As Nigerians count down to the general elections, the professionalism of the Nigerian Army under the leadership of the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, is being called into question once again. Two incidents in the past week have put the Army in the spotlight.
The first incident concerned Buratai’s criticism of the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, who had asked the Army to disobey President Buhari’s order for soldiers to open fire and deal ruthlessly with ballot box snatchers, against the provisions of the Electoral Act. The Army chief said the Army will obey Buhari’s order. He also asked Atiku to withdraw the statement and apologise for attempting to incite the army against “constituted authority” it was meant to fully obey.
PDP responds: The opposition PDP in a statement by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, warned Buratai not to involve the military in partisan politics, but focus on putting a stop to the endemic case of insurgency in the country. The statement said Buratai’s willingness to participate in the electoral process is a recipe for crisis. The PDP advised the Army chief not to implicate himself or the military by being a party to actions that could give off the impression that the military has become an extension of a political party.
“Gen. Buratai is counseled to note that the loyalty of the military is to the state and that the President lacks the powers, under our laws, to deploy soldiers for the conduct of elections,” Ologbondiyan said.
Accusing the president of making the order for selfish reasons, the statement read, “It is imperative to state that by trying to drag the military to participate in the February 23 Presidential elections, President Buhari plots to suspend our constitution, assume the position of an emperor, trigger unrest, subvert our electoral process and derail our democracy.”
“In case, President Buhari is not aware, as usual, the court directly held that ‘the Armed Forces have no role in elections’ and if soldiers must vote, they must do so in their barracks,” the PDP said.
The second incident involved a trending photo of four armed soldiers who were doing the 4+4 sign popularised by the Buhari campaign. Nigerians criticised the fact that armed officers were openly showing a partisan preference for the ruling party.
Army responds: In a statement by its spokesman, Sagir Musa, the Army dissociated itself from the photo and said it has commenced investigations.
“The attention of the Nigerian Army (NA) has been drawn to a picture of four armed men dressed in what looks like military camouflage in a 4 x 4 finger sign supposedly connoting a campaign symbol of a political party which is against the rules and regulations of the NA.
“The NA wishes to dissociate itself from the picture even as it has commenced immediate investigation with the view to ascertain the source and authenticity of the pictures and the “soldiers’ involved. If the outcome of the investigation comfirm this to be true, appropriate sanctions would be provided. NA of today under the command of Lt Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai do not condone or encourage indiscipline and any form of professional misconduct.
“On many occasions, the Chief of Army Staff has made it strongly clear that Army personnel will remain neutral, totally apolitical and will not compromise its constitutional roles under any guise.”
Bottom Line: Buratai has hardly ever displayed neutrality since he became Army chief, infamously attending a Buhari reelection campaign event last year. So it is hard to give him the benefit of the doubt. His comments about total loyalty to the Commander-in-chief even when, as in this case – the order is illegal, shows a poor understanding of the Army’s allegiance in a democracy.