Awakening Another Heated Public Debate

Muhammadu Buhari

Nseobong OkonEkong writes that President Muhammadu Buhari’s statement at a caucus meeting of the All Progressives Congress literarily pronouncing death sentence on ballot box snatchers has exposed the President to avoidable verbal attacks

At a time when many Nigerians are still struggling to recover from the trauma of the postponed national elections, President Muhammadu Buhari may have inflicted another damaging blow on the psyche of many right thinking people with a statement that is revolting to the cultured.

If the President meant to sound and look tough, the many lost opportunities that this kind of posturing would have been soundly applauded were lost in the past. Terrorists and herdsmen have visited communities with casualties, again and again, yet not as much as a whimper was uttered from the President. His silence at such times of grave national tragedies was deafening. Every plea to draw him out to take this kind of tough stance against the marauders fell on deaf ears. Such was his stony visage that many wondered if Buhari has blood running in his veins. Or else, how could helpless citizens to whom he owes the primary duty of securing their lives and property be so mercilessly ravaged repeatedly, without, as little as, a condemnation from the President? Many families are still living with the hurt of a missing or dead loved one, while the perpetrators of these heinous crime are walking around free: and perhaps, hatching another evil plot.
To have the President come out smoking against would be electoral offenders is the most brazen assault on the already bruised and battered ego of those who suffered varying degree of losses, including military personnel, that the Commander-in-Chief does not spare a thought for.

His speech was instructive. “I do not expect anybody to make any disturbance, I have briefed the law enforcement agencies and the military to identify hotspots , flash points, they should be prepared to move. They too would have made their own arrangement as possible and resources provided as much as the country can afford it. And anybody who decides to snatch ballot boxes or lead thugs to disturb it (elections) , maybe that would be the last unlawful action he would take. I have directed the police and the military to be ruthless. ” So, President Buhari can utter such a firm command? Where was this stern President when people were routinely killed in Benue, Plateau and Kaduna? Imagine what a statement of this nature could have meant in the circumstance.
What the President invariably said is that perpetuating himself in office (by his overtly sinister concern for electoral propriety) is of more importance to him than preventing organised carnage and bringing to book those who are responsible.

While the President’s speech clearly promotes jungle justice and extra judicial killing, what the agents of the state who may be directly carrying out this order to the letter should know is that they are individually liable for their actions, whether now or in future. The image of a possible trial and conviction for murder must be at the back of their mind as they consider the President’s statement. “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 President’s statement at a caucus meeting of the All Progressives Congress (APC) literarily pronouncing death sentence on ballot box snatchers has awakened heated public debate and exposed the President to avoidable verbal attacks. When he is not not reading from a script, Buhari has a penchant for saying the wrong things, that will leave handlers running all over the place in a bid to do damage control. By repeating the same thing, the President has shown that if he is willing to circumvent laid down procedures to serve his own kind of justice on those he has accused and convicted. What the President said yesterday is not different from what he said on the campaign podium everywhere he went: ‘Corrupt persons would be sent to jail.’ He even said it was his sacred duty. Note he did not say they will be made to face the law. This President does not have the patience to follow through with the long and winding procedures of jurisprudence. Often, he expressed his frustration, saying the judiciary was preventing him from tackling corruption to a logical end. Buhari’s demonstrated hatred for the legal system is ironic, seeing that he sought redress from the courts every time he lost in his previous failed attempts to become president.

Rounding up his speech, the President tried to absolve him and his party, the APC of the dire consequences that may befall would be defaulters. He said, “We are not going to be blamed that we want to rig elections. I want Nigerians to be respected, let them vote whoever they want across the party. I’m not afraid … As you said, I have gone round all the 36 states and Abuja. I think I have gotten enough support across the country. “

Speaker of the House oof Representatives Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara has already said that there are adequate provisions in our laws to address electoral offenses. He interpreted the President’s statement thus: It “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. In view of this statement by the president, it is obvious that the military has been given a central role and coopted into the conduct of the election despite the fact that they have no constitutional role in our electoral process.”

Constitutional lawyer and rights activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome viewed the President’s speech as, “usurping the powers of INEC and the Police,in his never fading military mindset to do utter this most inflammatory and unconstitutional statement. This statement, to say the least,is not only outrageously unpresidential, but it shows his extreme desperation and panicky mindset. For the records,it is the president’s own APC party that has so far been involved,to the knowledge of the whole world,in bizarre acts of electoral malpractices during their primaries, leading to an implosively divided party of disparate and inchoate tendencies. APC’s leading lights have so far preached terror, “body bags”,mayhem,strife,stoned their president and leaders,booed others,killed some in cold bloodshed,denied themselves tickets,and generally engaged in acts of gansterism, hooliganism and shameless “agberoism”, quite unbecoming of a ruling party. Presidents don’t preach violence,nor engage in scare mongering,as Buhari is currently doing at every turn and opportunity. Presidents are known to be extremely cautious and restrained, even when others do not. This is because a president is supposed to approximate the highest ideals,morals and nobility of the national psyche, ethos and consciousness.”


*Section 129(4) of the Act specifies 24 years imprisonment for any one who snatches ballot boxes at an election. *Section 131. (1) states, “A person who- Threatening directly or indirectly, by himself or by another person on his behalf, makes use of or threatens to make use of any force, violence or restrain; (b) inflicts or threatens to inflict by himself or by any other person, any minor or serious injury, damage, harm or loss on or against a person in order to induce or compel that person to vote or refrain from voting, or on account of such person having voted or refrained from voting; or (c) by abduction, duress, or a fraudulent device or contrivance, impedes or prevents the free use of the vote by a voter or thereby compels, induces, or prevails on a voter to give or refrain from giving his vote, (d) by preventing any political aspirants from free use of the media, designated vehicles, mobilisation of political support and campaign at an election, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N1,000, 000 or imprisonment for a term of three years.”0