Buratai: Army will be tough on riggers, sponsors

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By Blessing Olaifa

THE military has warned political thugs, militia men and those arming them to disrupt polls to steer clear of the voting stations on Saturday.

Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, who issued the warning, also read out the rules of engagement for soldiers on electoral duties.

He said that those working to achieve a premeditated result through rigging of the Governorship and State’s Assembly elections should perish the idea.

The Army chief cautioned officers against taking “unlawful orders” from politicians, no matter the standing of such politicians in the society.

“Commanders must not take any unlawful orders from any politician, no matter how highly-placed that will jeopardise the apolitical stand of the Nigerian Army”, he told top military officers.

The military, he said, would be tough on those planning to rig and disrupt the polls.

Besides, he said that those who killed three military personnel during the February 23 Presidential and National Assembly elections would be fished out and brought to justice.

He said: “Let no one be in doubt that those desperate politicians and criminals that attacked our troops in the course of carrying out their legitimate duties will be tracked down and brought to justice.”

Also yesterday the Air Force said it would on Saturday deploy air assets in flash point states.

Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar dropped the hint at a meeting with Air Officers Commanding, Principal Staff Officers and Field Commanders at the NAF Headquarters in Abuja.

The Air Chief said the planned deployment was in line with the directive of the Chief of Defence of State (CDS), Gen. Abayomi Olonisakin to all services to ensure peaceful elections.

According to Lt.-Gen Buratai the military had already received intelligence reports on politicians who are planning to use the herders/farmers crises to arm their thugs and ethnic militia to perpetrate acts of violence, including bombing.

He said: “I want to state and categorically warn that the Nigerian Army will not tolerate any acts that will undermine national security. This time around we shall be tough on those who plan to rig or disrupt the electoral process,” the COAS warned.

Lt.-Gen Buratai spoke yesterday at the Army Headquarters in Abuja. It was at a meeting with Principal Staff Officers (PSOs), General Officers Commanding (GOCs), Operational Commanders and Directors.

He said the meeting was principally called to review the performances of the Army during the last presidential and National Assembly elections with a view to take pro-active steps ahead of Saturday’s election.

Lt Gen. Buratai, who regretted that an Officer and three soldiers were killed during the last elections, said that the Army would not only honour them with a befitting military burial as heroes of democracy, but would track down their killers and bring them to justice.

The COAS said: “Once again, let me welcome you all to another expanded weekly meeting as done two weeks ago. I want to use this opportunity to congratulate you all for the professional manner in which you executed my directives for Operation SAFE CONDUCT.

“The proactive intervention of NA in the recently concluded Presidential and National Assembly Elections contributed greatly to its successful conduct and credibility.

“I am glad to note that both international and local observers and indeed the Nigeria print and electronic media applauded the professional role played by the Nigerian Army in ensuring that a secure and conducive environment was created for eligible voters to exercise their civic rights.

“Unfortunately, some level of violence was still recorded leading to disruption of polls, burning of ballot boxes in some areas as well as loss of lives, including the death of an officer and three soldiers.

“The Nigerian Army, to a larger extent, ensured that the large scale electoral malpractices and acts of thuggery aimed at disenfranchising voters as witnessed in previous elections were curbed despite the campaign of calumny orchestrated by some politicians against us.

“Overall, I am delighted to note that the first phase of Operation SAFE CONDUCT was a huge success. Despite the bomb explosion in some parts of Maiduguri and attack in Geidam, troops of Operation LAFIYA DOLE were able to decisively defeat the attacks and secured the area for a successful conduct of elections.

“We must therefore consolidate on this success and prepare adequately for the second phase of the election by reviewing our plans with a view to correcting observed lapses a peaceful poll that will reflect the wishes of Nigerians that have the right to determine those that govern them.

“Recent security threat assessment and analysis of the coming elections showed that politicians have made plans to use all means available to truncate the peaceful conduct of the elections.

“There are indications of their intent to take advantage of and to use the farmers/herders crisis, armed political thugs and ethnic militias to perpetrate acts of violence including bombings.

“Some of them also intend to infiltrate domestic staff of political opponents, employ mercenaries to carry out acts of assassinations, use the social media for smear campaigns, hate speeches and spread fake news in a bid to disrupt the peaceful conduct of the elections. We must not allow them succeed.

