EDITORIAL: Snatch And Die: What Mr. President Failed To Understand
Feb. 20, 2019
On Monday, President Muhammad Buhari, out of a purported presidential mettle and passion to deliver a credible and peaceful election announced dire consequences for any person or groups intent on disrupting Saturday’s balloting either by inciting violence or by snatching of ballot box.
His exact words were: “I do not expect anybody to cause any disturbance. 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.”
This would have sufficed as a stern warning if Mr. President had stopped there, but he continued: “We have directed the military and other security agents to be ruthless.”
“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.” Apparently, with this line, Mr. President went too far.
Anyone familiar with the Nigerian crime and justice topography especially with regards to how operatives of security and law enforcement agencies such as the Police Force, Department of State Services (DSS), and Army, handle the most basic form of everyday offences like assault, theft or traffic law violation will agree that President Buhari’s directive for “military and other security agents to be ruthless” with anyone found culpable of electoral offence is ill-conceived, lethal and fascistic.
Although interpreted differently, it is not out of place to understand Mr. President’s “ruthless” order and threat as a “license to kill” and straightforward encouragement of jungle justice.
As many Nigerians know, our security operatives have from time immemorial been actively ruthless to the extent that many Nigerians haven’t just lost their lives, but even more have been maimed and abused unnecessarily.
Mr. President must understand that in a constitutional democracy such as Nigeria, protection of citizens’ fundamental rights, especially right to life, is a primary responsibility of government. And ordering sometimes unprofessional and overzealous security agents to be ruthless with anyone, is not exactly helping to safeguard the very rights he swore to protect.
It is high time we started to enlighten our security agents to value civilians’ lives and honour. How best to do that if not ensuring that laws are not taken into their own hands, ensuring they remain professional and treat alleged offenders with caution. And except in very extreme cases, nobody must experience any abuse let alone be killed but instead arrested and prepared for legal procedure for justice to be served.
Furthermore, disruption of election or ballot box snatching are electoral offences which should be adjudged based on the electoral laws. And for this offences, the electoral act (2010) in Section 129 subsection (4) prescribes a maximum two years imprisonment for offences related to ballot box snatching and 3 years term for use of force and inciting violence at the polls, not death sentence or ruthless verdict as Mr. President and suggested.
Already, this election has claimed many lives. More than twenty (20) people have died in stampede at Mr. President’s rally. The best way to avoid any more unnecessary loss of life is to continue to enlighten Nigerians to not go extreme in their loyalty to any party and encourage our security agents to be professional in their tasks of ensuring peace and order.
Major stakeholders including INEC must as the same time reach out to politicians at different levels to mind their language in the days leading up to the election. Both the popular and horde of other parties are guilty of using vulgar languages. Statements such as “There Will Be War If APC Rigs Election” by Uche Secondus, PDP National Leader, “Body Bag” by Governor el-Rufai of Kaduna (APC) are untoward rhetoric which we must de-list from political language compendium as part of efforts for peaceful election.
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