Ill-fated electoral bill and Buhari’s threat to ballot box snatchers
President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday caused a stir in traditional and social media platforms, when he declared war on ballot box snatchers and electoral violators. The Commander-in-Chief who threatened would-be offenders with jungle justice in the hands of security forces, could obviously be said to have neglected what the constitution or Electoral Act prescribes for such offence.
More so, the amended 2018 electoral bill, which has remained unsigned by the President, introduces the use of technological innovations to conduct of elections, which, if approved, would have forestalled the need for a broadcast.
In what critics have described as “declaration of war on Nigerian voters and a direct incitement against the electorate”, the president ordered security personnel, including the military, to deal “ruthlessly” with anyone involved in activities akin to disrupting peaceful conduct of the general elections.
Buhari, who spoke at the All Progressive Congress (APC) caucus meeting held at the national headquarters of the party in Abuja, confirmed that security agents had been placed on red alert to carry out the order ruthlessly.
He said: “I do not expect anybody to make any disturbance. I have briefed the law enforcement agencies and the military to identify hotspots, flash points and 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.
“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.
“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 parties. I’m not afraid as I have gone round all the 36 states and Abuja. I think I have got enough support across the country.
“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.”
Nigerians, political parties and civil society groups in their numbers, immediately rose against the directive, which they said is outrageously un-presidential, and shows extreme desperation and panicky mindset
Human right activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome, in a statement accused the President of inciting utterance and war mongering,
He said, “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.”
But the national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, defended the assertion of the president, noting that he was ‘misinterpreted’ over his comments on what awaits those who intend to snatch ballot boxes in the forthcoming elections.
According to him, “The president was just reinforcing the fact that if you are out there snatching ballot boxes, and causing destruction, you are at risk of your own life. It’s okay; emotions are running high these days. Any individual, including myself, can be misinterpreted.
“These (interpretation) are not his words. He is a law-abiding person and he understands categorically and clearly what rule of law is and the lives of individual citizen, that he is in that office to protect.”
The 2018 electoral Act (Amended)
Some experts and analysts are of the opinion that the threat of the president, apart from restraining electoral offenders from their usual practise, confirms his regret for not signing the amended electoral act.
Political analyst, Onyema Egbujuo, argued that the president, despite all the calls and clamours from well meaning Nigerians, home and abroad, declined to sign the bill which he had all the powers to do because of bad advisers from his cabinet who were scared of losing the elections.
According to him, the voice of the president is last minute desperation in regret of the good deeds, which he failed to do, that could have preserved the country’s democracy.
“However, this is never a solution, threatening to shoot those you were voted to protect is an act of cowardice and a decision of a failed leaders”, he asserted
The Bill, if signed into law, would have enabled the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to implement a technology-driven, foul-free general elections devoid of election rigging, ballot box snatching, under-aged voting and other unlawful electoral acts.
In addition to other innovations, the most important feature of the bill is the provision authorising the use of technology, particularly the Electronic Card Reader, to authenticate the accreditation of voters.
Unfortunately, four times the bill was forwarded to the president by the National Assembly and in each case he declined signing it into law.
The main reason for the rejection has always been anchored on drafting errors. In addition to this, the president had stated that the declined assent was to avoid chaos in the already postponed 2019 general elections. Specifically, during the fourth rejection in December, President Buhari had cited an international protocol, which warned against giving assent to a new electoral law six months before a general election.
Here are some sections of the amended 2018 electoral act that would have taken care of the president’s worries, even without his utterances:
Section 65: Post-election Procedure and Collation of Election Results; Insertion of a new section “(65A)” after section 65 of the Principal Act. This amendment seeks to mandate digital storage and archiving of election results by INEC at its national headquarters. It mandates the Commission to compile, maintain and update a National Electronic Register of Election Results as a separate database. The National Electronic Register will contain the information of results relating to polling units in every election conducted.
Furthermore, it allows any person or political party obtain a certified true copy of an election result that is stored in the National Electronic Register in a State, Local Government, Area Council, Ward or polling unit. This could be printed or stored in an electronic format after paying the fees prescribed by the Commission.
