An election Nigeria must win
While President Muhammadu Buhari’s genuine concern about the conduct of the general elections, beginning tomorrow, is understandable, his recent order to security personnel to deal ruthlessly with any persons who may attempt to disrupt the conduct of the general elections is curious and has appropriately generated controversy.
But Nigerians should not let any such controversy deter them from freely electing their leaders. Indeed, they should come out in large numbers, as the president himself counseled, and vote for candidates of their choice.
Though the directive to the military can be seen as a genuine expression of his feeling, the tone of the presidential directive was rash, inflammatory and indeed regrettable.
What is even more baffling to many well-meaning Nigerians is that an assembly of party chieftains has applauded such intemperate use of language, while the military seems to have presented afar from assuring response to this order.
It is for the reason of this unfortunate scenario that the various interpretations of that order and the resultant public outrage seem justified.
However, this controversial circumstance should not gravitate to any form of animosity, lawlessness and pronouncements capable of breaching public peace and jeopardizing the security of lives and property.
The elections begin tomorrow and the ultimate victor must be Nigeria.
Buhari had in a caucus meeting of the All Progressives Congress (APC) reacted to the state of preparedness of the general elections after last Saturday’s postponement.
In an emotion-laden voice, the president stated: “Anybody who decides to snatch ballot boxes or lead thugs to disturb the elections, maybe that would be the last unlawful action he would take. I have directed the police and the military to be ruthless.”
Besides, he said: “I 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.”
While the statements above was a genuine call for a free, non-violent election and contain nothing stating that operatives should “shoot on sight” as has been contextually mis-reported, the president needed not have made them in the first place.
This is because, first, as a leader and father of the nation, he needed to have exuded a paternal demeanor of experience and sagacity to douse tension and instill confidence in his speeches on any matter. But this was not the case.
Moreover, given his pedigree as a military officer and former head of state, the trappings of which resonate in his actions, he should know that he was likely to be interpreted in various ways.
Understandably, given the president’s plea that he wanted Nigerians to be respected and not be intimidated by political hooligans, it might have been a slip on his part that decisive action against such hooligans could only be carried out by the military and “at the expense of …life”.
For Nigerians, who are familiar with ‘accidental discharges” of security operatives who do not even get orders from above, however, the president’s directive “to be ruthless” might have well become a licence to kill innocent civilians – on an election day.
Although the exchange between the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai and opposition presidential aspirant, Atiku Abubakar, suggested a curious support for the president, it is gratifying that the military establishment has extricated itself from any invitation into ruthless politicking.
True, Nigerians recognise the allegiance of the military to the president who is its commander-in-chief, but such allegiance does not subsist in impunity and wantonness as many Nigerians think. Allegiance to the constitution of the country is paramount, in this regard.
As the Acting Director, Army Public Relations, Col Sagir Musa stated: “Our Rules of Engagement and Code of Conduct have not assigned any political role to the Nigerian Army in this regard.’’
According to him, the Nigerian Army’s involvement in politics, as stipulated by Section 217 (2) (c) of the 1999 Constitution and Section (8) (1) and (3) of the Armed Forces Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, (LFN) 2004, starts and ends with the provision of peaceful and secured environment for the conduct of 2019 general election.
Fittingly, to assure Nigerians against any miscarriage of justice and display of impunity by any security operative, INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, has stated that election offenders would be prosecuted by the Electoral Act.
According to Section 128 of the act: “Any person who at an election acts or incites others to act in a disorderly manner commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N500,000 or imprisonment for a term of 12 months or both.”
Section 129 subsection (4) of the Act prescribes a maximum of two years imprisonment for offenders. “Any person who snatches or destroys any election material commits an offence and is liable on conviction to 24 months imprisonment”.
It may well be that ensuring that these provisions are implemented to the letter was what the president meant by being “ruthless”, knowing that Nigerians seldom implement the law.
Even as emotions are running high over the president’s statement, Nigerians should rest assured that no law empowers the president to arbitrarily order soldiers to adjudicate over civil matters let alone engage in extra-judicial killings of its citizens.
There are enough provisions in the statutes to enable Nigerians deal with any election infraction in a civil manner.
It is for this reason that this newspaper would like to appeal to Nigerians not to take laws into their hands when the crucial elections begin tomorrow.
Citizens who would like to vote or serve as electoral officers should be vigilant enough to preserve the majesty of democracy. They should resist temptation to be used by unscrupulous politicians who want to heat up the polity through hate speeches and dubious interpretations of pronouncements that demand careful reflection.
If Nigerians remain law abiding and comport themselves as befittingly as the law prescribes, the one party that will win tomorrow’s and other elections, would be the party that Nigerians have decided should win.
Most importantly, all must work to let Nigeria, pride of the Black race, win in tomorrow’s elections.