•Meets security chiefs, IG warns ballot box snatchers
•DHQ: We will be guided by the constitution
•Yakubu: Offenders should be punished according to law
Omololu Ogunmade and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
In a new video released by the presidency in Abuja yesterday, President Muhammadu Buhari appealed to Nigerians to brace the odds and turn out to cast their votes at the rescheduled presidential and National Assembly elections on Saturday.
Posted on a State House website, Presidency Office of Digital Engagement (PODE), the video showed the president commiserating with millions of Nigerians who were determined to vote during last Saturday’s botched presidential and National Assembly polls but had their expectations dashed by the sudden postponement of the election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
He appealed to them not to lose hope in the country’s electoral system, but should rather sustain their commitment to perform their civic rights.
The president assured the voters of their protection during the elections and also thanked them for their trust in his government to conduct free, fair and credible polls, assuring them that their votes will count as the government is prepared to disallow vote buying and intimidation during the polls.
Buhari said: “I want to commiserate with millions of Nigerians who either travelled hundreds of kilometers to cast their votes or put so many things on hold in order to cast their votes last weekend but couldn’t do so. I thank you for your commitment. I appeal to you not to lose hope in our electoral system.
“I ask you not to allow the unexpected postponement of the elections by INEC to prevent you from exercising your civic rights.
“Your enthusiasm is a process, and determination to vote in the elections must not be jeopardised. I ask all Nigerians to brace the challenges and make sure they cast their votes.
“This government assures all voters of their protection before, during and after the polls. I also thank all Nigerians for their trust in our government to conduct credible elections, where your votes can count. Your votes will count as we are committed to rid our electoral process of vote buying and intimidation. Thank you and God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
The president also met with security chiefs yesterday to review strategy for peaceful conduct of the presidential and National Assembly elections rescheduled for Saturday, emerging with a resolution reinforcing the president’s Monday warning that ballot box snatchers would face grave consequences for their action.
At the meeting with the president were the Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff, Chief of Naval Staff, Director-General of Department of State Services (DSS) and Inspector General of Police.
Although the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammad Adamu, warned miscreants to stay off the polling areas and do not foment trouble, saying the full weight of the law awaits them if they misbehave, military authorities, however, said the conduct of its personnel in the elections would be guided by the 1999 Constitution as altered.
Also speaking on the president’s directive, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said violators should be punished in accordance with the electoral law.
The INEC chairman stated yesterday during a press conference in Abuja: “The position of the commission is that all violators of the Electoral Act should be punished according to the provisions of the Electoral Act,” he said.
The Defence Headquarters (DHQ) in an interview with THISDAY was similarly inclined, saying that the involvement of the military starts and ends with the provision of a peaceful and secure environment for the conduct of the general election.
Adamu, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues, told State House correspondents that the heads of security agencies met with the president, reviewed security situation in the country and resolved to ensure adequate security during the polls.
He echoed Buhari’s speech, threatening that anyone who snatches ballot box during Saturday’s polls will face the music.
Buhari, who at the national caucus’ meeting of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the party secretariat in Abuja on Monday, said he had ordered security agents to deal ruthlessly with anyone who snatches ballot boxes, saying anybody who plans to snatch ballot boxes will be doing so at the expense of his life.
According to the IG, “Today, members of the security community and intelligence community came and briefed Mr. President on the security situation in the country. We deliberated on the consequences and came up with the resolve to further provide adequate security within the country so that the electorate will come out and cast their votes without any fear of molestation.
“Every Nigerian is encouraged to come out on Election Day and cast his or her vote without any fear of molestation. The security personnel are ready and prepared to protect everybody.
“Anybody that feels that he can come out and disrupt the process should have a rethink because that situation will not be allowed. If you plan and allow yourself to be used as touts, whatever happens to you, you will take it.
“Ballot box snatching, ballot buying, thuggery will never be allowed. Anybody that is planning to snatch ballot boxes or planning to be used as a tout will have his or herself to blame on Election Day. So, you better don’t allow yourself to be used.”
