Extrajudicial Killings Under the Guise of Punishing Electoral Offenders



By Joseph Ushigiale

e-mail: jushigiale@yahoo.co.uk, joseph.ushigiale@thisdaylive.com

Today, Nigerians are heading to the polls to execute a rescheduled civic responsibility aborted last Saturday by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) due to logistical issues. Against this background is the strong possibility that some Nigerians who would attempt to snatch ballot boxes to disrupt and influence the outcome of the polls are going get hurt or worst still, be killed by the military. No thanks to President Muhammadu Buhari who has mandated the security forces to ensure that whoever attempts to snatch ballot boxes ‘pays with his life’.

There is predictable outrage provoked by what a cross section of Nigerians perceive as an outlandish and unconstitutional order by Buhari to commit extrajudicial killings under the guise of punishing electoral offenders.

Do you blame the President? Nigeria’s presidency is reputed to be the most powerful in the world even more than established democracies like the USA. Here, the President can take a unilateral decision without recourse to the National Assembly as his been the case a number of times under the present dispensation.

In other climes, while leaders resign for failing to live up to the expectations of their citizens, in Nigeria, leaders have scant value for the sanctity of the lives of who they govern. In Ethiopia, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned over unrest that claimed several lives over the building of urban mass transit in the capital. In his resignation letter, he stated that the “Unrest and a political crisis have led to the loss of lives and displacement of many.”

Yet in South Korea, Chung Hong-won voluntarily stepped down amid rising anger over claims by relatives that government did not do enough to help loved ones. In Nigeria, all that would have happened would be a terse statement saying perpetrators would be brought to book. How that would happen, no one tells you even years after.

Let us face it: Is the President right to have issued such a drastic directive? The answer is found in Section 33. Subsection (1)of the 1999 Constitution as amended which states that “ Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.”

Although there is provision in the Electoral Act 2010 prescribing a sentence of 24 months for electoral offenders too; what that means is that the President has no right to take a life. Doing so, would amount to usurping the functions of the judiciary which is another arm of government that is vested with the administration of justice where a criminal offence has been committed.

However, those who have followed electoral activities since the return to civil democratic rule will agree that politicians, bent on winning at all cost, have devised illegal means of circumventing the electoral process through the use of thugs to snatch ballot boxes and influence the outcome of elections in their favour. Thus, Buhari, a puritan, who wants the election to follow due process, is right to have frowned at these unholy acts. But he allowed his emotions rather than the rule of law to take precedence in this matter.

Again, it is also plausible that the outrage that greeted Buhari’s pronouncement on the issue may have been fueled by the administration’s perceived preferential treatment meted out to Fulani herdsmen who sacked farmers in Benue state. It will be recalled that 73 persons were killed in a well coordinated attack by suspected Fulani herdsmen who raided Guma and Logo communities leaving a long trail of deaths and remains charred building in their wake.

In the aftermath of the killings, the federal government’s reaction was lukewarm and to exacerbate an already volatile situation, the President rather than seizing the moment to order the military to shoot- at-sight any Fulani herdsman seen in possession of arms, rather brushed aside the magnitude of the catastrophe and urged the Benue people to learn to live with their fellow countrymen.

On a personal note, Buhari’s outburst was, to say the least, a case of self indictment because he failed to reform the electoral system and put in place an enduring legacy that would make ballot box snatching and violence a thing of the past. As he faces a referendum today, what legacies would he be leaving behind in the event that he is rejected at the polls today?

Buhari campaigned for the presidency on three major pivots: Anti-corruption, security and economy. His messages resonated directly with the people who, at that time, were looking for change. Thus, riding on that groundswell of emotions, he was elected after his fourth attempt at the presidency.

I must also confess that I was a rabid supporter of Buhari. Infact, his estranged ally, Alhaji Buba Galadima and I were guests at the Department of State Security where I spent three days. I was being interrogated for publishing an interview by Galadima where he recommended Rawlings treatment for looters of public funds.

I believed that Buhari was the best thing that had happened to the country and often thought he had answers to all of Nigeria’s problems. Had Buhari lost that election, I would have been so disappointed and would have still believed him to be the best president Nigeria never had. Alas, he has been at helm for almost four years, which has given me ample opportunity to analyse the man and his policies.

On anti-corruption, the score sheet from Transparency International is a benchmark to measure whether Nigeria is making progress or not. So far, the results are not encouraging and the indices are there to see. Therefore, if the Buhari administration is winning its much publicized anti-corruption war, there would have been uncountable convictions, the urge for engaging in corruption would have reduced but that is not the case today.

The economy has just recorded 1.8 per cent growth but the Buhari administration plunged the economy into recession, the first in 25 years. It followed that up by devaluing the same local currency he promised to bring at par with the dollar by 300 percent. Today, thousands of Nigerians are out of jobs because of the policies which have impacted negatively on the economy. As I write, there are still warnings that the economy could still slide into recession if appropriate measures are not put in place.

Fast forward to security where Nigerians had thought that given Buhari’s military background and his battlefront exploits, Boko Haram insurgent would be flushed out in no time. Regrettably, what has happened is clearly a reverse of expectations.

Even though the administration has struggled to hoodwink Nigerians into believing that the insurgents have been ‘technically defeated and decimated’, the truth is that the attacks have become more frequent, audacious and have claimed more lives under it.

Globally, the presidency of serious minded leaders is defined by executing on the objectives set at the outset of their administration. A case in point of America’s former President Barack Obama. Obama took over from George W. Bush in an era of great turbulence and uncertainty in the USA. He promised Americans to end the war, bring troops back home and secure Americans. He also promised to build a robust economy that would be resilient enough to withstand global financial shocks in future.

We should not also forget that the American economy was in deep recession with almost all the big banks, mortgage institutions and motor companies filing for bankruptcies. Obama picked up the challenge knowing from the get-go what he was up against. He had no pretentions and went about the business of delivering on his campaign promises to the Americans with great optimism.

He picked a great team to transform his vision to reality, he introduced TAP and bailout for the big banks that were christened ‘too big to fail’, extended same to the automobile sector. In no distant time, the American economy started its gradual push to recovery. By the end of his tenure, the American economy did not only recovered fully, Obama left a very vibrant economy and laid the foundation on which gains his successor, Donald Trump is still reaping from.

The most significant contribution to American security architecture by the Obama administration was his killing of Osama bin Laden. Initially disparaged as lacking in military experience, Obama went ahead to achieve what presidents before him who had military background failed to achieve. He successfully ended American exploits in two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and brought American troops back home. Rather than putting his troops in harm’s way, Obama innovated with the use of technology deploying drones to execute military actions wherever the country’s interest was threatened. In the end, over 3,000 terrorists were killed without losing a single American soldier. He saved on military budget and devised non-confrontational means to effect regime change in some countries through what is now known as the Arab Spring.    

Is it fear, desperation or frustration? Whatever it is that must have informed the President’s disposition to issue such a directive, including boasting on CNN that ‘nobody can unseat me’, he should be well guided by the advice of his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan who vouched that his ambition was not worth shedding the blood of Nigerians.

If Buhari wins today, he should utilize this opportunity of a second chance to, in the words of Obama to African leaders, “build strong institutions rather than strongmen”. This way, Nigeria would upgrade and catch up with global electoral standards where the menace of violence and ballot box snatching will permanently be eliminated.