Soldiers became army of occupation, partisanship during 2019 elections —Aduwo
Mr Olufemi Aduwo is the president of Right Monitoring Group (RMG), which is a coalition fo 45 civil society organisations. He is also the executive director of the Centre for Convention of Democratic Integrity (CCDI). He has monitored elections in Western countries, including the popular 2016 Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom (UK). He shares his thoughts with DARE ADEKANMBI on the role of soldiers in the elections, what lessons to be learnt among others.
YOU lead a group, Rights Monitoring Group (RMG), which is one of the leading election observer groups in the country. What were your observations in the conduct of the 2019 elections?
There are many issues and events that did not conform to what we call international best practices or standard in the 2019 elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has two major task to perform for Nigeria. One, it is to conduct a general election. The second one, which INEC is not doing, is delineation of constituencies. INEC knew four years ago that it would conduct elections and ought to have started to prepare. If we put the outcome of the 2019 elections beside the amount INEC was given in budgetary allocation, then we can say it was a huge and colossal waste of money and resources. INEC was never on top of the situations that arose in the course of the elections. For instance, the issue of logistical challenge has been a recurring decimal since 2003. The only time elections were conducted with materials properly and timeously delivered to states and units was in 1999. After that, we have been facing this challenge of logistics.
Regardless of what INEC may call success, there are many failures in the conduct of this year’s elections. We saw it coming more than one year ago that this INEC was not prepared for the elections. The reason professors were encouraged to lead INEC was because it was believed that informed and enlightened people will make a big difference. Non-professors who have presided over election conduct in the country have done better than when we now take professors to head INEC. Look at the issue of card reader, as we are talking today, the smart card reader in not known to any law in the country. INEC sai it was compulsory and must be used for the election. But in many places, the card readers were not used. Only for INEC to make a declaration during the governorship election that anywhere it was not used, the election there must be cancelled. This is why it is a minus that President Muhammadu Buhari did not sign the amended Electoral Act. That would have given the card reader legal teeth. INEC said the card readers had been upgraded, but this was not so n many places across the country.
Concerns have also been raised about the level of militarization of the elections. How do you see this development?
You may recall the last presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the United States government deployed military personnel stationed in Gabon in anticipation of possible violence in the election. If the military in Nigeria had played by the rules of engagement and had done what they ought to do, there would be nothing wrong with the deployment of soldiers for the elections. But what we saw in the election were soldiers that turned themselves into an army of occupation and became openly partisan. The military sided with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in some parts of the country during the election. In some strategic states, the military personnel were the ones making signs to the politicians about which party the electorate were voting for. The Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, even said the soldiers seen perpetrating impunity in some parts of Niger Delta were thugs in military uniforms. He should come clean on this matter and there should be an inquiry into the matter. It is an embarrassment that the army, which is supposed to be a federation security outfit that is not partisan, was turned into an army of occupation in the last elections. Is he saying those who occupied the residence of the Commissioner for Education in Rivers State are thugs? The people of Rivers had been shouting and decrying the military occupation of their state for days before the elections. Are we saying those who went to the INEC officer and took materials away are really thugs? Why did the military and police high commands tell Nigerians they were on top of the security situation in Rivers State before the elections? If they were thugs, what was the duty of the army and the police? Why didn’t the soldiers and the mobile police move in then to flush them out? For us at RMG, we don’t believe they are thugs. They are real Nigerian soldiers and policemen. With the 200b budget, excluding the money parties and candidates spent for the election, it is a colossal waste what the outcome has been.
In Ghana, a small West African neighbor, elections date has been fixed and if it falls on a Sunday, the Christians will go to church on Saturday. That is the level Ghana has reached. In Ghana today, if you are electoral officer, you go to the commission and collect materialas and then go home. On the election day, you bring the materials to the voting units and people vote. There is no excessive policing as we have here. If Ghana can do it, why can’t we?
On the developments during the 2019 elections, President Buhari did not help matters. It is one thing to promise free, fair and credible elections. It is another thing when his body language shows the contrary. At the residence of a chieftain of the ruling APC, two bullion vans carrying money were sighted and people raised eyebrow over the development. The EFCC did not do anything. Yet, the owner of the money defended himself saying it was his money and he could spend it however he deemed proper. What would have happened if an opposition politician had been caught with such money? The APC government has disappointed God and of course Nigerians. It is a big shame.
Most of the foreign observers told the whole world that they were denied access o certain polling units and collation centres. Some of these people are from the European Union and the United States. INEC invited these people to the country to monitor the elections. It is a big embarrassment. The issue of observers has to be looked into too. I discovered that majority of the nearly 160 observers accredited by INEC for the elections are card-carrying members of political parties who worked for their respective parties. If the trend continues, INEC is endangering the lives of those of us who are genuine and serious election observers. How could an observer monitor election in one state and write a report for the entire country? It is a big shame. INEC should look critically at their sources of funding and pedigrees of those parading themselves as election observers from Nigeria. To deploy 2, 000 observers for two days to cover the entire country, you will spend nothing less than N20m to N30m.
Some people will not agree with you that the military sided with the APC during the election. These people will cite the example of the arrest of the deputy governor of Kano State as an example.
Point of correction, my brother. Let any media organisation produce photographs of the arrest of Kano State deputy governor. Nobody arrested him. Even what the police command in Kano told the whole world was that he was rescued from his attackers. The man has immunity. I monitored election in Kano State and I can confirm to you that he was never arrested. I wish to admonish INEC and the security operatives that they should allow the wishes of the electorate to prevail in Kano and other states where supplementary elections will be held. Kano is boiling already and let nobody escalate the tension in the state. If the people say they don’t want their governors in Kano and Bauchi states, so be it. What happened in Oyo State should be a lesson for politicians. If the people of Kano could vote President Buhari in the presidential election and voted against Governor Abdulahi Ganduje in the governorship election, let it be. It is a sign of political maturity on the part of the voters in Kano State. So, let there be no rape of democracy in Kano.
The justification for bringing the military is that the politicians will naturally not play by the rules and so the soldiers will help keep them in check.
If the soldiers are working for the interest of the country and not the interest of the ruling party, what happens? The soldiers were largely blatantly partisan during the elections. How is it possible that after a series of bomb blasts in Borno State in the morning of the first elections, there was a voter turnout of about 90 per cent? Who is deceiving who? Election rigging and manipulation is not a day’s job. It takes time and is planned. Election ought to be a do-or-die affair as is the case in the country at the moment.
What is your advice to the stakeholders to ensure that elections are conducted without having to militarise the country?
There are basically two options: One, if we want to get out of this mess, we should go for Option A4 in choosing candidates that will stand for election. Two, we should enact a law that will make it mandatory for every Nigerian that is 18 years and above to vote compulsorily as done in some European countries. When we have a very large voter turnout, how many will the politicians be able to buy? Also, parties will be forced to present the most popular candidates for election. This will reduce tension and undue rivalry among parties and candidates. Those who voted in the presidential election were about 25 million out of 86m registered voters. If we don’t make it a punishable offence for those above 18 years not to vote, we will continue to witness increasing voter apathy in the country. Also, we should find a way to make elective offices less attractive by either reducing the huge perks and emoluments and salaries or make in part time.