The Nigerian Army yesterday responded to the directive by President Muhammadu Buhari, to shoot on sight anyone involved in ballot box snatching in next Saturday’s election and other polls, saying it will be guided by its (Army) rules of engagement.
This came as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu insisted that ballot box snatchers be dealt with according to provisions of the Electoral Act.
Nigerian Army Remains Apolitical, Neutral
Acting Director, Army Public Relations, Col Sagir Musa, said: “The Nigerian Army has made it sufficiently and consistently clear that none of its personnel will be involved in political campaigns, escort of VIPs for political missions and above all, aiding or supporting any political party as has been circulated in noticeable media platforms.
“Although, a detailed release had been released, the need to further make the position of the Nigerian Army clearer is therefore imperative. Our Rules of Engagement and Code of Conduct have not assigned any political role to the Nigerian Army in this regard.
“Nigerian Army’s involvement starts and ends with the provision of peaceful and secured environment for the conduct of 2019 general election.
“Therefore, any insinuation or assertion against this declaration is mischievous and politically motivated which the Nigerian Army under the command of Lt Gen T.Y. Buratai has strongly and severally warned against.
“Members of the public are please requested to judge the Nigerian Army on this declaration.”
Confronted with a quote where he said, the instruction of the Commander-in-Chief will be obeyed to the letter, he simply said: “it is not true.”
PDP jittery — Presidency
Meanwhile, the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC and opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, continued to bicker, yesterday, with PDP Presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar cautioning the military against executing President Buhari’s directive to be ruthless against ballot box snatchers, describing the directive as an unlawful order.
The Presidency fired back at the PDP, saying that the party (PDP) was jittery over the orders by President Buhari to security agencies to deal ruthlessly with anybody that attempts to snatch ballot boxes during the forthcoming elections.
The Presidency insisted on President Buhari’s comment that anyone who dares to snatch ballot boxes during next weekend’s elections will be doing this for the last time, saying it should be seen as a strong message against the long history of savagery associated with elections in the country.
Speaking to State House correspondents, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, recalled some past elections in parts of Nigeria, during which innocent voters lost their lives while ballot boxes were being snatched by armed thugs.
He said the President had the safety and security of Nigerians uppermost in mind when he made the comment, and should be praised rather than criticized for issuing the stern warning to potential ballot box snatchers.
Shehu expressed concern about those attacking the President’s comment, and are worried over the fate of anyone caught snatching ballot boxes.
According to him: “This sounds like members of the opposition, specifically the PDP who have perfected plans to rig the elections and to snatch ballot boxes. They can tell that President Buhari is not prepared to tolerate their antics this time around, and they are afraid. They have shown their intent.
“Let’s just have free and fair elections and no one need worry about anything.
Snatching ballot boxes often entails putting the lives of innocent Nigerians at risk. About 10 years ago, evidence was brought before an election tribunal from one of the states in North Central of the gruesome killing of 26 prospective voters by ballot box snatchers.
“Their modus operandi is well known. They storm election venues in commando style, overwhelm the law-enforcement agents and seize ballot boxes leaving a trail of death and injury.
“Anyone who dares to put the lives of innocent citizens at risk in their desperation to rig elections must be prepared for the possibility of losing their own lives because our security agents will certainly not stand by, clap for them and watch them kill and maim,” he added.
Use Electoral Act to deal with ballot box snatchers — INEC chair
Prof Mahmood Yakubu, Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, has said that ballot box snatchers should be dealt with according to the Electoral Act.
Briefing in Abuja, yesterday, Yakubu, asked that the Electoral Act be adhered to, in dealing with electoral malpractices.
When asked if ballot box snatchers should be shot on sight, he said: “You asked, should ballot box snatchers be shot on sight? The position of the commission is that all violators of Electoral Act, should be punished according to the provisions of the electoral act.”
What the law says
Section 129 subsection (4) of the electoral act prescribes a maximum of two years imprisonment for offenders.
(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.”
