A leading pro-democracy and non-governmental organization – HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) has waded into the controversy trailing the activities of the Army during the Saturday governorship polls with a call on politicians and stakeholders not to rubbish the military institution by heaping unsubstantiated allegations.
However, HURIWA has on another breadth thrown her weight behind the decision of the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai to immediately activate effective mechanisms to forensically investigate the series of trending online videos which appears to indict some armed security forces on a number of serial electoral offences and for instigating violence in Rivers Bayelsa and some of flashpoints in the crude oil rich Niger Delta region. HURIWA told Nigerians that the leadership of the Army has already established a good and qualitative antecedent as a no nonsense hierarchy when in the not too distant time sanctioned about 38 senior military officers who underwent investigative and military prosecutorial trial over their alleged interferences in the year 2015 general polls. If this Army hierarchy had done this it can always do the needful now that it has become imperative for it to separate the few bad eggs from the professional institution of the military if they are found guilty by the internal investigative mechanisms. But we must be careful not to run down the military institution which we took over 60 years to build. It is usually more difficult to build but much easier to destroy.
HURIWA said the claim by the military authority that there were incidents of fake soldiers that were deployed by politicians during the governorship polls should not be dismissed with a wave of hands since there are verifiable evidence that indeed hundreds of suspected fake armed men masquerading as soldiers were picked up in Imo, Rivers, Ondo and other areas and are currently being interrogated.
“We urge Nigerians to remember that the institution of the Nigerian military is created by law to serve public interest and so must be preserved and insulated from undue politically tainted allegations that may not stand the test of time. We are not unaware of some allegations by some governors in the Niger Delta accusing soldiers of collusion to undermine democracy, but we must give the Army the benefits of the doubts and assist the military institution to embark on holistic probe with the objective of preserving their political neutrality and to build an enviable professional institution that all of us and our children yet unborn would be proud of. We must not allow our temporary and unbridle quest for political power to lead us into the temptation of running down such a formidable institution like the Nigerian Army because of the alleged malfeasance and misdemeanor of a few undesirable elements who may have derailed from the time honoured ethical and legal principles clearly listed out by the Chief of Army Staff on the need to abide by Rules of engagement in internal security operations.” We have a written proof that the Army has a mandatory manual on rules of engagements in internal military operations in line with best global practices.
HURIWA reminded Nigerians that: “The Nigerian Army said it got credible intelligence that kitting of political thugs with military uniforms and arming them to impersonate soldiers.
We have seen photographic evidence in HURIWA of these verifiable allegations by the Army
The spokesman of the Nigerian Army, Colonel Sagir Musa in a statement said the thugs are sent to carry out crimes in furtherance of the activities of their political bosses.
He said, “Sadly, these thugs have been wrongly viewed and addressed as real military personnel on various social and mainstream media channels including blogs, chat rooms and messaging platforms.”
Sagir said, “The Army understands that most civilians caught in the callous onslaught of these murderous thugs might not be able to distinguish between genuine soldiers from an impersonator, especially when they are armed with military-type weapons.”
He said some arrested impostors have given useful information that led to unraveling the criminal involvement of some politicians in arming thugs for their selfish gains.
He said the Army would continue with investigations so as to prosecute the arrested impostors and their sponsors.”
HURIWA stated that the military’s version of the scenarios should be given a benefit of the doubts because for instance the Imo State Police Command on Sunday paraded 103 suspects who allegedly instigated violence and various electoral malpractices during the Governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections held in the state on Saturday.
The Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Zone 9, Umuahia, Wilson Inalegwu, who is on election duty in the state, said the suspects were arrested at various parts of the state.
Inalegwu said the arrests of the suspects were carried out in conjunction with other security agencies.
The AIG said a team of crack police officers had been instructed to take over the investigation process.
He listed some of the suspects as Onyekachi Okeh, Success Ugochukwu, Ikenna Anochili, Uchenna Okwuoma, John Okechukwu and Collins Amadi.
The AIG said, “It is based on the hard work, commitment and determination as well as the robust partnership of all the security agencies that led to the peaceful conduct of the election.”
“With collaboration from all the security agencies, we ensured that serious chaos was averted on the Election Day.”
Finally, we appeal to Chief of Army staff to convoke a transparent investigative panel including broad range membership to include credible civil society leaders to investigate wide ranging allegations made against the military from such credible nations like the United Kingdom which on Sunday expressed concern over reports of military interference in the governorship and assembly elections in Rivers state held on Saturday.
