Senior lawyers are pushing for a probe of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai’s claim that some officers have been hobnobbing with politicians.
The lawyers suggested yesterday that the matter should not end with Gen. Buratai merely issuing a statement and warning those involved to retrace their steps.
British High Commissioner to Nigeria Paul Arkwright, also yesterday, said: “The British Government believes that democracy is actually critical in Nigeria.”
According to online newspaper Premium Times, the High Commissioner, who spoke at the sideline of an event in Abuja to present a report on corruption in Nigeria sponsored by the United Kingdom policy think-tank, Chatham House, said: “There are elections. If you’re not happy with your leaders then you should change your leadership through the democratic process and through elections.”
Gen. Buratai, according to a statement by army spokesman Brig.-Gen. Sani Usman, has warned officers and soldiers to steer clear of politics or have themselves to blame.
Buratai advised personnel, who were interested in politics, “to resign their commission or apply for voluntary discharge forthwith.”
Brig.-Gen. Usman said the warning followed information received by Gen. Buratai that “some individuals have been approaching some officers and soldiers for undisclosed political reasons”.
“On the basis of that, the army chief, has warned such persons to desist from these acts.
“He also reminded them that Nigerian army is a thorough professional, disciplined, loyal and apolitical institution that has clear constitutional roles and responsibilities.
“Any officer or soldier of Nigerian Army found to be hobnobbing with such elements or engaged in unprofessional conducts such as politicking would have himself or herself to blame.”
Activist-lawyer Femi Falana (SAN) described the statement as “very disturbing”.
He added: “It is hoped some officials of the Federal Government are not playing into the hands of anti-democratic forces. In particular, the government should stop giving the impression that there is political instability in the country. For instance, are we to wait for President Muhammadu Buhari who is on an indefinite medical vacation when Section 145 of the Constitution has transferred all presidential powers to the Acting President?
“The members of the ruling class should be warned not to truncate the political process. On its own part, the Federal Government is advised to involve the people in addressing the economic crisis and in the fight against corruption. At the same time, the government should comply with all court orders and embrace the rule of law in all its ramifications.”
Constitutional lawyer Ike Ofuokwu said Gen. Buratai’s warning was not enough.
He said: “It’s not just enough for the COAS to warn his men to desist from hobnobbing with politicians and the allegation swept under the carpet.
“It’s very imperative that further steps are taken through a process of proper and discreet investigation as to uncovering the reasons for this unholy alliance so as to nip it in the bud if it is inimical to our national security or if it will result in a breach to our democratic dispensation.
“It will be the height of political insanity and insensitivity for the political class to repeat the mistakes that brought to an abrupt end the Second Republic in December 1983.”
Ofuokwu spoke on how the matter should be investigated. He said: “I am not advocating any probe or enquiry to be launched, as that in its own, would be another jamboree for political patronage and financial waste and nothing meaningful will come out of it.
“The military in itself, I believe, has enough capacity and intelligence apparatus to look inward and X-ray itself.”
Senior lawyer Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) said the officers involved as well as the politicians should be identified.
“I’ll advise the military to investigate properly and, if possible, set up a special panel over this matter,” Ozekhome said.
”Whoever is approaching the military officers, they should find them out. It may be that it is the military officers that are reaching out to the politicians. It could either way – a symbiotic relationship,” he said.
A former Minister of State (Defence) Senator Musiliu Obanikoro praised Gen. Buratai for the courage to speak out.
Obanikoro said: ‘‘I commend Buratai for being courageous enough to blow the whistle against those trying to lure military to meddle in politics. He has demonstrated that he is a professional and not a politician in uniform.
‘‘As a nation, we are going through a lot already to be traumatised with news of military intervention. Our history does not support any intervention from the military because we have seen the best and worst of military rule.
‘‘They threw the country into economic and political mess, compounded with social confusion. We suffered stunted growth mainly as a result of military incursion in government. As we speak, the military is engaged enough with unrest in almost every part of the country.
‘‘I encourage Buratai and all military heads to continue to support democratic rule and ensure necessary discipline within the military.’
A former President of Igbo intellectual group, Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, said the Gen. Buratai statement should not be taken seriously.
He said: “I see the statement as one of grand standing. It was done to show loyalty to President Muhammadu Buhari. I do not think any politician worth his salt would go to any officer.
“As it is today, there is no threat to the government of President Buhari. This is because there is no credible opposition.
“This is the longest unbroken system of government we have had for the past 18 years.
“We seem to have got it right. Any threat from the military would be unpopular. The statement should not be taken seriously.”
Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike urged the Army High Command to desist from posting soldiers to politicians. He described this as counter-productive and a threat to national security.
He said Gen. Buratai should “take action to check the disturbing trend”.
He said: “Who are those approving soldiers to politicians? If they don’t want soldiers to follow politicians, they should stop giving soldiers to politicians.
“It is only in Nigeria that soldiers follow politicians. They should stop soldiers from being security detail to politicians.”