By Sam Eyoboka
NATIONAL president, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, Rev. Felix Omobude, said ordinarily it was inconceivable for the military to be involved in our political elections. “But when you look at the desperation and the viciousness of our political actors, and the things that happened prior to the last elections…: INEC offices burnt, destruction of electoral materials, killings of innocent persons, I think no responsible government can fold its hands and allow such irresponsibility to continue when it was obvious that the Police was overwhelmed”. He did not stop there.
So, the involvement of the military can be said to have been necessitated by the rascality and viciousness of politicians and the political class that were desperate to win elections by all means. One would have thought that the military would be brought in to man very sensitive black spots to arrest very volatile areas of the country instead of polling stations where they were involved in ballot box snatching, killing people and other sundry criminalities.
Do you also agree that their involvement was responsible for the voter apathy that attended the electoral proces?
Of course! In an ideal situation, soldiers are supposed to be in their barracks in readiness for any external aggression because that is their constitutional role…to protect the nation’s territorial integrity against any external aggression. So, when soldiers now parade the streets fully armed with sophisticated weapons, those who love themselves would naturally prefer to stay indoors for fear of being killed accidentally. And so you won’t blame the people who stayed away from the exercise because among other reasons, the militarisation contributed greatly to the apathy witnessed during the election. They were supposed to stay in their barracks where they were expected to participate in the election process because they also have the responsibility to elect their leaders just like any other Nigerian.
Sir, in 2015 the APC went to court and the Supreme Court ruled against the involvement of the military. One would have expected that four years were enough for the government to address the inadequacies in the Police Force. Why should the same government now deploy military for election duties?
I wouldn’t ask the government to disobey court orders, but what happened before, during and after the elections were pointing to one fact: that politicians were not prepared to play by the rules. The police was inadequately prepared to handle the situation on ground. So, I cannot blame the government for deploying the military because the desperation of the political class was too much. The do-or-die attitude of the politicians threatening the peace of the nation…you will recall that they were already arming young men and women to wreak mayhem in parts of the country.
So, based on that argument I think the government did well to deploy security agencies to maintain peace in parts of the country.
But, sir, at the end of the day will you say the military performed that role optimally?
Well, I cannot equivocally say that they performed their role creditably well. But with the benefit of hindsight, I am aware that the services of the Nigeria Navy and the Nigerian Air Force were needed to assist in the distribution of sensitive electoral materials in the riverine areas of the nation. But then, it was a heartbreaking when one heard about other activities of the military as they were reported to be part of ballot box snatching, killing of people and other despicable criminalities. But I am also aware that lately people have been talking of impersonation of military officers by certain youths.
One thing that has become apparent from this year’s election is that there is an urgent need to increase political education in the country. Every person arrested in many parts of the country for any offence during the election must be prosecuted to serve as deterrent to others in future elections. In addition, the source of the politicians’ campaign funds should be investigated so that we can arrest the attendant profligacy associated with the first few months of their inauguration in office. We must properly investigate the amount of money politicians deploy for electioneering campaigns because as soon as they win such elections they will do everything to recoup their funds. The amount these people deploy on each election is mindboggling. That must form part of a comprehensive overhaul of our political process to save the nation huge sums we spend on elections.