The late former Chief of Army Staff in the military regime of President Ibrahim Babangida, Lt. General Salihu Ibrahim once described the Nigerian Army as an “army of anything goes”. He was lamenting the unprofessionalism and politicisation that had permeated the military; the misuse of the army to achieve the selfish and winding ambition of Babangida – which had begun to seriously erode discipline in the military. Needless to say that the Babangida government as a measure of self-preservation, cultivated, pampered and empowered a select group of junior and middle cadre officers in the chain of command with money and good postings over and above their superiors, which in turn encouraged indiscipline and insubordination, subtly prodded by Babangida himself.
Well, whatever Salihu Ibrahim saw or witnessed that prompted his lamentation about the army decades ago, pales in significance to the impunity and abuses we are witnessing today. He would turn in his grave if he could see what the Nigerian Army has become under the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai and President Muhammadu Buhari as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. This regime has normalised and quadrupled every malaise, viz. operational, social and economic, in the military such that it is no longer a fit and proper fighting force in the battlefield.
Bested in nearly every battle with poorly trained terrorists, the military is failing spectacularly to defend the territorial integrity of our dear motherland. We have watched with utter consternation how town after town, followed by local government after local government, fell to the Boko Haram terrorists in the Northeast, Northwest and now in the North central states of Nigeria. We have watched with nauseousness as our soldiers fled to neighbouring countries under the guise of “tactical manoeuvres” when they came under superior fire power from ragtag terrorists, sometimes called bandits or herdsmen, depending on which state they terrorise. Some had even hurriedly removed their uniforms to disguise as civilians. But the army has repeatedly maintained that what we read about their losses in the battlefield was a figment of our imagination and that the videos populating the internet of its soldiers abandoning their weapons and fleeing the battlefield were nothing but a mirage.
Unfortunately, everything they have denied as false is true. Telling Nigerians barefaced lies with a straight face, after suffering the most humiliating failures and battlefield defeats in its history has done little to improve the public image of the army. You see, when Salihu Ibrahim made that caustic comment, I doubt if he ever foresaw a situation where men of the Nigerian Army would abandon their weapons including some brand new armoured tanks and flee the battle from ragtag terrorists. My stomach turned as I could barely watch those videos. What has happened to our military? The once disciplined, professional institution that elicited pride in us has become so corrupt and undisciplined that many Nigerians feel ashamed to be associated with it. It needs to be stated here that not all our men in uniform are bad. A few are still very professional despite the bad behaviour of some of those at the top.
The Nigerian Army, commanded and manipulated by dangerous power seekers whose legacy we wish to forget in a hurry, has not only become an “army of anything goes”, it has degenerated into a weak and ineffectual fighting force now used to rig elections. The recent targeted deployment of soldiers for election duties in states controlled by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has further damaged what was left of the reputation of the military. The conduct of its men in trying to subvert the expressed will of the people somewhat amounted to a coup. It was no different from a military putsch against a democratic government. The present state of disrepute it has sunk has gone down in global infamy and is evidence of how far it has come from the days of a highly mobile force that excelled among its peers in global conflict spots.
Its role in the suspended Rivers State election is particularly galling and frightening to say the least.
Let it be clearly stated here and for the avoidance of doubt, the soldiers were not deployed in Rivers to maintain law and order or to protect the integrity of the election as the authorities claimed because there was no threat to peace. There was no threat or perceived threat to the elections considering that the All Progressives Congress (APC) had been barred from participating in the election in Rivers State, thus removing the only possible reason for violence. The only threat to the election as it turned out came from the soldiers used by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, to disrupt the poll and execute his plan to forcefully seize the state from the PDP by any other means possible. He was effectively enabled in his devious plan by the president who has the authority to deploy soldiers as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces, but he looked the other way as Amaechi terrorised the state with soldiers.
As witnessed by many Nigerians, the abuse and misconduct of the different arms of the security operatives led by Amaechi during the presidential election, and more especially, the governorship elections, made a mockery of the official reason for their massive deployment which was to keep the peace and protect the security and sanctity of the ballot. It was crystal clear to the discerning that they were there to achieve a particular subsidiary goal of delivering Rivers State to the minister and his party, the APC by proxy, since the party had been barred from fielding candidates for the governorship and State House of Assembly elections, owing to the internal party crisis caused by the minister himself.
But enabled by the president, Amaechi was determined to rig the election by all means for the governorship candidate of an unknown party that goes by the name of African Alliance Congress (AAC) who would later defect to the APC, to achieve his burning desire of bringing the state under the control of the APC. The military was well briefed on its role, and it carried it out with the full support of the highest officer commanding. The massive deployment of soldiers in practically every street in Port Harcourt, in a show of occupational force was not only designed to harass and intimidate the people, it underscored a motive fuelled by the desperation of these anti-democratic forces masquerading as progressive democrats to seize the state.
