Politicians, human rights activists, lawyers and prominent Nigerians on Monday attacked President Muhammadu Buhari for declaring that death awaited ballot box snatchers during the February 23 Presidential and National Assembly elections.
Buhari had early on Monday while speaking at a national caucus meeting of the All Progressives Congress in Abuja, said ballot box snatchers would pay with their lives as security agencies had been given the go ahead to be ruthless with them.
The President said this at the meeting, which was convened by the APC to review the poll delay and discuss other plans by the party ahead of the elections on Saturday.
Buhari stated, “I do not expect anybody to cause any disturbance. The security agencies have identified hot spots and flashpoints and should be prepared to move. We have made as much arrangement as possible for them as much as the country can afford.
“Anybody who decides to snatch ballot boxes or leads thugs to disturb the process, maybe that will be the last unlawful action you will take.
“We have directed the military and other security agents to be ruthless. We are not going to be blamed that we want to rig elections.”
The President noted that he did not need anyone to cause violence on his behalf as he was popular enough to win the presidential election without ballot boxes being snatched for him.
The President added, “I want Nigerians to be respected and let them vote whoever they want across the parties. I am not afraid of that. I went round the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory and I think I have enough support across the country to vote for me.
“So, I want to warn anybody who thinks he has enough influence in his locality to lead a body of thugs to snatch ballot boxes or disturb the voting system, he will do it at the expense of his own life.”
Buhari further expressed his displeasure over the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission to postpone the polls barely six hours to the start of voting on February 16.
He recalled that INEC had all the resources and time to plan for the polls, hence the postponement was altogether unnecessary.
“Definitely, the reason why such incompetence manifested has to be explained to the nation. After the elections, we have to know exactly what happened and who is responsible.
“Otherwise, our efforts to make sure that this system is acceptable would have been eroded. The constitution and the law protected INEC. But they must not take us for granted,” Buhari said.
Speaking further on efforts made to ensure that INEC succeeded, Buhari recalled that even the National Assembly had to make necessary approvals for the umpire.
He added, “If for example, the National Assembly refused to approve what they wanted, INEC would have had moral reasons why they couldn’t perform. If the time of four years of election was not constitutionally obeyed, the government and INEC would have a case.
“But we don’t understand the reason for this inefficiency and we have to go into details after the election to find out who is responsible.”
Buhari, however, praised the leadership of the APC for being focused so far.
Buhari inciting military, police against Nigerians – Secondus
However, the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Prince Uche Secondus, has said President Buhari in his alleged desperation to cling on to power has given marching orders to the military and the police to help leaders of the APC to oppress voters.
He said the President’s remarks amounted to what he called a declaration of war on the Nigerian voters and a direct incitement against them.
Secondus in a statement in Abuja on Monday said , “The President’s confirmation that he has directed the service chiefs to kill Nigerians is nothing but a pre-determined script hatched by the ruling party to create voter apathy and implement their result replacement plans using thugs protected by the military.”
He expressed shock that a Commander-in-Chief who, he claimed, had been out of action in numerous security challenges in the country particularly “needless killings in Benue, Plateau, Zamfara etc and whose regime has recorded unprecedented bloodletting in the country would suddenly wake up threatening voters with fire and brimstone.”
He added, “In all democracies the world over, elections are civil matters that are usually handled by civil security like police and wondered why the involvement of our military in this matter when they have enough security challenges to tackle.”
President’s statement, most callous ever, says CUPP
Also, the Coalition of United Political Parties has asked Nigerians and the international community to hold the President responsible for any loss of lives during the elections.
It said the President’s statement was the most callous public statement ever made by a Nigerian President.
The coalition said this in a statement by its national spokesman, Imo Ugochinyere.
Ugochinyere asked all well-meaning Nigerians to condemn the President for the statement.
He said, “The President was unambiguous in his call that citizens should be shot dead extrajudicially if they ever tried to snatch ballot boxes during the elections.
“That is the most callous public statement ever by a Nigerian President. It must be condemned by all well-meaning citizens and the international community.
“President Buhari must be held personally responsible for the loss of any lives due to the instructions he has given to the security forces.”
It’s a call for extrajudicial killings – Dogara, civil rights groups
Also, some civil rights groups and the Speaker, House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara, have described Buhari’s order as a call for extrajudicial killings.
Dogara, at a press conference in Abuja on Monday, in his reaction, said, “The President said, ‘anybody who decides to snatch boxes or lead thugs to disturb the elections, maybe that would be the last unlawful action you would take. I have given the military and police the order to be ruthless. I am going to warn anybody who thinks he would lead a body of thugs in his locality to snatch boxes or to disturb the voting system; he would do it at the expense of his/her own life.’
“Mr Oshiomhole also claims that the PDP was given prior notice of the postponement of the elections.
