The military has again warned against plans to sabotage the handover of power to the President-elect, Bola Tinubu on May 29.
The high command said the armed forces were on standby and would ensure a smooth transition process scheduled to take place in 24 days.
The Director of Defence Media Operations, Major General Musa Danmadami handed down the warning on Thursday as a former military Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, advised candidates challenging the outcomes of the last election to accept the court verdict.
Danmadami’s caution came a month after the Director of Defence Information, Brigadier General Tukur Gusau, vowed that the military would resist anything that would truncate democracy in the country.
Also, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Faruk Yahaya, had threatened to crack down on potential threats to national security and warned the Indigenous People of Biafra, Eastern Security Network and other fringe groups not to test the will of the military.
Some aggrieved candidates had kicked against the planned inauguration of the president-elect and called for the interim national government but addressing defence correspondents at the Defence Headquarters, Abuja, Danmadami stated that the military would ensure that the inauguration was not derailed.
‘Military on standby’
He declared, “I will reiterate that we are on standby to make sure that nothing unwanted happens; that the issue of threat to the security and stability of the country is addressed promptly. Elections have come and gone. For the presidential election, a winner has been announced.
“There is a transition committee in place comprising all members of the security agencies, ministries, and agencies of government to make sure the event is held successfully and without a glitch.
“We don’t see reasons why there should be a problem during the activity. The inauguration will come and go and nothing will happen. We are not going to relent in ensuring there is peace and stability across the length and breadth of the country. “
In his admonition to the aggrieved candidates who have lodged petitions at the various election tribunals, Gowon urged them to respect the sanctity of the court and humbly accept its decision in the coming days.
The elder statesmen gave the advice in Abuja at the 15th edition of the PUNUKA Annual Lecture 2023 and symposium in honour of the late justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Chike Idigbe.
The ex-military leader while emphasising the need for a strong, independent and impartial judiciary counselled aggrieved politicians and the public to abide by the decisions of the court.
He said, “As we move forward as a nation, let us not forget the role that the judiciary plays in nation-building, especially the apex court, in carrying out its duty of questioning the veracity of the decisions of the lower court.
“As such, we need to allow the apex court their deliberations and come up with their decisions, and as the public, to be humble to accept its decision as final in order to maintain the sanctity of the judiciary as individuals and as an institution.
“This is very important at this stage given the post-election litigation that is now going on. Let us give the judiciary the opportunity to do its work and let us accept their decision as it is.”
Acknowledging the challenge of the country since independence, he affirmed that “the judiciary plays a vital role in nation-building and in keeping us united as a nation.’’
He further added, “The judiciary, in essence, is the guardian of the constitution and the rule of law. As a former head of state, I have seen and known firsthand the importance of the judiciary in maintaining stability and order in our society.”
He poured encomiums on the late jurist and attested to his unwavering dedication to service and bravery in the dispensation of justice.
“From what I have learnt of Justice Idigbe, his contributions to the judiciary and nation-building cannot be overemphasized. His unwavering commitment to upholding justice and the rule of law is a testament to his unflinching character and his belief in our nation evinced through his life and office,” he submitted.
Commenting on the warning by the military, the Chief Spokesman for Obi-Datti Presidential Campaign Council, Yunusa Tanko, maintained that the military had a lot to learn about the rule of law, including the Electoral Act.
Tanko wondered why the security agency, “which did absolutely nothing when thugs were snatching ballot boxes and intimidating voters, could suddenly wake up to announce that it would deal with those planning to disrupt the May 29 inauguration.’’
He said, “It is very disheartening when the rule of law is negated at the expense of the people. Our position is very clear: The Electoral Act says that all pre-election matters must be dealt with before the swearing-in.
“What we are appealing for the judiciary and the military to look into is the provision of our laws. They are the first line to protect the sovereignty of this country.
“Therefore, they should revisit the position of the law and the Electoral Act as regards our electoral process. As they have sworn to defend the integrity of our democracy, they should be able to follow the rule of law and order.’’
Tanko questioned the military’s commitment to the protection of democracy, saying, “Interestingly, they (military) did not protect the interest of the Nigerian people, especially at the point where they were denied their right to vote for the candidates of their choice.
“Neither did they rise or do anything against people who were using thugs to forcefully push their way into power. These people were not arrested or dealt with. How can you justify such an action when Nigerians are calling for the rule of law to be followed in the dictates of our democracy?
“Nobody is supporting any uprising but the rule of law of engagement must be followed. We are therefore appealing to the military to take a look into the provisions of the law as regards our electoral process. They can then take their cue and give their standing order on that point, not against the interest of the people they swore to protect.”
APC backs military
But the Director of Publicity for the All Progressives Congress, Bala Ibrahim, saw nothing wrong with the alarm raised by the defence headquarters.
“As democrats, we condemn anything that constitutes a threat to democracy. We will not be happy with it and definitely won’t tolerate it. It took most Nigerians a long time to get to this stage and uninterrupted continuous democracy,’’ he stated.
Speaking further, Ibrahim noted, “If the military or defence headquarters is issuing a warning at this point, I am sure they must have their reasons or intel at their disposal, which we may not necessarily be in a position to know.
‘’The fact remains that the military has sworn to protect and act in accordance with the tenets of democracy. They have said times without number that they will remain subservient to the will of the people. They will not do anything that is going to undermine democracy neither will they do anything to truncate it.’’