“Let me reiterate that the NA will enforce all guidelines in support of the Police to ensure the peaceful conduct of the elections in line with its constitutional roles.  I therefore want to remind us all not to rest on our oars.

“We shall not allow those who are determined to undermine our electoral process to succeed.  These forthcoming governorship and state assembly elections are very crucial. This is an election that touches on the interest of the people at the grassroots and could likely be volatile in nature.

“It is important to reiterate that politicians will employ and deploy all means to outwit each other to gain control of power at this level. We may recall that in the recently concluded poll, some politicians in their quest for power, armed thugs and miscreants with automatic weapons; induced and coerced Youth Corps members and INEC ad-hoc staff to perpetrate acts of electoral malpractices.

“We must therefore continue to support the NPF and other security agencies to prevent these malpractices from occurring again. I therefore urge all commanders to work assiduously and closely with the civil authorities and all law abiding individuals as well as groups to ensure the success of the forthcoming elections.

“During the course of the recently concluded elections, troops of the Nigerian Army were able to make arrests of persons who perpetrated acts of electoral offences. These suspects are to be immediately handover to the police for prosecution.

“I want to state and categorically warn that the Nigerian Army will not tolerate any acts that will undermine national security. This time around we shall be tough on those who plan to rig or disrupt the electoral process.

“I therefore want to appeal to Nigerian youths to shun any attempt by any politician to use them to perpetrate any form of violence. As we mourn the death of the young officer and soldiers killed on the course of their lawful duty during the recently held election, I want to assure their families that their death will not be in vain.

“In line with the tradition of the Nigerian Army they will be given heroic burial as they are indeed the heroes of our democracy. I have directed that their full entitlements be paid.

“Let no one be in doubt that those desperate politicians and criminals that attacked our troops in the course of carrying out their legitimate duties will be tracked down and brought to justice.

“There have been reports of alleged compromises by some personnel during the elections.  We have received complaints from some stakeholders, major political parties, Governors of Bayelsa, Oyo and Ogun states of allegation of misconduct as well as unprofessional conduct by some of our personnel.

“Unfortunately some other states have gone to the press with unsubstantiated allegation without resort to the NA leadership. Nonetheless, all these complaints are noted and will be addressed appropriately. A high-powered committee had been convened and instituted to investigate all cases of alleged misconduct by troops arising from the 2019 General Elections.

“This is aimed at ensuring that all cases are thoroughly looked into for the purpose of dispensation of justice and to uphold Nigerian Army’s credibility, professionalism and apolitical stand.

“Once again let me reiterate my charge to you concerning this election.”

The COAS listed the charges as follows:

  • Commanders must be vigilant to ensure that cases of infiltrations to scare off voters are not allowed.
  • Hobnobbing and fraternisation with politicians during this election period is totally prohibited.
  • Commanders must ensure robust and extensive patrols are carried out to cover all flash points; enforce the no movement restrictions and carryout thorough searches of vehicles and persons.
  • Commanders must deal decisively with any electoral crime or action such as electoral thuggery, snatching of ballot boxes, illegal possession of electoral materials and firearms as well as other crimes that would mar the smooth conduct of the election.
  • There must be no military escort for any politician or retired military personnel until after the elections.
  • Commanders must ensure that no retired military officer is allowed to use Service weapons hitherto authorised for their personal safety during the period of the election.
  • Commanders must ensure that troops remain on ground to counter and deal ruthlessly with any post-election violence.
  • Commanders must work in conjunction with the police and other security agencies to dominate the environment to forestall any form of violence.
  • Commanders must maintain force protect and respond decisively to prevent any surprise attack on troops of Operation SAFE CONDUCTand eligible voters by armed militia groups or political thugs.
  • Commanders must act according to the Rules of Engagement and within the code of conduct as well as have respect for fundamental human rights in the performance of their assigned roles.
  • Commanders must not take any unlawful orders from any politician, no matter how highly-placed that will jeopardize the apolitical stand of the Nigerian Army.
  • Commanders must ensure troops under their command remain apolitical, neutral and should deal ruthlessly with electoral law breakers as well as avoid compromise with any politician and political party.”