Meanwhile, PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, who described the directive as undemocratic, said Buhari must deliver credible elections to Nigerians.
He said: “I want to direct this message to military commanders and officers. You know that as military officers you are not bound to obey orders that are manifestly unlawful, that is the law.
“If you are a professional, you are not bound to obey any order that is manifestly unlawful. I have been trained by the military and police so I know that.”
On alleged moves to manipulate the card reader, Atiku said: “We have just discovered that the APC hired many of their operatives and took them to China to be trained, and they have been so trained, and they are back, and they are equipped with devices that are meant to slow or fasten our card readers.
“So, if you are in the South-South, South-East and North-Central, you are likely to get your card readers to be slowed by those APC operatives.
“We have seen the machines; we have interviewed some of those who have gone on this training and we have passed that information to the campaign council to pass to you.
“But if you are from the North-West or North-East, the tendency is that they will use these machines to fast-track the readings of your card readers, so that many of their supporters can vote while disenfranchising the other three zones.
“I thought you should know that we have supplied the information to the campaign council, and you will even see the copy of the machine which each and every of those operatives is to hold. It is like a telephone but that is its job. I felt I should let you know, and you should be guided accordingly.”
He added that the President has never been a democrat, “but wearing the garb of democracy so that he can come back to power and do whatever he is doing.
“So General Buhari is not a democrat. He doesn’t believe in democracy. It’s a lip service. He is more of a power monger than a democrat.”
He also spoke of the environment that must be provided for elections to hold, saying, “a precondition for free, fair and credible election is that the people are able to freely vote the candidate of their choice. You owe it to the people to let them give their verdict in the same way that you were elected.
“If you do so and if you win, then the people will commend you for it but otherwise, history will condemn you for it but before history does that, we will condemn you for it.”
Saraki warns APC
Also speaking, Senate President and Director General of the PDP Presidential Campaign Council, Senator Bukola Saraki, warned the APC against ruining the nation’s democracy.
He also alleged that the APC was planning to scuttle the forthcoming election.
“My message to them (APC) is that you won in 2015 because democracy was working in Nigeria.
This democracy that worked for you, is to work for generations yet on born. Do not ruin Nigerian democracy because of your ambition. Democracy is bigger than you and as much as it worked for you, it will also work for others.
“Nigeria is a country that is practicing democracy, Nigeria is country that is govern by rule of law. What Mr. President on Monday, suggested that this country is govern by jungle justice.
“We in PDP are not for election rigging, we are against election rigging. We signed strongly that the law should be applied on anybody that carry out election rigging. We must operate as country that with rule of law and democracy.
“They (APC) don’t want election to hold, we know they don’t want election to hold on Saturday. By God’s grace, the man that will take us to promised land, Atiku Abubakar will win.
“INEC, they don’t want you to hold that election on Saturday, so you must deliver for the sake of millions of Nigerians. You must make sure election happen on Saturday. By God’s grace, election will hold and we will win, because we represent the interest of Nigerians.”
Speaking earlier, the national chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus, who reiterated that Mr President was wrong in his directive to shoot ballot box snatchers, urged the military to dismiss the order.
He said to Buhari, “If members of your party cannot tell you, we can tell you. We call on you to retract that directive.”
Noting that Nigeria is a member of community of nations, Secondus warned that any military operative who obeys the order will be dragged before a global audience.
“You will be held accountable whether now or in the future. We are ready for elections, we are not ballot box snatchers but we won’t allow the military to come and take our boxes. In PDP, we’re law abiding but we will not allow anyone trampled on our rights.”
He called on INEC to audit all the materials that have been collected and distributed in order to address issues that could lead to a another postponement.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara, also faulted Buhari’s directive to the military, noting that such unlawful orders by the President should be disregarded.
Other party leaders who spoke at the meeting were Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, Gombe state governor, Ibrahim Dankwambo, ex- governor of Ekiti state, Ayodele Fayose, former Katsina state governor, Ibrahim Shema among others.