THE atmosphere of great disappointment occasioned by the postponement of the Presidential and National Assembly elections from February 16 to Saturday, February 23, 2019 has understandably put major political actors and the electorate on edge.
As we prepare once again for the polls, fear has intensified over alleged plans by major political actors of the All Progressives Congress, APC and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to rig the elections. Putting an expression to this, President Muhammadu Buhari clearly went beyond the line on Tuesday, February 18, 2019 when he issued death threat to election-riggers.
The President told an emergency caucus of the APC that he issued directives to the security forces to “deal ruthlessly” with thugs. Said he: “I am going to warn anybody who thinks he has enough influence in his locality to lead a body of thugs to snatch boxes or to disturb the voting system, he would do it at the expense of his own life”.
The main issue for us is not whether the President meant well in issuing the threat or he was directing the threat to political adversaries alone. He made himself clear in his speech: “I want Nigerians to be respected, let them vote whoever they want across parties”. Therefore, the threat is directed at “anybody” who decides to tamper with the fidelity of the elections.
Our concern is the wrong signals that the incendiary nature of this threat could send to the armed forces and overzealous supporters. We are cognisant of the 2011 incidents in parts of the North where several youth corps members and others were killed for allegedly rigging the presidential election against Buhari. We fear that this kind of statement could encourage misguided supporters of political leaders, including those in the security forces, to kill fellow Nigerians on the allegation that they “rigged” elections. That is unacceptable.
We say no to jungle justice under any guise. Nigeria is a country under the rule of law. We are a democracy, and we are bound to conduct all our affairs in line with the Constitution and other extant laws. Section 129 of the Electoral Act 2010 (As Amended) has full provisions to take care of ballot box-snatchers and election-riggers on polling day. Convicted offenders are to spend two years in prison.
We are convinced that if the law-enforcement agents strictly implement this law, the intended effect of minimising the rigging of elections will be achieved over time. We expect our leaders to hold the law-enforcement agencies firmly to their obligations under the law to protect the elections, electorate, polling officers and monitors.
We call on the security agencies to adhere uncompromisingly to their terms of engagement in election duties and avoid unnecessary bloodshed. Murderers will be held to account.