The 2019 general elections in Nigeria have come and gone. Another batch of democratic leaders have been empowered by majority of constituents to lead their destinies for another four years.
Spectacularly, the myths, the anxieties, the phobias and the uncertainty generated by the elections have also silently ebbed out for calm and introspection among Nigerians.
However, the tensions generated by the general elections had some outstanding issues worthy of further scrutiny in the post- election era. The fear of widespread electoral violence by political actors across Nigeria scrambling for power was real, scary and chilly.
And with the 2015 prediction by former American Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. John Campbell that general elections in Nigeria would offer a plank for the total break-up of the country still hovering, the 2019 Nigeria’s general elections posed very disturbing challenges of insecurity.
This feeling caused more than a stir in Nigerians; it attracted lamentations from unusual quarters’. And for a nation which had once tested the bitter pills of a civil strife and which is currently confronted with multilayered insecurity threats, adding the fire of electoral violence on the subsisting problems was a nightmare.
President Muhammadu Buhari had to take pro-active measures by deploying the Army to ensure the security of Nigerians and a peaceful electoral exercise. Expectedly, in democracy, people are bound to oppose the best of intentions or policies of government.
There is the lawful tendency by opposition to stiffly antagonize, condemn and even berate government on every initiative, even if it is the best. Therefore, the deployment of soldiers to aid civil security, which postured apparently and conveniently as incompetent in handling the happenstance of security breaches that may sprout up also attracted criticisms and jibes from some Nigerians.
Opposition parties, human rights activists, patriots and the organized civil society community in Nigeria perceived it more as an attempt by the ruling APC Federal Government of Nigeria to use soldiers in order to compromise a free, fair and credible elections. They saw it more as militarization of the electoral process and a concealed motive to undermine the sanctity of the ballot in favour of the incumbent government which was also a major contender in the elections.
But with the general elections over, it is pretty good that whatever apprehension nursed by Nigerians, whether genuine or fake over the elections was never allowed to materialize. The proponents of doom were disappointed; the troubleshooters who plotted violent disruptions during elections were not given a chance to ply their evil trade on Nigeria. The anticipated consuming electoral violence, which many feared would extinguish the nation was imprisoned.
However, the lacuna in the post mortem analysis of the general elections is the lack of a corresponding capacity of those who dreaded the participation of Nigerian soldiers to applaud the Army for the intervention which immensely assisted to deliver flawless elections to Nigeria. The critics have forgotten so soon that the soldiers secured Nigeria and prevented electoral fraudsters from stimulating crisis that would have consumed the country. Nigerians are not oblivious of this reality, but are shocking mute, instead of open appreciation of the Nigerian Army.
Whatever is their mindset, today, it is easy to differentiate between facts and fiction from the assailing narratives which preceded the elections. And in most cases, it tended to unfairly cast aspersions on the institution of the Nigerian Army and our soldiers generally.
It was hard to discern how Nigerians could forget very easily the reforms the COAS and leader of the counter-insurgency operations in Nigeria, Lt.Gen. TY Buratai enforced on the Army. It was somewhat irritating that these critics ignored the consistent exhibition of professionalism by soldiers in all their national assignments under its current leadership.
Nigerian soldiers have demonstrated in words and actions in the past three years, a penchant of compliance with the Constitution of Nigeria, total submission to civilian authorities and sticking to rules of engagement; soldiers have evidently dispensed themselves as sticklers to international best practices in the observance of human rights of the people in all their operations.
And when it became expedient for soldiers to provide back-up security for the general elections, Gen. Buratai again spelt out clearly the rules of engagement to Army personnel. Soldiers were strongly admonished to preserve and respect the tenets of military professionalism; the rules of engagement and the Constitution of Nigeria during and after the elections.
The Army Chief was lucid that “None of our personnel will be involved in political campaigns, escort of VIPs for political missions and, above all, aiding or supporting any political party….Our rules of engagement and code of conduct have not assigned any political role to the army in this regard. The army’s involvement in the elections starts and ends with the provision of peaceful and secure environment for the conduct of the 2019 general elections.”
And throughout the duration of the series of elections held in Nigeria, the soldiers never deviated from this path of honour and respect for the rules of engagement. They provided escort for the haulage of sensitive electoral materials to various destinations; put a wedge to incidents of diversion of electoral materials; tackled ballot snatchers and other electoral fraudsters who often are the harbingers or stimulators of electoral violence, deaths and the concomitant protests and destructive arsons.
A number of election observers have glowingly acknowledged the wonderfully impartial and non-partisan roles played by the Army in safeguarding the sanctity of the ballot in the 2019 general elections. There is no modicum of doubt that the military as a professional institution offered a selfless and professional support which indubitably prevented doomsday in Nigeria.
Consequently, with the general elections over and conducted peacefully, with minimal cases of violence, the Nigerian Army deserve some accolades from the same critics and groups which demeaned it with vituperations and unfairly castigated soldiers. They should be humble enough to again embark on a voyage of deconstruction of their weird myth of militarization of the general elections as erroneously propagated. It is the only task they can perform now to free their conscience.
Critics and scholars alike, in Nigeria and beyond who are yet to properly comprehend the role of the military in a democracy, the Nigerian Army is now their resource material. The Army has offered them a pragmatic and priceless resource material by their highly professional and excellent conduct or actions, as signposted by their participation in the 2019 general elections.
Both the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, President Buhari and the Army Chief, Gen. Buratai are not prepared to relent in ensuring the Nigerian Army remains a positive reference point on adherence to professionalism and rules of engagement. With the impressive outing by soldiers, the criticisms about the militarization of the general elections have been proven to be unfounded and baseless after all.
Onmeje writes from the United Kingdom.