The Federal Government may defy the Court of Appeal judgement barring the use of soldiers in the conduct of elections in the country, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.
A top government official, who pleaded anonymity, in an interview with one of our correspondents on Thursday, gave an indication that President Goodluck Jonathan might order the deployment of soldiers for the March 28 and April 11 general elections.
The official was responding to a question on what step the President will take on the letter written by the All Progressives Congress in which it called attention to the court order.
He said there was no issue in the matter as Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayo Fayose, had replied the APC on the matter.
He said the governor’s response was enough.
The Ekiti State governor was quoted on Thursday to have said Jonathan would continue to deploy soldiers for elections in the country.
The governor had further said that the APC did not want the military to be involved in the elections in order to have the opportunity to perpetrate violence during the elections.
“It is the constitutional right of President Goodluck Jonathan to deploy soldiers to provide security anywhere in Nigeria and not even the APC allies in the judiciary can take away this right,” Fayose was quoted as saying.
The governor added in a telephone conversation with one of our correspondents on Thursday night that it was the responsibility of the Federal Government to ensure law and order and protect the nation’s citizenry.
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, could not be reached for comments at the time of filing this report.
But the Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, Prof. Rufa’i Alkali, who also spoke to Saturday PUNCH on Thursday, confirmed the response of the top government official.
He said military troops would be deployed to protect the lives and property of Nigerians before, during and after the elections.
Rufa’i said only people with sinister motive are afraid of the deployment of troops.
Alkali said, “Soldiers, as far back as when Edo State Governor, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, was being elected, were deployed and Oshiomhole even with his radicalism swallowed his pride and came to thank the President for supporting the elections with adequate security.
“Now, look at what happened in Ekiti, when they lost they were crying but when the military was also deployed in Osun and they won they kept quiet.
“I challenge them to say since they didn’t want the deployment of security for elections, and soldiers were deployed for the Osun election, I thought they were going to reject the outcome of the Osun elections but they didn’t. What the APC is doing is crass opportunism.”
The Peoples Democratic Party national leadership refused to comment on the court ruling, preferring to concede the decision on the type of security officials to be used for the elections to the Independent National Electoral Commission.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Olisa Metuh, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said the security measure being planned by the INEC should be enough to guarantee free, fair and crisis-free elections.
When asked to be specific if he was satisfied with the Court of Appeal ruling which barred the deployment of soldiers for elections, he said he needed to study the judgement first.
Metuh said, “Well, I need to study the judgement and seek the opinion of our legal adviser. But suffice to say that we believe that the army is doing a marvellous job and that by the time we are due for the elections, there would not be any security crisis in any part of the country.
“Also, we are of the opinion that any security plan being put in place by the INEC would be acceptable and enough to have peaceful elections.
“We would work with the electoral body to have free, fair and acceptable elections across the country.”
Meanwhile, INEC has said that soldiers will not be deployed at polling units during the elections.
The Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Mr. Kayode Idowu, stated this in an electronic mail exclusively sent to one of our correspondents on Thursday in Abuja.
Idowu was responding to an enquiry from Saturday PUNCH on the deployment of the military for the elections in view of the recent court judgements barring soldiers’ involvement in polls.
He acknowledged that the military would provide peripheral security cordon such as manning entry points into towns to check the trafficking of arms that could be used to disrupt the elections.
Idowu said, “They are also positioned in covert readiness for rapid deployment if there is a security crisis beyond the capacity of the police to handle. The military are never near polling units.”
According to him, under the platform of the Interagency Consultative Committee on Election Security that was created in 2011, the role of the military has been limited to providing INEC with logistics support.
This, he said, included Air Force planes and Navy boats that will transport election materials over hazardous or difficult terrains across the country.
He said, “As a matter of fact, all security men at the polling units are never armed. It is because malevolent people could exploit this and harm voters as well as polling officials that the armed agents are in readiness for rapid deployment.
“(It is) only if occasion warrants it. Luckily, occasion has not warranted it since this security design was put in place in 2011.”
The Court of Appeal in Abuja, which affirmed Governor Fayose of the Peoples Democratic Party as the winner of the June 21, 2014 governorship election in Ekiti had described the use of Armed Forces in the conduct of elections as a violation of Section 217(2)(c) of the Constitution and Section 1 of the Armed Forces Act.