Section 52 (2): Conduct of polls and e-voting; In 2015, this provision was amended to give INEC the discretion to determine the procedure for voting. Now, it seeks to further amend the provision to mandate the Commission to conduct elections by electronic voting or any other method of voting as it may determine from time to time.
Section 49: Issue of Ballot Papers; Amendment of section 49 with new subsections (1) and (2). This provision enshrines the use of the smart card reader and other technological devices in elections. Under the proposed section 49(1 a person must present himself with his voter’s card to a Presiding officer for accreditation at the polling unit where his name is registered.
Others include online publication of voter register , full biometric accreditation, removal of “unfair” qualification processes , limit on election expenses, including party form fees , amendment in the process for dealing with substitution, resignation and replacement by the parties, and so on.
Actual sanctions for electoral offenders
While the President may have ordered capital punishment for offenders, there are already established legal sanctions for election violators, including the snatching of the ballot boxes. This is what has triggered the anger of majority of the Nigerians against the comment of the president and his handlers. To them, it is a clear indication that the number one citizen has no regards for the constitution, and the rule of law.
The electoral Act (2010) prohibits anyone from snatching electoral materials
Section 129, Subsection (4); prescribes a maximum of two years imprisonment for offenders.
It reads: 129 (1) No person shall on the date on which an election is held do any of the following acts or things in a polling unit or within a distance of 300 metres of a polling unit-(a) canvass for votes;(b) solicit for the vote of any voter;(c) persuade any voter not to vote for any particular candidate;(d) persuade any voter not to vote at the election;(e) shout slogans concerning the election;(f) be in possession of any offensive weapon or wear any dress or have any facial or other decoration which in any event is calculated to intimidate voters;(g) exhibit, wear or tender any notice, symbol, photograph or party card referring to the election; 59 Disorderly conduct at ejections Offences on ejection day(h) use any vehicle bearing the colour or symbol of a political party by any means whatsoever;(i) loiter without lawful excuse after voting or after being refused to vote;(j) snatch or destroy any election materials; and (k) blare siren.(4) Any person who snatches or destroys any election material commits an offence and is liable on conviction to 24 months imprisonment.
Section 128 of the act adds that “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 131 of the same act further states that anyone who uses force, threats, violence or restraint is liable on conviction to a fine of N1 million or imprisonment for a term of 3 year.
In view of these, the president’s declaration may be said to lack legal backing, hence undemocratic.
Nigerians, however, have expressed mixed reaction over the declaration of the president.
Legal expert, Norrison Quakers, opined that the pronouncement in itself is a threat to the country’s constitutional democracy.
“Already, the duties and functions of the security agencies with other executive arms of government, who are enforcers of the law, are clearly stipulated in the constitution, that of the judiciary which interprets and the legislators who make the law are all enshrined there in”, he submitted.
“To deal ruthlessly is a word used in the military constituency, which the President once belonged, but he needs to realise that we are currently in a democratic government. Even if he is passionate and so interested in leaving a legacy, not this way that is so undemocratic and lawless.
“As the president, even if he wants to declare a war, he can’t even do it alone without consulting the National Assembly. He must, however, follow the laws as enshrined in the present Electoral Act whether he signs the amended one or not”
Pioneer Secretary-General, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) and Executive Chairman, Centre for Anti-corruption and Open Leadership, Mr. Debo Adeniran, said he is in support of the president because he has a duty to ensure that nobody messes up the electoral process. According to him, citizens should not negatively blow up the issue, as only election riggers are meant to be scared.
He, however, advised increased engagement and voter education to prevent voters’ apathy after the postponement of the elections, as the consequences will cut across all political parties.
Opinion analyst, Mr. Gerald Eze, however, stated that the president must be absolved of some blames because the statement is basically to deter ballot snatchers from their usual activities.
He asked, “Have we wondered what would actually happened to those who would not be involved in snatching ballot box? Those that will come to the polling boot, cast their votes, monitor the elections and return peacefully back to their homes? Are we really encouraging ballot snatchers? What exactly do we want in this country?
“Whether he signs the electoral bill or not, we have an election at hand, and the success of that election is what matters so much to him at this time”.