Sometime in 2014 there was a debate over the deployment of armed soldiers by Former President Jonathan in the maintenance of law and order during the general elections. While the debate was ongoing the Court of Appeal held that the deployment of armed troops for the Ekiti governorship election in June 2014 was illegal and unconstitutional. In 2015, the judgment of the Court of Appeal was relied upon by the Sokoto and Lagos divisions of the Federal High Court in restraining President Jonathan from deploying soldiers to maintain law and order during the 2015 general elections.
Notwithstanding the categorical pronouncements of the courts on the matter, Mr. Ayo Fayose called on President Jonathan to proceed with the deployment of the troops. While Mr. Fayose's irresponsible call was understood, the contemptuous stand of some senior lawyers in asking President to ignore the judgments of the courts was embarrassing to all lovers of the rule of law and democracy.
“Speaking through his Special Assistant on Public Communications and New Media, Lere Olayinka, the governor accused the APC of trying to prevent the involvement of the military in the elections so as to enable it to perpetrate violence during the elections. Fayose said, 'It is the constitutional right of President Goodluck Jonathan to deploy soldiers to provide security anywhere in Nigeria and not even the APC allies in the judiciary can take away this right.' According to him, the military was being blackmailed by the APC because the party has not been able to compromise the institution.”
In his position as the then chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Dr. Chidi Odinkalu said that President Jonathan should deploy soldiers for the election to enforce “neutrality and impartiality”. On another occasion he said that troops should be deployed on the ground that Nigeria was “in a state of war.” The convener of Situation Room for elections and a former Executive Director Constitutional Rights Project, Mr Clement Nwankwo supported the statement which was alleged to have been made on behalf of some unnamed 60 civil society organizations.
Mr Emeka Umeagbalasi, the chairman of the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law said that “Over 3,000 citizens died in the 2011 pre-election violence as against 2015’s 60 recorded deaths till date excluding insurgency war casualties. The military’s security and surveillance of poll materials and personnel in recent time times have added credibility to polls’ outcomes/results to the extent that most of the 1,695 elective public office polls constitutionally conducted by INEC in Nigeria from 2011 were sustained and upheld by various polls’ tribunals in Nigeria”
The lawyers who publicly asked President Jonathan to deploy troops for the 2015 general elections include Femi Fani-Kayode:
“Fani-Kayode also said the sordid killing of some members of the National Youth Service Corpers (NYSC) in the last elections must not be repeated. It is for this reason that the Federal Government must deploy soldiers to ensure peace, stability and security during and after the elections. The attempt by the APC to discredit the use of soldiers by promoting misleading audio footage of rigging during the Ekiti governorship election is childish and absurd. The federal government deployed soldiers in the Anambra, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial elections and all those elections were devoid of violence. "
"As the debate continues whether or not the military should be deployed for election duties during the forthcoming general elections, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and about 60 civil society organizations (CSOs) have lent their voices that the military should be engaged in order to secure lives and property during the exercise."
“In a communiqué signed by Chairman of NHRC, Dr. Chidi Anslem Odinkalu and the convener of Situation Room, Clement Nwankwo, and made available to The Guardian Sunday, the CSO Situation Room and the NHRC expressed shared concern about the tone and what appears to be the willingness of the leading political parties to turn the role of the security agencies in the 2015 general elections into a partisan issue and agreed to work together to protect the professionalism and neutrality of all security units or institutions to be deployed for the elections.”
“The Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, also backed the call for troops to take charge of security to ensure peace during the elections. Odinkalu is of the view that Nigeria is currently in a state of war, which justifies such action in line with the Geneva Convention Act.”
Chief Mike Ozekhome:
“Constitutional lawyer and human right activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, argued that the President has powers to deploy soldiers during elections and urged that military personnel should be deployed to patrol the streets, escort sensitive electoral materials safely to their various destinations and man all borders, whether air, land and sea. He said: “It is beyond doubt that constitutionally, legally and morally, the President has the power to deploy the military during elections where he perceives that there will likely be a threat to public security and safety for reasons already adumbrated. The deployment can help to nip in the bud, cases of insurrection, to restore law and order, to maintain Nigeria’s territorial integrity and secure Nigeria’s borders from violation, land, sea and air. These are the exact words of Section 217 of the Constitution."
Chief J. B. Daudu:
“The military are not deployed to participate, however, because there are certain sensitive election materials to be protected, they would be available, especially in this era of Boko Haram. It is their duty to assist in keeping internal security. However, they won’t be at polling booths to whip people into line like the members of the Nigeria Police Force or the Civil Defence Corps. But, they (the military) should be available for immediate deployment.”
“The Chairman, International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law, Mr. Emeka Umeagbalasi, also believes that the role of the military in the sustenance of Nigeria’s fragile democracy, including reduction in poll roguery and brigandage, is commendable.
“...In all these, the military appears to be the only neutral third party capable of providing last hope for Nigerians numbering over 170 million. This is why the military institution must be supported by all and sundry at all times. So long as Nigeria’s polls remain turbulent and mercantile, the lives and liberties of Nigerians must be maximally entrusted in the hands of the country’s armed forces at all times without judicial, administrative and political excuses.”
The Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) also joined the call for the deployment of soldiers for the election. Unfortunately, President Jonathan followed the illegal advice of these lawyers and proceeded to disobey the orders of the court of appeal and the Federal High Court. In some other jurisdictions each of these lawyers would have been debarred for asking President Jonathan to disregard valid orders of competent courts:
“That while we acknowledge the need for adequate security during the elections given the peculiarities of our politicians and the tense atmosphere, in the event of deployment of the military, we state that their deployment should not be for electoral duties, which is statutorily reserved for the police. Also, the deployments should be done with care.”
Since the illegal advice of the lawyers was politically motivated they have exposed their inconsistency barely two years later. Thinking that they are dealing with fools, these lawyers and the CLO have teamed up with Mr. Fayose in criticizing President Buhari over the deployment of soldiers in the South-East to secure the lives and properties of peace loving citizens. As far as these lawyers are concerned, the deployment of troops which was perfectly legal in 2015 under President Jonathan has suddenly become illegal and unconstitutional in 2017 under President Buhari. In view of the condemnation of the duplicity of these characters we invite Nigerians to read and juxtapose the statements made by them in 2015.