“If the military raises any red flag now, I want to believe they have their reason. Those who are in the habit or thinking of doing something sinister should take a cue from this warning. They must not allow themselves to be used as agents or as instruments to truncate democracy having come this far,’’ the party official admonished.
The Peoples Democratic Party also supported the military’s plan to deal decisively with individuals or groups plotting to disrupt the inauguration of a new government.
However, the party spokesman, Debo Ologunagba said the military authority ought not to have revealed its plan to the public, noting that it should have simply moved against those plotting to disrupt the handover.
He said, “The military everywhere does its job without saying beforehand what it would do. If they have identified those planning to disorganize the process (presidential inauguration), it is not out of place to work with that intelligence and take on those people by surprise. So, why do they have to announce what they want to do? It’s like the United States of America army saying they are going to deal with terrorists. That does not make sense.”
The Africa Action Congress dismissed the military warning as “nothing but the usual gossip’’ from the intelligence agencies in Nigeria.
It insisted that the people have the right to express their displeasure with the election outcome through protests or civil disobedience before, during or after the swearing-in of the president-elect.
The AAC National Publicity Secretary, Femi Adeyeye noted “This is the usual gossip from the intelligence agencies in Nigeria. It’s nothing new. It’s their stock-in-trade to always announce that they have uncovered plots to destabilize the country whenever they sense displeasure of any sort from the people. What’s funny this time is that the military has also joined in this charade.
You cannot conduct a sham, call it an election and expect people to keep quiet.’’
In a related development, the Archbishop Emeritus of the Abuja Catholic Archdiocese, John Onaiyekan, has argued that it “makes no sense” to swear in Tinubu before the hearing of the Presidential Election Petition Court is concluded.
Recall that the flag bearer of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, and his People’s Democratic Party counterpart, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, are challenging Tinubu’s victory at the PEPC.
While the commencement of the hearing has been slated for Monday, preparations for the inauguration of the president-elect are in top gear.
But speaking in an interview on Channels Television on Thursday, Onaiyekan said the system of electioneering in the nation should be reviewed to produce winners who would not have the shadow of the court lurking behind their victory.
The cleric further expressed concern that the electoral system was constantly contested in court.
He stated, “There are cases in court that have not been disposed of. That is why we are in an anomalous situation. We have a president-elect whose election is being challenged and the court is handling it. I’m still waiting for the court to tell me who won the election. It doesn’t make much sense to be swearing in the people when they are still in court. I know it has happened with governors, but the outcome has not been the best of all cases.
“I think we need to review our election process, so we do have a winner who will be sworn in and whom everybody would rally around. It is a pity that it is taking longer for the court to come to its decision.
“My problem is that the whole system of our election must be properly reviewed so that it would be easier for winners to emerge according to the wishes of the people. It is not right to have a system that is constantly contested. We should find out why every election is being contested.”
But the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, who seemed affronted by the former archbishop’s statement, insisted the ex-Lagos state governor would be sworn in.
He said Onaiyekan’s utterances of late were ‘’unstatesmanlike’’ and advised him against dabbling into the ‘murky waters of politics.’
“Dear Daddy Onaiyekan, you know we all respect you a lot, but your political comments are becoming unstatesmanlike,” he said in a post published on his official Twitter account.
Keyamo berates Onaiyekan
The erstwhile chief spokesman for the dissolved APC presidential campaign council further said, “A statesman who also doubles as a man of God should seek to be fair to everyone. When Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan, and Buhari were all sworn in as presidents while their cases were still pending in the courts, you didn’t say the same thing.
“Because the candidate you and your other religious brethren openly supported lost the election and you all feel humiliated and embarrassed, you have decided to single out this President-elect, Bola Tinubu, this time.’’
Meanwhile, a group, the Arewa Youth Assembly said it had petitioned the Inspector-General of Police and the Director-General of the Department of State Services to arrest the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Joe Ajaero over an alleged plot by the organised labour to scuttle the inauguration of the president-elect.
Addressing journalists in Kaduna on Thursday, the group’s spokesperson, Ali Muhammad also faulted the NLC leadership for inviting only the Labour Party flag bearer, Peter Obi, to the May Day celebration in Abuja.
He said, “We regretted that this is the first time in the history of NLC that two people from one ethnic group are occupying the office of President (Joe Ajaero from Imo state and Secretary General, Emmanuel Ugboaja from Abia) at the same time.
“Ajaero showed his ethnic card by inviting Peter Obi to the last May Day celebration in Abuja without extending the same to the leadership of other political parties and even the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who is the number one labourer of the nation.’’
But Ajaero in his reaction challenged his accusers to provide evidence of his alleged involvement in any plot against Tinubu’s inauguration, stressing that the allegations were part of the plans by some individuals to ‘’degrade his person.’’
The labour leader stated, “Let them provide proof that I had meetings or plans to scuttle the May 29 inauguration. All I said was that the judiciary should be allowed to take its course. Why is anyone against that?
“The NLC is the most patriotic organisation in the country. It is made up of people from all parts of the country. It is wrong for anyone to make baseless allegations. I will not respond to people who have been paid to degrade my name or make baseless allegations. Let them provide proof of all their allegations until then; I will not be addressing baseless allegations.”