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credit: Twitter/MBuhari

Nigeria’s President, Gen Muhammadu Buhari was quoted to have made some reckless, no less reprehensible remarks on Monday, 18th February, 2019 at the opening of the APC National Caucus Meeting in Abuja.

Copious excerpts of his remarks as widely reported by news media are as follows:

“I do not expect anybody to make any disturbance. I have briefed the law enforcement agencies and the military to identify hot spots, flash points and they should be prepared to move.”

“They, too, would have made their own arrangement as much as possible and as resources provide as much as the country can afford it.”

“And anybody who decides to snatch ballot boxes or lead thugs to disturb it (election), 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 you said, I have gone round all the 36 states and Abuja. I think I have gotten enough support across the country.”

“I am going to 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.”

In a brazen bid to justify and explain away the above reckless statements, some die-hard supporters of the President have referenced Mr Jiti Ogunye, a lawyer and public affairs analyst’s purported legal justification of the statements as follows:

“When a ballot box snatcher, armed with offensive weapons, including a gun, is shot dead by security agents, he has been brought to justice in accordance with the law – See Section 33(2)(a-c) of the Constitution of Nigeria. Cest fini.”

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With due respect to the learned analyst whose sympathy for the president’s militant style of governance and acute disrespect for the rule of law is public knowledge, the constitutional provision cited though correctly analysed does not remotely provide any reasonable legal cover for Mr President.

For the avoidance of doubt, S 33 (2) (a)- (c) says:
“2) A person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his life in contravention of this section, if he dies as a result of the use, TO SUCH EXTENT AND IN SUCH CIRCUMSTANCES AS ARE PERMITTED BY LAW, OF SUCH FORCE AS IS REASONABLY NECESSARY” (emphasis mine)

a) For the defence of any person from unlawful violence or for the defence of property.
b) In order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; or
c) For the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny.

To be clear, Mr President’s statement was a clearly blanket directive to security personnel to go on an extra-judicial killing spree of “ballot box snatchers.” He never made any remote reference to thugs that are “ARMED WITH OFFENSIVE WEAPONS INCLUDING GUNS.”

The test of what is reasonably necessary to activate the law of self defence, effect a lawful arrest, or suppress a riot, insurrection or mutiny is objective, not subjective. If ballot box snatchers armed with guns shoot at security agents, they are of course legally permitted to shoot at the criminals. But what happens if the “ballot box snatchers” are only armed with sticks and stones? Would it be “reasonably necessary” to ruthlessly snuff life out of them in that circumstance? Even if they wield matchets and knives, would it be “reasonably necessary” to shoot them in the head? I think not.

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President Muhammadu Buhari with his main challenger former vice President Atiku Abubakar

Come to think of it, the penalty for ballot snatching stricto sensu as contained in S 118 and 129 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) is a maximum fine of N50,000 or a term of imprisonment of not less than 10 years or both; and a fine of N100,000 or 6 months imprisonment or 24 months imprisonment (if the election material is destroyed) respectively. The offence does not attract life imprisonment; and is certainly not punishable by death.

It appears Mr President often forgets that the primary purpose of government as contained in S 14 (2) of the constitution is security of the lives and properties of the people, regardless of their political or religious persuasion. Why on earth would he direct security agents to “ruthlessly” waste the lives of “ballot box snatchers” without providing proper context to his statement?

Election in civilized countries does not even warrant shutting down schools, malls or economic life. How come ours has become synonymous with war and threat of war? For Mr President, Nigeria’s Chief Security Officer to have recklessly uttered the above statements when Mr ElRufai’s infamous statement of “international observers leaving in body bags” still hangs in the air is clear testimony to how desperate this APC government is to hang on to power, even at the expense of the lives of the people they swore to protect.

Every right thinking Nigerian should condemn outright such recklessly inciting statements like Mr President’s. Mr President in a sane clime would be investigated now and prosecuted whenever he loses his immunity.

Posterity will be ruthless with anyone, no matter how highly placed who intends to run on violence and bloodletting to power. And one hopes Nigerian stakeholders, the international community, and the International Criminal Court are listening and watching.

The Author Timothy Bamgboye is an experienced legal practitioner and LawyardNG Contributor.

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