security agencies’ involvement in electoral duties. This is the required muscle that INEC need surmone to start crossing the above hurdles.
Irrespective of how the debate will shape the court judgment, the protection of the human rights of Nigeria, especially the protection of their ‘right to life’ is crucial and most important factor.