“In this context, we categorically deny these false claims and unnecessary blackmail and regard the President’s statement as a call for extrajudicial killings, considering the fact that there are adequate provisions in our laws to address electoral offences.
“These statements clearly indicate that our democracy has become the victim of a full-blown dictatorship, when one considers that a democratically-elected President would give a directive that is in clear violation of the laws of the land which by his oath of office he is to defend and protect.”
Dogara said in view of this statement made by the President, it was obvious that the military had been given a central role and co-opted into the conduct of the elections, despite the fact that they had no constitutional role in the electoral process.
“In reality, we support a genuine and transparent probe into why the presidential and National Assembly elections could not hold. We also hope that the President’s inflammatory statement is not a threat aimed at intimidating the electoral commission,” he said.
CDHR, CD say Buhari’s order, unconstitutional
Also, two civil society organisations, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights and Campaign for Democracy, berated the President, saying such a call was outside the provisions of the constitution and the electoral laws.
The CDHR National President, Malachy Ugwummadu, said, “The President is supposed to be the one who upholds the law and not to abrogate it. The call on the military and the police to shoot ballot boxes snatchers is not only unconstitutional but also usurping the roles of the judiciary which is the arm of government empowered to interpret the law.
“Therefore, the President is wrong on that call and much as I sympathise with him on the tendencies of electoral offences during the elections, there are adequate provisions in the law to deal with them.”
Also the CD National President, Usman Abdul, said, “This is a civil rule but under the military fangs. The call by the President on ballot boxes is uncalled for and unconstitutional and having an ex-military general as our leader should not derail our democracy.
Don’t kill electoral offenders, Falana tells security agents
Speaking in the same vein, a human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), urged security agents “not to risk their own lives by engaging in extrajudicial killing of ballot snatchers and other electoral offenders.”
He said, “It may interest President Buhari to know that due to the culture of impunity in the land the hundreds of electoral offenders including sponsors and perpetrators of politically-motivated killings arrested by the police in the last six months have been let off the hook due to pressure from highly-connected criminally-minded members of the political class.
“I am tempted to call on the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar SAN, to advise the President to withdraw the illegal directive as soon as possible because similar illegal orders of two former Presidents of Nigeria had led to the brutal massacre of unarmed people in Odi, Bayelsa State (1999), Zaki Biam, Benue State (2001) and Gbaramotu, Delta State (2009).”
Also, the Executive Chairman, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Mr Debo Adeniran, said the President’s position was tantamount to encouraging extrajudicial killings and called for caution.
SAN berates Buhari, says his directive illegal
But a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Sebastine Hon, said Buhari’s directive to the military was “clearly unconstitutional.”
He said, “The President’s comment is clearly unconstitutional. Section 33(1) of the Constitution guarantees the right to life. So, life can only be terminated in accordance with due process of law.
“The due process of law includes the execution of death sentence by a court of law or tribunal, or during insurrection or war, or acting in self-defence.
“It does not include shooting an electoral offender. Therefore, the President’s comment is ultra vires and clearly unconstitutional.”
Ballot snatcher deserves death – Raji
But another SAN, Mr. Ahmed Raji, said a ballot box snatcher deserved to be visited with the full weight of the law.
He added that the President’s statement was a warning to whoever was planning to snatch ballot boxes on the day of election that such culprit could be shot by security agencies in the process of trying to effect an arrest.
Raji said, “Anybody who is trying to rubbish our elections and therefore giving the country a bad name should be visited with the full wrath of the law.”
President’s order, scary, ominous- Atiku’s friends
However, the Coordinator of Friends of Atiku Professionals, Moses Jolayemi, called on the international community to be prepared to rescue Nigeria from an impending mayhem being allegedly instigated by Buhari.
Jolayemi said, “This, to say the least, is scary and ominous of what the President and the APC plan to unleash on the Nigerian electorate if they are unable to pull through with their plans to rig the elections.
“It is unexpected that a responsible leader would issue such a threat having revealed that he had already instructed security agencies to be ‘ruthless’ with electoral offenders.”
Dickson urges Buhari to convene NCS meeting
On his part, Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State called on President Buhari, to convene an expanded emergency meeting of the National Council of State to discuss issues involving the postponement of the elections.
Dickson, according to a statement by his Special Adviser, Media Relations, Mr Fidelis Soriwei, on Tuesday, stated this during a press briefing at the Government House, Yenagoa.
The governor said the meeting should comprise leaders of the security agencies, party candidates and the normal members of council.
He said the leadership of INEC should be made to brief the council about its decision to unilaterally postpone the elections a few hours to voting.
He added that INEC should pick a new date only after the proposed expanded meeting of the NCS to prevent the elections from being postponed again.