The IG said that thuggery, touting and ballot box snatching during the polls will be met with grave resistance.
However, Adamu encouraged law abiding citizens to freely go out on Saturday and cast their votes without any fear of molestation, assuring citizens that security agents will duly protect them and guarantee their safety.
The president’s comment has been condemned by many, who reminded him that the punishment for ballot box snatching is imprisonment for a period of time and not instant death as threatened by him.
DHQ: We Will Be Guided by the Constitution
Meanwhile, the military authorities said yesterday that the conduct of military personnel in the Saturday’s presidential and National Assembly elections would be guided by the constitution.
The DHQ also clarified that the involvement of the military “starts and ends with the provision of a peaceful and secure environment for the conduct of the general election.”
DHQ said it endorsed a statement issued by the Nigerian Army to the effect that the activities of the military personnel in the election would be guided by the constitution.
It said its rules of engagement and code of conduct did not assign any political role to the military as regards its conduct in the presidential and National Assembly elections.
A statement issued by Army spokesman, Col. Sagir Musa, had said the role of the military starts and ends with provision of security for a peaceful conduct of the election.
Defence spokesman, Brigadier-General John Agim, who was non-committal on the position of the military on the directive of the president that those who snatch ballot boxes on Election Day would pay with their lives, said DHQ “fully aligns itself” with the position of the Nigerian Army.
“The Army spokesman has issued a statement on that. That statement covers our role in the election. I would not want to elaborate further,” Agim said.
The army statement said: “Our rules of engagement and code of conduct have not assigned any political role to the Army in this regard. The Army’s involvement starts and ends with the provision of a peaceful and secure environment for the conduct of 2019 general election.
“The Nigerian Army strongly believes that the citizens, like responsible media, have complementary constitutional roles to play, especially towards ensuring national security, information management, peace, and safety of Nigerians.
“The Army will continue to achieve and sustain constructive engagement, obedience to the rule of law and obedience to constituted authority at all time in the spirit of civil-military relations.’’
It maintained that the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, has consistently called on soldiers to uphold the tenets of military professionalism and be guided by the rules of engagement and the Constitution of Nigeria toward sustaining a responsive Army in the discharge of its constitutional roles.
The statement added: “Therefore, any insinuation or assertion against this open declaration is not only mischievous but politically motivated with the intent to tarnish the reputation of the Army, which has been built on discipline and obedience to civil authorities.
“The Army has made it sufficiently and consistently clear that none of its personnel will be involved in political campaigns, escort of VIPs for political missions and above all, aiding or supporting any political party as has been circulated in official circulars and statements.”
Rights Abuse Will Be Prosecuted at ICC, Warns Ortom
Meanwhile, the Benue State Governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom, while addressing journalists yesterday in Abuja ahead of the emergency National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), warned the security agencies that obeying such directive by the president could lead to the prosecution of the military personnel at the International Court of Justice (ICC).
Ortom said that while he does not condone election rigging, due process of law must be followed in dealing with those who commit infractions.
The governor condemned the position of the president to allow security agencies to deal ruthlessly with Nigerians, noting that it would not be accepted and that the party would contest it.
He stated: “It is unfortunate that Nigeria is gradually drifting to a banana republic where no rule of law is respected and observed.
“A government that was elected democratically is gradually turning into a dictatorship. It is unfortunate for our own president to come out and disregard the provisions of the laws of the land and give orders for extra-judicial killings in the state and torture against innocent Nigerians.
“Let me say unequivocally that I am completely against rigging of any form by any political party. It is wrong and we do not need that.
“For me, I did not rig election to become governor. But the truth of the matter is that we have laws and I expect that Mr. President who is the chief custodian of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria should protect our constitution and the laws of the land. It is unfortunate that Mr. President gave that order.
