We the People – Centre for Social Studies and Development, citizens group in Nigeria, has expressed concern over the order recently issued by the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which seems to authorize law enforcement operatives in the country to shoot suspected ballot snatchers on sight.
The following quote is credited to the president:
“I am going to warn anybody who thinks he has enough influence in his locality to
lead a body of thugs, snatch ballot boxes or to disturb the voting system, he will do it
at the expense of his own life.”
The President made this comment in the context of instructions he had given to security operatives.
According to a statement issued by the group’s Executive Director, Mr Ken Henshaw and delivered to the Atlantic Post in Port Harcourt on February 21, the above instruction issued by the President is in clear violation of existing laws in the country.
We the People said while they do not defend the actions of ballot box snatchers or persons that disrupt voting exercises, we are bold to state that every offence in Nigeria, has a punishment prescribed in laws of the country for for them.
In the case of ballot box snatching or any form of disturbance of the electoral process, Section 129(1)(j) of the Electoral Act 2010 is very explicit. It states that:
“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 meters of a polling unit…
(J) snatch or destroy any electoral materials.”
Furthermore, subsection (4) clearly states that:
“Any person who snatches or destroy any election material commits an offense and is liable on conviction to 24 months imprisonment.”
The centre expressed concern that the President who should be seen as the chief custodian of the law, is openly issuing instructions to security operatives to carry out extra-judicial killing.
We the People said it is interesting to note that in no part of the presidential directive does he refer to arresting or charging suspects to court or any judicial process.
Continuing, the group stated that the basis of Nigeria’s hard earned democracy is the Rule of Law and respect of fundamental rights. We will not lose those rights upon the pronouncement of the President.
We the People added also that they fear that the statement of the President is already causing apprehension on the part of already wary Nigerian voters who now fear that the militarization of the election could pose risks to them.
They said while the Independent National Electoral Commission has acted credibly by stating clearly that the commission would stand by the Electoral Act which states that “persons who snatch election materials are liable to a prison term of two years or maximum fine of N500, 000”, it is however important to call on the President to douse the tension by withdrawing his shoot-at-sight instruction.
The group therefore used the opportunity to call on security operatives to rescind the instruction of the President and state boldly that the President does not have powers except those expressly given to him by the Constitution.
“An instant death penalty for people who disturb voting is NOT in the laws of Nigeria. Security operative who murder Nigerians extra judicially under the guise of tackling election offenders, will be held accountable for their action.
“Finally, we call on the President to withdraw his instruction to security operative as this is capable of emboldening them to commit atrocities during the elections”, the citizens group concluded.