Who will shoot the ballot box snatchers?
Buried in page 80 of a January 2015 report signed by Oti Anukpe Ovrawah, who was the director of the Human Rights Institute, an interesting story is told of a curious case of ballot box snatching that happened during the 2011 general elections.
In the National Assembly election, Alhaji Modu Kime, who was a councillor of Gazabure Ward, Gubio LGA of Borno state, was involved in ballot box snatching. The story was told in the post-election tribunal for Borno state that held in Abuja. The case was Abba Babagana vs Gubo Morum and Another. In the tribunal, it was alleged by one of the witnesses, a certain Mustapha Yachanu who happened to be the polling officer, that on election day, 26 April, 2011, Modu Kime went from one polling unit to another in the ward with thugs, holding weapons, dispersing voters, taking their ballot papers, and thumb printing those ballot papers in favour of the dominant party in the region at the time, the ANPP. The thugs that Mr. Kime carried around with him, happened to be officers of the Nigerian Police, and soldiers from the Nigerian Army.
A few days ago, President Buhari implied that he had ordered the army, and the police, to shoot ballot box snatchers during Saturday’s rerun elections. His exact words were “I have asked the army and the police to be ruthless,” then he went on, to applause, to “warn ballot box snatchers of the cost of ballot box snatching, their lives.”
So I ask if another Modu Kime emerges in places where the APC is in charge, who will shoot him and his thugs? This is the thing with arbitrary declarations that do not follow any form of due process.
Sections 118 and 129 of the Electoral Act clearly spell out two years in prison for ballot box snatching. The argument can be made that two years is too little for the offence in question, but is the correct procedure not to amend the laws to extend that? The same President refused to sign the amended Electoral Act, now he effectively wants to junk it altogether.
“The highest level violence during the 2003 elections was in the south and the south east, where PDP governors and their supporters universally succeeded in resisting opposition bids for office. These were also the areas where the greatest rigging and fraud were recorded by independent electoral observers. In these areas, the direct link between violence and election fraud was clear. More than three quarters of the incidents of “violence, intimidation, harassment, ballot box stealing and stuffing and vote buying” reported by TMG election observers were recorded in the south and the south east; however, they also reported violence and disruption in other areas, including in western, central and northern states. The situation in some areas in the oil-producing Niger delta, in the south, was so serious that a non-governmental organization which monitored the elections stated: “In parts of Rivers and Bayelsa States observed by our monitors, the elections could be characterized as a low intensity armed struggle. Weapons and firearms of various types and sophistication were freely used.”
The detailed reportage in a Human Rights Watch report (published 2 June, 2004) far supersedes any report on election violence—especially ballot box snatching—in the 2011 and 2015 elections. For 2007 elections, the conduct of the governorship and state assemblies’ elections were marred by ballot box snatching and vote rigging.
There are many reports that make it clear that only the 2007 elections could match 2003 in intensity when it came to blatant rigging. So what happened after 2007?
The winner of the 2007 elections, Umaru Yar’Adua was so embarrassed by the travesty that got him elected, that he constituted a panel to ensure it never happened again. The Electoral Act of 2010 is the culmination of the Justice Uwais panel’s work, and that is how process works. You identify the problem, and then you solve it out at an institutional level.
The result of the EA2010 was that by 2011, it was easier to spot incidents such as Modu Kime’s case, or the ballot box snatching that forced a rerun in the Delta state governorship elections of 2011, or in Yelwa Doma in Nasarawa state. However, one thing was clear, the EA2010 made things better, and most of the incidents of ballot box snatching that happened in 2011 were done by people who did not understand that times were changing. In 2015, we had 140 documented complaints. 140 out of 119,794 polling units (0.1%) is by any stretch of the imagination, an improvement.
Ordering security forces to go in heavy, only the day after videos emerged of a Customs official shooting an unarmed person, and then the faux pas of the Customs service not even having the decency to apologise for their lack of training and humanity in their travesty of a press release is a recipe for electoral violence.