Babangida issued the warning in an interview with newsmen in his Hill Top Mansion in Minna, Niger State, to mark his 73rd birthday, which comes up tomorrow.
President Goodluck Jonathan, as the Commander- in-Chief, has developed a template for providing security during elections using soldiers along with other security forces.
He did this in the governorship elections in Anambra, Edo, Ekiti and, last week, in Osun states.
Some opposition parties have been kicking against the practice which they have described as antithetical to democratic ethos.
According to General Babangida, continued usage of soldiers in election duties would not be in the interest of anyone including even the military itself, which he said could soon be compromised as was done with the police.
“I don’t believe the military should supervise elections. I don’t believe they should participate in them…I was already an officer in the Nigerian Army in the 60s and there was no military presence in the streets in those days but the police. I think it is high time we restored the glory of the force.
“I am not sure military guys should be involved in these civic duties. It cannot continue like this. I don’t believe the military guys should be seen on the streets,” Babangida warned.
He argued that political leaders should be equal to the challenge of elections, even where the task appears complex.
“Up till date, there are places that you need logistical support by the political leaders. For example, there are boats in the creeks of the Niger Delta. The boats can access remote villages and townships in that region, not the road, during the elections.
“So, I can see a government that would say okay, if you go to villages in the creeks and we have boats that can get in there, you can ask those people operating the boats to use their boats in ferrying ballot boxes to such places that cannot be easily accessed through the roads and that is perfectly okay. But I don’t believe the military guys should be seen on the streets,” Babangida said.
(See full interview on politics pages)
The Federal Government is, however, convinced that the involvement of soldiers has been instrumental in the success of the governorship elections in Edo, Ekiti and Osun states and that the development has marked a radical improvement in Nigeria’s electoral system.
Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, during an interaction with journalists, underscored the need for the country to sustain the tempo of military participation in the electoral process.
He described the move as a measure of the commitment of the current administration to give Nigerians a legacy of free and fair elections, devoid of harassment or intimidation in any form.
“It is not militarisation of the society if we have come to realise that with the military participating in the area of security during elections, we are getting an improved outcome.
“It makes good sense to study that and invest in it. As of now, the military are way ahead of other security agencies when it comes to the enforcement of law and order in this country,” the minister argued.
(See full interview on politics page)
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However, supporting Babangida’s view, the All Progressives Congress’ National Legal Adviser, Dr Muiz Banire, said deployment of soldiers for election purposes could only serve to cause apathy in voters, even as he described the development as alien to the Electoral Act.
He questioned the rationale behind such deployment when there were the police and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) who were statutorily meant to carry out civic duties such as at elections.
“A lot of people could not come out to vote. They were afraid that bullets might fly from nowhere and hit them. They were afraid of the guns all over the place and so decided not to come out to vote.
“The Electoral Act does not even recognise that. The only people who are legitimately permitted to stay near the polling booth are the presiding officer, the polling clerk and the agents. It is only where there is a problem that the presiding officer can call in security officials.
“Civil duties are meant to be carried out by the police. Even the civil defence has arms too. Now, what is the job of the Department of State Service? They are telling Nigerians that they are incompetent.
“Soldiers are not meant to be within the country, they are not trained for internal security. They are trained for external conflicts except where there are insurrections. Even where there are, have they been able to tame them?” Banire said.