Each election year in Nigeria throws up fear, uncertainty and an assortment of fatal disorders. I can hedge that no other nation wears a bloodier badge of violence than Nigeria during elections. This year’s polls have not disappointed; no, not with what has already transpired ever before the first ballot was cast. We’ve seen lives cut short, vehicles burnt, houses torched, persons either shot, stabbed or brutally assassinated by never-to-be-identified assailants in wild political orgies.
No election year in recent memory has passed without violence being served as part of the electoral menu. And as we now know, these bloody shenanigans are orchestrated by the political elite, our political leaders who stoke the ember of hate and ignite the furnace with their incendiary remarks.
Pray, who has forgotten Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s ‘do-or-die’ therapy during the 2007 election? He said the 2007 general election would be a do-or-die affair for himself and his party, the PDP. And it was so. Lives were cut short, persons were maimed and property destroyed in moments of maniacal rage by mobs working for the political elite.
Not even Atiku Abubakar, the current presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party was immune from making such inflammatory statements. He was once quoted to have pledged to make the country ungovernable. In 2011, it was the turn of the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. He threatened to make the country ungovernable should he lose the presidential election to Goodluck Jonathan. Then, he lost. And the bombs boomed and boomed and things fell apart. The centre lost its grip and control on security. Boko Haram got more vicious as a weak President Jonathan sulked and sulked.
Bring on 2015 polls. With President Jonathan gravely weakened by Boko Haram and the abduction of Chibok Girls going into the election, Buhari bolstered his confidence with all the ensigns of misgovernance presented by a confused (some say clueless) Jonathan. Recall that it was at that time that Boko Haram even nominated Buhari to hold brief for them as Jonathan’s government mooted the idea of negotiating with the terrorists. All of this galvanized Buhari’s boldness.
In one moment of indiscretion, Buhari yelled: “If what happened in 2011 should again happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood.” Those were the words of Buhari in the run up to the 2015 elections. And all in a flurry, we were treated to bloody weekends. Bombs and more bombs exploded in unusual places including churches and mosques. There could have been more bloody scenes and killings but for the restraint and public-spiritedness of Jonathan who accepted the presidential election result even before INEC completed tallying of the results.
Welcome to 2019 election and the same politicians are busy heating up the polity with highly incendiary remarks. Buhari last week issued a shoot-on-sight order to the military and security agencies. His message was lucid. Shoot any person attempting to snatch ballot boxes. Buhari spoke in a moment of rage. And he has a right to be angry at the ineptitude that ran through the preparations and eventual postponement of the election by INEC. Buhari hinted at a possible probe of Professor Mahmood Yakubu’s INEC after the polls. Any responsible leader should be angry. I feel for President Buhari, especially given the billions of naira at the disposal of the electoral umpire.
But the same Buhari slipped into the same pit of political infamy. He became a victim of his tyrannical heart and caustic tongue. This time, it is not the baboons and monkeys that would be soaked in blood. The President was categorical. Ballot-snatchers, a club of vile men recruited by politicians to snatch ballot boxes usually at gunpoint, would meet their waterloo. They would be shot by security men on the orders of President Buhari.
This directive is troubling in many ways. First, ballot-snatching is a serious electoral offence and should be condemned in the strongest terms. But to direct security personnel including the military, who ought to play very passive role in the electoral process, to shoot such suspects is a cut above logic. No matter the president’s anger and disappointment at the tardiness from INEC and the bestial showmanship that signposts our elections, he has no right and reason to invoke death in the crudest manner on electoral offenders.
Need I remind President Buhari that he is one of the catalysts that fuel the banalities we see in our electoral processes. Buhari’s persistent predilection to violence if he doesn’t win is one of the reasons that has kept thuggery at the cutting edge and a defining totem of Nigeria’s often bloody electoral process. Why invoke presidential directive of ‘shoot at them’ when the Electoral Act has defined the best ways to deal with offenders of the law during elections. Buhari is not a court of law. He is the president who should be seen to lead the charge in upholding due process of the law.
Need I also remind Mr. President that Nigeria has long left the stump of military rule. He leads a democratic Nigeria hence his actions and pronouncements must conform with the provisions of the law. To direct military personnel and security agents to shoot at electoral offenders in a democracy is not only anarchical, it is primitive and anathema to democracy. Democrats in APC like Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, sensing the damage this has done to the party and to the image of a president many Nigerians are still in doubt of his democratic credentials, tried to explain the context of the presidential directive. Yet while Tinubu laboured to make good a bad situation, the likes of Garba Shehu and Festus Keyamo are prancing about justifying the barbaric directive. But they fail. They fail because in a democracy, there is no substitute for the rule of law.
It is pronouncements like this that give uniformed men the audacity to act extra-judicially during elections. But wait a minute, what if the ballot-snatchers are soldiers or policemen hired by politicians? I take this as one of those presidential Freudian Slips deserving of a presidential mea culpa, not the senseless justification of an obvious wrong by the horde of presidential spokesmen and apologists of our neo-dictatorship.
But I hail the military and INEC on this. Both agencies of government have categorically said they would be guided by law not by presidential directive in dealing with electoral offenders. This means that the rule of law would be allowed to prevail over the command of one man. The voice of Buhari is not the voice of the law; neither is it the voice of the people. It is the voice of a leader who is on his own; whose disposition offends both the law and logic.
Mr. President must ‘re-direct’ the military and security agencies to abide by the law so that he doesn’t appear to give a few unruly elements in the security apparatchik the leeway to hatch a bloodbath on election day. Enough of avoidable bloodshed; enough of lawlessness. Away with presidential recklessness.