2019 Polls: Obey orders or resign, Buratai tells soldiers

Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai on Wednesday gave officers and men of the Nigerian army with doubtful loyalty to the Federal Government Friday deadline to resign from the service.

Buratai gave the ultimatum at an expanded weekly meeting with Principal Staff Officers (PSOs), General Officers Commanding (GOCs) and some field commanders at the army headquarters in Abuja.

“The foundation of military professionalism is discipline and without discipline an army cannot stand.

“One of our core values is loyalty to constituted authority. Loyalty must be hundred percent.

“Should any officer or soldier have doubts as to his loyalty to the Nigerian state as presently constituted, such a person has up to February 22, 2019 to resign.

“There is no room for indiscipline or disobedience to lawful orders in the Nigeria army today.”

Buratai also said that the expanded meeting was to review security strategies put in place for the presidential and National Assembly elections on Saturday.

He recalled that two weeks ago, the strategies were planned in a similar meeting until the elections were rescheduled to Saturday and March 9, from February 16 and March 2.

The army chief decried some politicians’ reaction to President Muhammadu Buhari directive to security agents to deal ruthlessly with ballot box-snatching.

“It is unfortunate to hear persons who are aspiring to rule this country again inciting the army to disobedience.

“We have consistently stated our position in the political dispensation to remain neutral and apolitical.

“However, direct and public incitement of the Nigerian military against democracy and constituted civil authority will not be tolerated.

“I request such persons to withdraw this inciting statement.

“Let me re-emphasize loud and clear, that the Nigerian army is a professional army,” he stated.

He, therefore, ordered commanders to deal decisively with any electoral crime or action that could be inimical to national security.

Buratai further directed them to ensure that they and personnel under them did not hobnob with politicians.

“In this regard, there will be no military escort for any politician and all Nigerian army personnel are to steer clear of retired military officers, especially those who are now politicians until after the elections.

“Commanders are to conduct extensive patrols within their Area of Responsibilities (AORs).

“They must ensure that all flash points within the area are dominated.

“Commanders must, in conjunction with the Nigeria Police Force, enforce the restriction on movement within their Area of Responsibilities (AORs).

“All vehicles must be searched and suspicious persons or vehicles arrested/impounded and later handed over to the police,’’ he said.

According to Buratai, thuggery, snatching of ballot boxes, illegal possession of elections materials and similar crimes are intended to mar an election and create deliberate avenues for post-election violence and mayhem.

He said that such actions could also become more damaging when they are widespread, leading to destruction of lives and property.

Buratai noted that such incidents in past elections were often planned and orchestrated by politicians, but said that the army had hitherto been cautious in its approach.

“However, this time around the Nigerian army will adopt a proactive posture that ensures that similar incidents do not even arise.”

He noted that Nigerians had generally expressed disappointment with the postponement of the elections, adding that it increased apprehension in the populace and international community.

He, however, assured that the army alongside other security agencies, would rise to the challenge of ensuring a peaceful outcome of the rescheduled elections.

Buratai said that there was need to give confidence to Nigerians and reassure the international community that all would go well in the electoral process.

He insisted that the unity of Nigeria was not negotiable, “hence those who seek to undermine its democracy by interfering in its electoral process must be seen as enemies and dealt with appropriately.

“Our role is aptly captured in the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and we must defend Nigeria’s territorial integrity as well as act in aid of civil authority when called upon to do so.

“Therefore, commanders must work with all stakeholders, interest groups and agencies to avert any act by any individual, groups or entities that seek to undermine our democratic process.”

Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has advised Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, the Chief of Army Staff, not to drag the military into politics.

The PDP pointed out that President Muhammadu Buhari lacked the power to deploy soldiers for election.

The party, in a statement by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, asked Buratai to refrain from acts or actions that would suggest in any way that the military had become an arm of a political party.

The PDP said Gen. Buratai’s allusion to its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, as well as his threats to officers and ranks to execute the unlawful order by President Buhari was an aberration of the nation’s laws and a recipe for crisis.

The party stated that Atiku spoke on the side of the law and wishes of Nigerians and could not be intimidated by anybody, no matter how highly placed.

“Gen. Buratai is counselled 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.

“Our party urges Gen. Buratai to concentrate on his very demanding assignment of protecting the territorial integrity of our nation and ending insurgency rather than dabbling into partisan politics at the risk of our national cohesion,” the PDP said.

Advising the president against taking the position of an emperor, the leading opposition party said: “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.”

It reminded Buhari and Buratai that there was a subsisting judgment that kicked against the military being used in an election.

The party directed President Buhari to the judgment of the Federal High Court, Lagos, on March 23, 2015, wherein the court, presided over by Justice Ibrahim Buba, directly outlawed the deployment of troops in the conduct of elections in the country.

According to the PDP, “President Buhari should also avail himself of the subsisting judgment of the Court of Appeal, which on February 15, 2015, held that the president has no powers to deploy soldiers in the conduct of elections.

“The PDP further counsels President Buhari and Gen. Buratai to end their rationalising of military option, as the courts have summarily dismissed their arguments that soldiers are needed to guarantee peaceful elections.

“It may interest President Buhari to know that the judgment was sequel to a suit filed by the APC leader in the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, seeking a declaration that deployment of soldiers during elections is illegal and unconstitutional.

“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 quoted the court as saying: “The time has come for us to establish the culture of democratic rule in the country and to start to do the right thing particularly when it has to do with dealing with the electoral process, which is one of the pillars of democracy.

“In spite of the behaviour of the political class, we should by all means try to keep armed personnel and military from being a part and parcel of the electoral process.

“The state is obligated to confine the military to their very demanding assignment, especially in this time of insurgencies by keeping them out of elections.”

The party added: “The priming of the military ahead of the election, therefore, heightens the fear of plots by the APC to plunge our nation into crisis and use security forces to subjugate Nigerians, seeing that President Buhari has no chance of winning the February 23 presidential election.”

It cautioned President Buhari not to allow his desperation to push him to corrupt the patriotism of our military and use them against innocent Nigerians, whose only demand was for a free, fair and credible election.

“We urge the international community to note the roles being played by President Buhari, his Federal Executive Council and Gen. Buratai in our electoral process,” the party said.

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