The Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday granted an order of perpetual injunction restraining President Goodluck Jonathan and the Service Chiefs from deploying soldiers for the general elections.
Justice Ibrahim Buba held that they cannot deploy soldiers without the National Assembly’s approval.
Besides, he said any election which is militarised through deployment of soldiers where there is no insurrection is “anti-democratic” and not in consonance with constitutional democracy and civil rule.
Justice Buba was delivering judgment in a suit by House of Representatives member Femi Gbajabiamila who sought a declaration that deployment of soldiers for elections is unconstitutional.
President Jonathan, the Chief of Defence Staff, the Chief of Army Staff, the Chief of Air Staff, the Chief of Naval Staff and the Attorney-General of the Federation are the respondents.
The plaintiff said the Federal Government deployed soldiers during the governorship elections in Anambra, Ekiti and Osun states, contrary to the Constitution.
Justice Buba upheld arguments by the plaintiff’s counsel, Mr Seni Adio, adding that even President Jonathan does not have the power to deploy soldiers at whim.
The judge dismissed the defendants’ objections to the court’s jurisdiction and to the plaintiff’s locus standi, saying Gbajabiamila had the legal right to demand an interpretation of the constitution by the court.
He disagreed with the defendants who said soldiers were only deployed to ensure peaceful elections, holding that the army is not needed for such civil duties.
Justice Buba said he was bound by the recent Court of Appeal’s decision, which nullified soldiers’ deployment for elections. He quoted the decision extensively, adding that he was also persuaded by the judgment of Justice Mohammed Rilwan of the Federal High Court, Sokoto.
According to the judge, the law does not make provision for the military to be involved in civil activities, and if soldiers must vote, it must be in their barracks. “The armed forces/military have no role in elections,” he said.
“The time has come for us to establish the culture of democratic rule in the country and to start to do the right thing, particularly when it has to do with dealing with the electoral process which is one of the pillars of democracy.
“In spite of the behaviour of the political class, we should by all means try to keep armed personnel and military from being a part and parcel of the electoral process.
“The state is obligated to confine the military to their very demanding assignment, especially in this time of insurgencies, by keeping them out of elections. The state is also obligated to ensure that citizens exercise their franchise freely and unmolested,” Justice Buba said.
The judge said the Court of Appeal directly interpreted the Constitution when it held that the combined effects of Section 215 and 217 limit the president’s power to deploy soldiers to the suppression of insurrection and to aid the police to restore order when it has broken down.
“I am bound by the decision of the Court of Appeal and equally persuaded by the decision of Federal High Court Sokoto, which also persuaded the Court of Appeal.
“It is in this regard that the court will say that its duty in interpreting the constitution has been simplified and made easy by the decisions I have referred to extensively,” Justice Buba held.
On whether Gbajabiamila has locus standi, the judge said: “The plaintiff is at liberty to approach this court and seek reliefs whether they are beneficial to him or not. In the instant case, the plaintiff is a Nigerian; he has a right of franchise, so it will be beneficial to him.
“This court will not dabble in academic issues. The instance Originating Summons has merit. The court shall proceed to answer the questions for determination in favour of the plaintiff that the deployment of the armed forces by the first, second, third, fourth and fifth defendants during elections violate the provisions of the Constitution.
“Accordingly, the declaratory reliefs sought are granted. Any militarised voting pattern is anti-democratic and not in consonance with constitutional democracy and civil rule.”