Stop the Militarization of the 2023 General Elections

Stop the Militarization of the 2023 General Elections

Friday, February 24, 2023 3:58 pm

Femi Falana

By Femi Falana

It is on record that members of the Nigerian armed forces were indicted by the courts for their involvement in the rigging of the 2003 general election. In condemning in the anti democratic role of the military deployed by President Obasanjo to prosecute his “do or die” agenda, the Court of Appeal held in Buhari v Obasanjo (2005) 1 WRN 1 at 200 that “in spite of the non-tolerant nature and behaviour of our political class in this country, we should by all means try to keep armed personnel of whatever status or nature from being part and parcel of our election process. The civilian authorities should be left to conduct and carry out fully the electoral processes at all levels.”

On its own part,  the Supreme Court (Per Pats-Acholonu JSC) said in Buhari vs. Obasanjo (2005) 50 WRN 1 at 133 that “…in this day and age in this country that has been independent for 45 years we can still witness horrendous acts by security officers who ought to dutifully ensure peace and tranquility in the election process, suddenly turning themselves into agents of destruction, and introduced mayhem to what ordinarily would have been a civilized way of exercising franchise by the people who are sovereign, is regrettable.”

In warning the armed forces to keep away from the electoral process the Court of Appeal said in Yussuf  v Obasanjo (2005) 18 NWLR (PT 956) 96,  that “It is up to the police to protect our nascent democracy and not the military, otherwise democracy might be wittingly or unwittingly militarised. This is not what the citizenry bargained for in wrestling power from the military in 1999. Conscious step or steps should be taken to civilianise the polity to ensure the survival and sustenance of democracy.”

Sensing that the armed forces would  be  mobilised for rigging the 2015 general election, leading officials of the APC approached the Federal High Court for legal redress.  Thus, In Bello Goronyo v The President Justice (Suit No FHC/S/CS/29/201, the Federal High Court (per Justice Mohammed Rilwan Aikawa). ruled that other than for the purposes of protecting the nation’s territorial integrity, no constitutional provision allows for the deployment of the military for elections. Justice Rilwan added that for the Federal Government to do so, it must have taken recourse to the National Assembly, which would enact such law. The Judge restrained the President and INEC from engaging the service of the Nigerian armed forces in the security supervision of elections in any manner whatsoever in any part of Nigeria, without the Act of the National Assembly”,

In the same vein, in Femi Gbajabiamila v The President (Suit No FHC/L/CS/1210/15), the presiding Judge, Justice Ibrahim Buba, in his ruling, declared that it is unconstitutional to deploy military for the supervision of election without the approval of the National Assembly. Consequently, the Court restrained the President Goodluck Jonathan-led Federal Government from deploying the military to supervise the coming general elections.

During the Ekiti State governorship election in June 2014, some military officers were indicted in the manipulation of the electoral process.  The National Human Rights Commission probed the electoral crimes and confirmed that members of the armed forces were hired  by criminally minded politicians to rig the 2015 elections.

Following the investigation conducted by the army headquarters into the rigging of the 2014 Ekiti State governorship election, some military officers were indicted and retired. And in the appeal arising from the election petition filed by the APC the Court of Appeal stated in All Progressive Congress v Peoples Democratic Party (2015) LPELR 24349 that the President lacked the power to call on the Armed Forces to restore law and order in any part of the federation without the approval of the National Assembly as provided in sections 217(2) and 218(4) of the Constitution as amended.

While berating the authorities of the Nigerian Armed Forces in his leading judgment, Aboki JCA (as he then was) said that, “Whoever unleashed soldiers on Ekiti State disturbed the peace of the election on June 21, 2014; acted in flagrant breach of the Constitution and flouted the provisions of the Electoral Act, which required an enabling environment by civil authorities in the conduct of elections.”

On the basis of the the aforementioned cases, the APC requested former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Professor Attahiru Jega not to allow the Jonathan administration to deploy the armed forces in conducting the 2015 General Election. The request of the APC was contained in a letter dated February 16, 2015 and signed by the Director, Legal Services of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, Mr. Chukwuma-Machukwu Ume (SAN).

In view of the foregoing,  President Buhari should not allow the armed forces in the conduct of the armed forces. Instead of terrorising voters, armed soldiers  should be confined to their barracks and put on the alert. Since the Federal Government has restricted the movement of people throughout the country, the police, anti graft agencies and para military forces should be deployed by the Inspector-General of Police to maintain law and order during the 2023 General Election. President Buhari should be reminded of the cautionary words of the Court of Appeal in Yussuf  v Obasanjo (supra)  that “It is up to the police to protect our nascent democracy and not the military, otherwise democracy might be wittingly or unwittingly militarised. This is not what the citizenry bargained for in wrestling power from the military in 1999.”


Femi Falana SAN,

The Chair,

Alliance on Surviving Covid 19 and Beyond (ASCAB)

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