By Adamu Abuh, Chijioke Nelson Emeka Nwachukwu
President Muhammadu Buhari has given an order to security personnel to deal ruthlessly with any person involved in activities aimed at disrupting the conduct of the general elections.
“The security agents have been placed on red alert to carry out the order ruthlessly,” Buhari disclosed at the All Progressives Congress (APC) caucus meeting held at the national headquarters of the party in Abuja.
The president recalled the show of support for him during the APC’s nationwide campaign, reiterating his confidence to sweep the polls.
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.”
President Buhari warned the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) against taking the country for granted, insisting that the agency would be made to account for the postponement of the presidential and National Assembly polls.
“The reason for this incompetence has to be explained to the nation. After the elections, we have to know what happened.”
APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, faulted the decision by INEC to bar political parties from embarking on another round of campaigns before the start of the rescheduled election on Saturday.
He described the position by INEC as a mere administrative pronouncement that cannot supersede the provision of the Electoral Act which permits political parties to go on campaign 24 hours to the commencement of the general elections.
Oshiomhole said the APC would return to the trenches to canvass for votes and re-enlighten its supporters across the country on the need not to be discouraged by the postponement between now and Thursday.
“The laws made by our parliament are superior to the opinions of the INEC chairman, with all due respect to his office. The extant provision of the law is clear. When you postpone an election, it has happened before, the law says you are entitled to renew campaigns up to 24 hours before the date of the election.
“It did not say you would stop campaigns on the 15th of February regardless of when the elections will actually take place. Therefore, as a law-abiding party, APC will proceed to energise its members to renew campaigns and to urge them to come out en masse.
“So, without consulting INEC, we are proceeding and we are ready to meet them in court because they cannot by administrative fiat amend or distort extant provisions in the Electoral Act, and those laws are not secret to INEC, “ the APC chairman said.
He raised several posers over the postponement of the general elections and accused INEC of working in cahoots with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to sabotage the winning prospects of the APC.
As if listening to the APC chairman, INEC later yesterday lifted its ban on political campaigns. The National Commissioner with the INEC and Chairman, Committee on Information and Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye, in a statement declared that the commission had lifted the ban till February 21, 2019.
Okoye said the decision to lift the ban on campaign was arrived at after intensive consultations with political parties.
He also said the commission had worked out plans to ensure that electoral materials arrived at the polling units in good time for early commencement of voting.
Oshiomhole, who later spoke on the outcome of the parley, claimed that there were unverified reports that agents of the PDP were in possession of already prepared results sheets in some parts of the country before the postponement of the elections.
He alleged that the ad hoc staff recruited in the PDP-controlled states are card-carrying members of the party. He urged INEC to review the situation.
Others who attended the meeting included Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; the national leader of the party, Bola Tinubu; and Minister of Transportation Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi.
Governors Rochas Okorocha (Imo) and Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun) who are at loggerheads with the Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) of the APC over the rejection of their preferred governorship candidates were conspicuously absent from the parley.
Reacting to the development, the PDP National Chairman, Uche Secondus, accused the president of ordering the military and police to brutalise voters during the elections.
“The President’s remarks amount to a declaration of war on Nigerian voters and a direct incitement against voters.”
In a statement from his media office, the PDP chairman said the directive was a licence to top APC leaders to move freely with the military at their constituencies to harass and intimidate INEC staff and the opposition agents during the elections.
“The President’s confirmation that he has directed the service chiefs to kill Nigerians is nothing but a pre-determined script hatched by the ruling party to create voter apathy and implement their result replacement plans, using thugs protected by the military.”
The PDP chairman, who noted that elections are a civil matter that is handled by the police, wondered “whether the military belongs to Nigeria or Buhari and APC” even as he advised the security operatives to “maintain professionalism in all their operations because history is recording.”
Also, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) described Buhari’s position as unlawful and regrettable.
The Lead Director of CSJ, Eze Onyekpere, said Section 33 (1) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) provides 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.”
According to him, President Buhari, by directing the police and the military to be ruthless with and to “shoot-on-sight” ballot snatchers, has asked the law enforcement agencies to take the laws into their hands by arbitrarily executing anyone suspected of ballot snatching or violence.
“This directive clearly violates the constitutional guarantee of the right to life and cannot be justified under any of the exceptions to the general rule.
“Evidently, the president is out of touch with the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 which he swore to uphold and this shows that the military mindset is still dominant in his acts and omissions,” he said.
The lawyer, therefore, reminded members of the security forces that obedience to an unlawful order is not a defence to the crime of murder or any other violation of human rights or the criminal laws of Nigeria.
“Any security man who obeys such misguided order obeys it at his peril. We, therefore, call on the president to immediately withdraw this directive and give the proper directive that security agencies should arrest and prosecute persons who are found or suspected of committing electoral crimes,” he added.