The UK High Commission in a tweet on its verified twitter handle, @UKinNigeria, noted that reports by its independent observers collaborated media reports of military interference in the electoral exercise.
The High Commission while noting that it was monitoring the situation very closely, called on relevant stakeholders to allow staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, do their job without harassment.
“We are extremely concerned by reports, including from @UKinnigeria observers, of military interference in the election process in Rivers State. Monitoring the situation closely. @inecng staff must be allowed to do their job in safety, without intimidation,” the UK High Commission wrote.
Reports of result confiscation are rife with the ruling party in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, accusing military personnel of doing the bidding of the All Progressives Congress, APC, to subvert the will of the people.
HURIWA also suggested that the military should be restricted within military institutions and facilities during elections with a view to be rapidly deployed to flashpoints of electoral violence based on invitation from the police if the police is overwhelmed. This it said will completely insulate them from being misused. HURIWA also asked the Army Chief to sanction commanders on ground who cannot show cause why they allowed fake soldiers to undermine the image and credibility of the military institution.
Besides, HURIWA asked that some politicians accused of abusing their privileged positions by allegedly parading about during election with armed military/police should be arrested and prosecuted.
HURIWA pointed to media reported facts and allegations which emerged on Sunday on how uniformed and plain-clothes security operatives loyal to the former Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, allegedly battered some ad-hoc staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State.
A senior lecturer in the University of Uyo (name withheld), who is one of the collation officers in Essien Udim LGA, said he narrowly escaped being lynched when the senator and his loyalists forcefully took over the activities at the collation centre at about 10pm on Saturday.
He said they were in the process of verification and collation when Akpabio stormed the venue with several uniformed and plain-clothes men.
He said the embattled senator had initially tried to plead with the ad-hoc staff to suspend the use of card reader and just accept the results when one of his loyalists identified as Nse Ntuen (a member of House of Assembly) emerged from nowhere and started molesting all the INEC officials over their uncooperative attitude.
The lecturer said, “Suddenly, Nse Ntuen emerged and picked up a plastic chair, murmuring that the electoral officers were not cooperating with them. I escaped by God’s grace because he was about smashing my head with that chair, when he suddenly saw another fat man with a Peoples Democratic Party tag and he unleashed the chair on him mercilessly.
“Ntuen also beat up the corps members as everyone tried scampering for safety. In that confusion, I dragged the returning officer who is also my colleague in the university, and is hypertensive, and we were able to escape. I got to Uyo at about 2am.”
At Polling Unit 9 in Ukana West, Ward 2 located in the premises of Independent High School, Ukana, Essien Udim LGA, where Senator Akpabio voted, journalists were refused access to the school.
Reacting to the allegations, the Media Aide to Senator Akpabio, Anietie Ekong, said all the accusations were false.
“At least 12 senior officers of the Nigerian Army, including Generals, have been sacked over alleged involvement in the Ekiti governorship election scandal and defence contract related offences, an official statement said Saturday.
HURIWA asked Nigerians to recall that sometimes ago the Army disciplined 38 officers found wanting to have colluded with politicians. The Army then had stated thus:
“The Nigerian Army wishes to inform the general public that quite a number of senior officers of the Nigerian Army were retired from service yesterday,” said Army Director of Public Relations, Colonel Sani Kukasheka Usman.
“Those retired were mainly some Major Generals, Brigadier Generals, Colonels, Lieutenant Colonels and a Major.
“Their retirement was based on Service exigencies. It should be recalled that not too long ago some officers were investigated for being partisan during the 2015 General Elections.
“Similarly, the investigation by the Presidential Committee investigating Defence Contracts revealed a lot.
“Some officers have already been arraigned in court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). People should therefore not read this out of context.
“The military must remain apolitical and professional at all times.
“We must applaud and support this laudable and bold initiative by the government”.
The Army had last year sent 12 Army officers to the EFCC for investigation.
General Usman had in a statement issued last year said the indicted officers comprised three serving Major-Generals, one retired Major-General, three Brigadier-Generals, four Colonels and a Lieutenant Colonel.”
HURIWA said these sanctions and clean up exercise was carried out by the current Army Chief of Staff even as it pleaded with Nigerians for patience and understanding with the Army as they carry out their findings which should be transparent, open and fair in line with the Constitution.
Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko:
National Coordinator of Human rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).
Text of a media briefing of Monday March 11th 2019.