It cited a judgement delivered by Justice R. M Aikawa of the Federal High Court in Sokoto on January 29, 2015 barring the use of the armed forces in the conduct of elections.
The appellate court therefore barred the use of the Armed Forces in the conduct of future elections in the country as such constituted a violation of both the constitution and the Electoral Act.
However, the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Lai Mohammed, in a phone conversation with one of our correspondents, questioned Fayose’s claim that President Jonathan would deploy soldiers for the forthcoming elections in spite of the Appeal court ruling.
He alleged that Fayose and the PDP are in support of the use of the military during the elections because soldiers had rigged elections for them in the past.
He said, “Is he (Fayose) the Commander-in-Chief? Fayose wants the military to be deployed because he knows that was how the election was rigged for him. And they (PDP leadership) want the military to be deployed because the PDP wants the military to rig elections for them.
“But what we are saying is that the court of appeal has ruled that the military has no business in election duties. And we hope that Jonathan will not only obey that ruling, we will insist that soldiers are not used.”
When asked what the APC would do should the Federal Government defy the court ruling by deploying the military for the elections, Mohammed said, “When we get to that bridge, we will know how to cross it.”
In a statement issued on Wednesday, by his Special Assistant on Public Communications and New Media, Lere Olayinka, Fayose had argued that the military was used in governorship elections in some states not won by the PDP in the past, including Edo and Ondo.
Also recently, an audio recording surfaced online alleging that the last governorship election in Ekiti State was rigged in favour of the eventual winner, Fayose, with the support of the military.
The audio file released by Sahara Reporters, an online medium, detailed how Fayose; former Minister of State for Defence, Mr. Musiliu Obanikoro; Senator Iyiola Omisore; Minister of Police Affairs, Mr. Jelili Adesiyan and the military allegedly rigged the poll.
The audio recording was reportedly made by one Captain Sagir Koli of the 32nd Artillery Brigade in the state, who was allegedly present at the meeting.
The debate on legality of deploying the military in elections has since become a major subject of public discourse.
A former Director of Army Legal Services, Col. Akin Kejawa (retd.), said there are provisions in the Nigerian constitution and the Armed Forces Act allowing the deployment of soldiers for operational use, which includes providing law and order during elections.
He, however, said the provision as allowed by the constitution does not give the military the right to conduct elections.
He said, “Section 217 (2) says one of the duties of the military is suppressing insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so. So if soldiers are deployed to maintain law and order, that is supported by both the constitution, as well as the Armed Forces Act.
“This is the provision that empowers the military to go out. What we have in Nigeria- Boko Haram- is a form of insurrection. The military is covered under the constitution as well as the Armed Forces Act as long as the soldiers don’t go and be taking ballot papers.
“The fact that soldiers are present at a polling centre does not mean that they are conducting the election. The military is not there to conduct elections because INEC officials, the representatives of the parties and the international observers are there. I don’t think it’s illegal for the military to be deployed for elections as long as it is for the maintenance of law and order.
According to Kejawa, the law also gives the President the powers to deploy the military in maintaining law and order in the country, particularly to aid civil authorities.
He said, “Section 8 (1-2) of the Armed Forces Act specifically states that the President shall have power to deploy the armed forces for operational use. It goes further to state that the President shall have power to delegate the power to deploy armed forces for operational use to either the Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Army Staff, the Chief of Naval Staff and that of the Air Force Staff as the case may be.
“Section 3 (8) defines what is meant by the operational use of the armed forces. It includes provision of aid to civil power.
“If you go to Section 239 of the Armed Forces Act, it says where the army provides aid to civil power, it can never be liable for anything it does, that is, any act of omission or commission they commit in the process of providing aid to civil power.
He condemned using the military to intimidate members of opposition parties, saying the military should apply professionalism in their duties.
He said, “I don’t support that the military should be politicised since they are subject to the political authorities. The President is the person who orders the operational use of the military.
“But using the military to intimidate the opposition is abuse of power. That is where the professionalism of the military comes in. The military should not be used to intimidate political the opponents, when they are maintaining law and order, it is not the members of a political party that they are there to protect, but everybody. So they are not there for political objective, they are there to perform their professional duties.”