Nigeria’s army chief warned officers Wednesday to be loyal and “deal decisively” with vote-rigging, speaking at a meeting of senior army staff in the capital Abuja ahead of weekend elections.
“Commanders must deal decisively with any electoral crime or action,” said Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, reminding them of the importance of “loyalty to constituted authority.”
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was quick to condemn the remarks, warning the army against supporting the interests of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Kola Ologbondiyan, a spokesman for opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar, said in a statement that Buratai’s “threats” were a “recipe for crisis”.
Buratai’s comments came amid rising tensions in Nigeria after the electoral commission delayed presidential and parliamentary elections just hours before polls were due to open on February 16.
The decision sparked widespread anger, and the two main political parties have blamed each other for the delay, warning of a conspiracy to rig the vote.
At an emergency meeting of the APC in Abuja on Monday, President Muhammadu Buhari said he had ordered the military and police to be “ruthless” with vote-riggers.
“Anybody who decides to snatch (ballot) boxes or use thugs to disturb it (the vote), maybe this will be the last unlawful action he will take,” he said.
Buhari’s comments sparked criticism from the opposition that he was encouraging violence.
Opposition challenger Abubakar, a former vice president, said the president’s warning was a “painful reminder of the era of dictatorship and military rule”.
Speaking at an emergency meeting of the PDP, he said military commanders and officers are “not bound to execute orders that are manifestly unlawful.”
At the expanded meeting of army staff officers and commanders, Buratai seemed to allude to Abubakar’s comments, condemning “persons aspiring to rule this country (of) inciting the army to disobedience.”
“Direct and public incitement of the Nigerian military against democracy and civil authority will not be tolerated,” Buratai warned.
The army chief also said there would be no military escort for politicians on election day, and warned army staff to “stay clear” of politicians until after the elections.
Some 84 million Nigerians are registered to cast their ballots on Saturday.
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