“I was just reading from the social media the reaction of the military that they are going to obey the directives of Mr. President to the letter. It is unfortunate. This cannot stand, this cannot hold.
“I want to advise those who are in the military, police and the other security agencies that they should know that they are also Nigerians. Today, they are serving the public; tomorrow they will not be there. Maybe some of them will become politicians like some of us are.
“It has happened in the past and it will happen again. And I also want to remind them that the day of reckoning will definitely come when they will be alone to give account of their stewardship.
“So, I want to advise them to respect the rules of engagement based on the laws of the land. No matter the directives of Mr. President. The police, Army, DSS and all other security agencies should be professional rather than taking arbitrary directives. This is not correct. In a democratic set up, things must be done rightly.
“To the security agencies, I want them to know that beyond Nigeria, there is International Criminal Court. And when you finish your tenure, you will still be liable. If you do that which is wrong, Mr. President will not be there tomorrow to protect you. So, they have to be mindful. We must protect the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, otherwise none of us will be safe again including the president.”
Presidency Accuses PDP of Plotting to Rig Elections
The Presidency yesterday replied the PDP in kind, accusing it of plotting its way to power through rigging.
Speaking through presidential spokesperson, Shehu Garba, it said the plot was the reason for scathing criticism of the president’s directive that security agencies should deal ruthlessly with intending riggers.
According to him, the criticism of the president over the comment from the opposition party, called for concern, wondering why the party should worry over the fate of ballot box snatchers if it has no hidden agenda.
“This sounds like members of the opposition, specifically the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP who have perfected plans to rig the elections and to snatch ballot boxes. They can tell that President Buhari is not prepared to tolerate their antics this time around, and they are afraid. They have shown their intent,” he said.
Shehu who proceeded to reiterate Buhari’s comment that anyone who attempts to snatch ballot boxes during next weekend’s elections will pay with his life, described it as a strong message against long history of savagery associated with elections in Nigeria.
He said, “Snatching ballot boxes often entails putting the lives of innocent Nigerians at risk. About 10 years ago, evidence was brought before an election tribunal from one of the states in North Central of the gruesome killing of 26 prospective voters by ballot box snatchers,” he said.
“Their modus operandi is well known. They storm election venues in commando style, overwhelm the law-enforcement agents and seize ballot boxes, leaving a trail of death and injury.
“Anyone who dares to put the lives of innocent citizens at risk in their desperation to rig elections, must be prepared for the possibility of losing their own lives because our security agents will certainly not stand by, clap for them and watch them kill and maim.”
Arguing that Buhari had the safety and security of Nigerians in mind when he made the comment, he added that he should rather be praised instead of being criticised for issuing such a stern warning to potential ballot box snatchers.
According to him, anyone whose conscience and intentions are clear, had nothing to fear about the president’s comment, saying, “let’s just have free and fair elections and no one needs worry about anything,” he said.
“The NPLs ratio continues its downward trend, capital adequacy ratio of the banking sector improved three consecutive months, liquidity ratio inched northward, aggregate assets and deposits of the banking sector also rose over the same period.
“However, the monetary authority should not lower its guard and must continue to monitor the banks and implement policies to consolidate and further improve the FSI.
“Aggregate credit expansion to the real economy continues to pose serious challenges. Net credit growth to the private sector is lower than provisional benchmark for 2018. The high interest rate spread and the high lending rates are challenges that require new and innovative approaches,” he said.
Adenikinju said the proposed national microfinance bank (MFB), strengthening of the existing MFBs, among other initiatives by the CBN to promote financial inclusion and access to credit by those in the rural areas would boost real sector activities. “Nigeria is also confronted with a number of uncertainties in 2019. The threats around the general elections, the national minimum wage legislations, strikes by unions seeking improved working conditions, the continuous insurgencies in parts of the country, impacts of climate change manifesting in increased incidence of flooding, desertification and lower agricultural productivities, oil market volatilities are additional challenges that will have impacts on the economic landscape in 2019,” he said.