Recall that Amaechi used soldiers to hold an INEC official, Mary Emavwoyan Efeturi, Electoral Officer (EO) of Ikwere, hostage during the presidential election and insisted she must collate figures different from the votes in polling units. And of course the brave lady refused. Because no disciplinary action was taken against the minister, he escalated his violent attack against free and fair elections in his home state of Rivers.
When all their harassment and intimidation did not stop the people from trooping out to vote for the candidates of their choice, the occupation army shifted their plot to rig the election to the collation centres. They seized the collation centres, screened all the officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) returning from the field and seized their results. Those who refused were threatened, molested or beaten. Many innocent people were killed trying to defend their rights and freedom to vote. Many more suffered serious injuries from gunshots fired by soldiers and the police. Technically, soldiers became collation officers and presiding/returning officers.
For this rape of our democratic process, the entire chain of command of the Army Division 6 in Port Harcourt, right up to their reporting authority in Abuja must be held to account. None must be allowed to escape accountability. It is sad that the military has denied that the soldiers who sabotaged the election were from the Nigerian Army. On the preponderance of the evidence, the statement as rightly observed by the international community is not credible. The denial was an attempt by the military to bludgeon the truth about its disgraceful conduct to secure mandate for Amaechi’s fallback party at gunpoint.
INEC’s Head of Department of Voter Education and Publicity in Rivers State, Edwin Enabo gave this gripping account of how the military seized the collation centre, screening, seizing and collating the results by themselves: “The INEC office is under siege by men in army uniforms, uniforms of the air force and police who have taken over. They are stopping and screening people. They are clearing results before they enter the office to the extent that up till now, no collation has been done.
“We don’t understand where the people were deployed from. We are not accusing the Nigerian Army or the Nigerian Air Force, but we say the people right now in the office are wearing uniforms of the army and the air force.
“If they are not from them, we are calling on them to come and rectify the situation and allow our officers to enter with their results without molestation and harassment.
“Throughout the elections, we had so many reports of insecurity, molestation, harassment and assault on our staff and ad hoc staff, disruption of the electoral process throughout the state in all the local government areas with the consequence that by yesterday evening, we were unable to get any results and by 1pm today, the office is under siege by men in army, air force and police uniforms.”
Despite this appeal, the military did nothing. Instead, the army chief, Buratai, blamed the siege by men in uniform on “fake soldiers” but failed to apprehend any of the impersonators. If the soldiers were not from the army, how come the security men deployed to protect INEC office “cooperated” with them? It is obvious that the military, rattled by international outcry, belatedly issued a denial that its men carried out the actions as detailed by INEC, albeit, after the fact. Yet, it set up a probe panel to probe the allegations against its men – allegations it had already denied. What are we going to get from the probe? Can the army really probe itself and hold its men accountable? Not likely. Naturally, the spectre of “Unknown Soldier” is still in our memory.
Many Nigerians are of the opinion that Amaechi who is now the “garrison commander” of Rivers State, deserves a mental evaluation to determine if his “crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility” or whether his actions “reflect the transient immaturity of youth” even though he is in his 50s, so as to understand what may be going on in his mind. Our democracy cannot grow with egomaniacs of such monstrous propensity. Amaechi is souring on his own self-inflicted wounds and wants to steal the mandate at gunpoint.
By preventing Magnus Abe’s faction from participating in the ward congresses, he set the stage for the crisis that subsequently engulfed the state APC. He is seeking remedy through the back door and has found a willing partner in the military and an unknown party that neither held rallies to sell its agenda nor campaigned for votes. It never even printed posters to advertise its message. Nobody beyond Amaechi and those in his close orbit know who the governorship candidate of the AAC is. Amaechi wants to steal the election by force for this strange candidate using the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He wants to single-handedly decide who governs Rivers State and disguise the fraud as an election. He does not care if his people are killed or not. It is not for the love of Rivers State. It is all about himself and his 2023 ambition. He wants a political base and unchecked access to the state’s resources. It is all about the oil wealth and the power that comes with it.
The use of soldiers, oh, someone once called them “pepper soup generals” to illustrate their idleness, police and other security agencies acting in close cahoots with the APC/INEC to rig the just-concluded Presidential/National Assembly, Governorship/State Houses of Assembly and the supplemental elections particularly in Kano which reached a frightening dimension has exposed the dark underbelly of the Nigerian electoral process.
It is a shame that our soldiers in particular are now election riggers, much to the delight of the ruling APC. It is a bigger shame that a party that claims righteousness as a fundamental principle and philosophy of orientation has turned out to be the more corrupt and more corrosive to our national institutions and values.