The Presidential and National Assembly elections had come and gone, with several stakeholders including the Nigerian Army contributing to its successes. Musa Umar Bologi who had been observing the efforts of the army towards this direction reports.
Nigeria elections are usually characterised by violence; and because the security challenges at the period usually overwhelm the Nigeria Police saddled with the responsibility of ensuring security during elections, the military (especially the Nigerian Army) is called upon by civil authorities to give a helping hand.
Section 271 of the 1999 constitution, empowers the military to assist civil authorities in addressing internal security challenges, aside its constitutional role of protecting territorial integrity of the country.
Understanding the nature of elections in the country, the leadership of the Nigerian Army, began early preparation and put in place some proactive measures that will ensure a peaceful and violence free poll. One of such measures was inauguration of operation Egwu Eke III (Python dance) across the country, two months to the elections.
The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, while announcing the operation during a press briefing in Maiduguri, Borno state, said: “the authorities had observed an upsurge of security challenges, such as stockpiling of arms by criminal groups…these challenges coupled with other security threats across the country such as terrorism, militancy, kidnapping and banditry portend that dissident group and criminal elements could cash in on the situation to perpetrate large scale violence before, during and after the 2019 general elections.”
Subsequently, the operation was launched in all Nigerian Army Divisions and Brigades across the country. And as the operation advances criminal elements were arrest in some states and weapons recovered. For instance, in January 12, 2019, troops of the Nigerian Army apprehended seven political thugs at Kalambaina and Federal Government College junction in Sokoto, Soko state.
The thugs were intercepted while on two vehicles and found in possession of dangerous weapons, according to the Major Clement Abiade, the Acting Deputy Director Army Public Relations. He said the thugs obstructed the free flow of vehicular traffic and attempted to cause a breakdown of law and order.
The army also reactivated Operation SAFE CONDUCT before the elections. The operation was earlier launched in July 2018 during the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states to ensure peaceful conduct of the polls. The operation ensured adequate security in the states that enabled citizen vote during the elections without intimidation. The successes of the operation were replicated at the last elections.
The situation room
The establishment of the Election Security Situation Monitoring Room by the leadership of the Nigerian Army was another proactive measure that helped to ensure peace and security during and after the last elections.
The situation room was launched on February 13, 2019, three days to the initial date of the Presidential and National Assembly elections, before it was postponed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to February 23.
The Election Security Situation Monitoring Room is intelligence and information gathering and sharing room situated at the Cyber Warfare Command, Army Headquarters Abuja. It provided real-time observation of events during the general elections. Like its operations during the elections, the situation room enabled the army to adopt proactive and responsive postures that allow it to better respond to early signs of insecurity, thereby preventing it to escalate to major security challenges.
To further enrich the quality of information during the election security monitoring process, the army partnered civil society election monitoring groups and other stakeholders. Telephone numbers and website, namely 193(for WhatsApp) and visithttps://army.mil.ng, were also shared with members of the public to enable them share credible information of security importance through SMS and MMS in their areas, which was promptly communicated to nearby troops locations. With this the army was able to respond to security situations less than 10 minutes.
Clampdowns, arrests and recoveries
Few days to the elections, the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Abayomi Olonisakin raised an alarm over plan by some criminal elements to usemilitary-like fatigue dress for deception to cause pandemonium during the elections. He warned that the military would deal decisively with such people. The Chief of Army Staff had raised similar observations about attempts some unpatriotic citizens in connivance with some foreign collaborators to scuttle the elections. Hence, the military, especially the Nigerian Army was up and doing in its mandates to protect the territorial integrity, as well as internally ensure peace and security in the country. It troops in both operations Egwu Eke III and SAFE CONDUCT undertook patrols, cordon and search and other military techniques to ensure criminal do not have their ways during the elections.
During the operations several arrests were made and weapons recovered.For instance, troops of Operation Safe Conduct intercepted three hoodlums on motorcycle at Badagry in Lagos state.
The hoodlums were arrested at Iwaraja Junction along Badagry axis – between Osun and Ogun states, at about 7:30 am on February 16.
The hoodlums, unaware of the postponement of the election midnight, were moving towards Ilesa East local government area, Osun state, to disrupt smooth conduct of general elections in that area.
Among items recovered from them, according to the army spokesperson, Col. Sagir Musa, were: a locally made pistol, a cutlass, three rounds of cartridges, and three mobile phones, one iPad, a Peace Corps face cap and a Peace Corps ID card.
Earlier, four political thugs were arrested on military uniform in Imo state. The thugs, according to reports, were fully armed and specialised in providing escort for politicians in the area.
On February 23, troops of 5 Battalion, 16 Brigade in Operation Safe Conduct in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa state, arrested 15 political thugs with weapons.
Spokesperson of 16 Brigade, Major Jonah Danjuma, said the thugs planned to disrupt the elections in the area. Among items recovered from them, were: One General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG), large quantity of ammunition and two 200 Horse Powered Speedboats.
However, the army also suffered some casualties during the elections. Troop of 6 Division of the Nigerian Army lost an officer, but killed six armed thugs after a gun duel in Abonnema, Akuku Toro local government of Rivers state.
The troops, according to reports were on legitimate duty of protecting lives and properties of citizens and ensuring a conducive environment for peaceful conduct of elections in the area.
The attackers, according to reports, barricaded a major road into the town and laid an ambush in the adjoining built-up areas from where they opened fire on our unsuspecting troops when they attempted to remove the barricade. The troops fought their way through the siege and in the process killed six of the assailants, but lost an officer.
Also, troops of the Nigerian Army arrested and paraded eight fake INEC staff in Rivers state.
In the North east, troops of Operation Lafiya Dole fighting Boko Haram terrorists intensified their assault on the terrorists before and during the period of the election in order to prevent them from gaining access to towns to cause havoc. For instance, through heavy assault several Boko haram terrorists fled after troops of 151 Battalion of Operation Lafiya Dole launched aggressive fighting patrol and ambush at the terrorists crossing point along Jebbra – Firgi Banki axis of Borno State.
Troops also provided similar water-tight security provided in Yobe state, which ensured large voters’ turnout.
Aside the operations across the country, the troops of the Nigerian Army also provided security to secure elections sensitive materials where they were kept.
Accolade by foreign observers
The contributions of the Nigerian Army did not go unnoticed, as foreign observers in their noted in their submission Army’s contribution guaranteed credibility of elections of the Presidential and National Assembly elections.
Bill Campbell, spokesperson of the Independent Foreign Observers/Monitors, in his presentation of the group’s preliminary report on the 2019 general elections, said: “the fact that the credibility of Nigeria’s electoral process was protected and maintained during last Saturday’s Presidential and National Assembly (NASS) elections, was because men and officers of the Nigerian Army deployed to flashpoints and other parts of the country rose to the occasion and forestalled the breakdown of violence.”
“The elections were conducted in an atmosphere of peace, which was brought about by the combined efforts of security agencies who showed resilience in the face of provocation,” he said. “The Army ensured that the credibility of the electoral process was not undermined as they provided maximum security for lives and properties throughout the elections’ period.
“Its officers and men conducted themselves professionally and within the ambit of the law, even when provoked by agents of political parties. In Yobe and Borno states, the Army provided water-tight security, which accounted for the large turnout of voters in the region.”
Campbell commended the leadership of the Nigerian Army for the high-level coordination of its troops around the country; and like local observers and analysts charged it to deploy same strategy during the forthcoming Governorship and State House of Assemblies elections.