When President Muhammadu Buhari issued a stern warning of tough security repercussions against any attempts to forcefully disrupt the conduct of the 2019 elections on the eve of the postponed presidential elections he did not mince words in conveying the risk of “ruthless” military and police action awaiting transgressors.
“I am going to warn anybody who thinks he has enough influence in his locality to lead a body of thugs or to disturb the voting system, he will do it at the expense of his own life. Anybody who decides to snatch ballot boxes or lead thugs to disturb it, maybe this is the last unlawful action you will take. I really gave the military and the police (order) to be ruthless. We are not going to be blamed that we want to rig election. I want Nigerians to be respected. Let them vote whoever they want across the parties”
Obviously the President, like majority of Nigerians, was disturbed by the recurring menace of violent violations of election laws by sponsored miscreants whose obnoxious objectives of sabotaging the due process of elections to subvert the will of the electorate and impose the tyranny of their masters are collectively called rigging, an evidently incurable cancer of democracy.
Derailing democracy is the ultimate crime against humanity because it seizes the peoples’ right to choose who governs them and gives it to impostors whose sole interest in the polity is to plunder the commonwealth with impunity and perpetually. It’s a painful irony that even as the democratic dispensation continues to be derailed, the people continue to depend on it, hoping against hope that sooner than later, their votes will veto the vandals and imprison the impostors.
But the momentous emergence of President Buhari in 2015 by the sheer instrumentality of the resilient voting habits of the people changed all that. Having cracked his deterrent whip at the corrupt economic saboteurs and carpet-bombed the Boko Haram terrorists, it was predictable that the saboteurs of our democracy would not escape his corrective attention. Since the scourge of election rigging is the political equivalent of economic sabotage combined with terrorist insurgency, a summary death sentence for die-hard riggers was an appropriate beginning.
By the time the presidential and national assembly elections were over and the shocking scale of political brigandage unleashed by the sponsored election riggers had gone viral, the stage-managed “outrage” at President Buhari’s earlier no-nonsense directive to military and security forces to deal ruthlessly with local champions of political thugs and their ballot-box snatching errand boys got nation-wide denunciation. Concerned Nigerians were stunned at the frightening dimensions of the election violence and rigging that occurred despite the potent risk of ruthless consequences.
Once again, the nation was confronted with the chilling reality of democracy derailed by a violent minority of unpatriotic election riggers who would stop at nothing to gate-crash into elective offices without popular mandate just to loot. What we have witnessed is more of the destructive activities of armed militants than the propaganda of so-called militarization of electioneering, going by unprecedented images of thugs in uniforms brandishing military grade weapons , not to mention the manhandling of a top police officer.
President Buhari’s uncompromising stance on the need for Nigerians to be enabled to vote freely and without intimidation is hinged on his own experience as victim of rigging and judicial frustration of the expressed popular will of the masses. Now that he is in firm control of the polity, President Buhari must not give the menace of election rigging any respite in his corrective crusade as due compensation for the serially disenfranchised masses.
Beyond the need to deploy effective units of military and police personnel during elections however, President Buhari must initiate and establish the deliberately-neglected process of prosecuting and jailing election criminals, with particular focus on perpetrators of violent sabotage of election. That process should necessarily commence with those that have been apprehended in the 2019 elections and be accorded the same facilitation as election petition tribunals, which deal only with disputed election outcomes.
A new set of legislations to update archaic and review ineffective election-related laws is also required. The greatest challenge however is for President Buhari to confront, dismantle and prosecute the well-known cabal of top politicians and their gangs of thugs and so-called bodyguards who constitute the supposedly untouchable core of political brigandage and criminality in Nigeria.
As long as they are not rounded up and their crude weapons which they callously brandish in public confiscated, the deadly derailment of democracy during elections will remain a recurring challenge to law enforcement. President Buhari can and should also give this a dose of his no-nonsense corrective attention as the surest way of making votes count all the time henceforth.
By Goodluck Okemeke
Okemeke, a public affairs analyst, writes from Port Harcourt, Rivers State