Two aides, one to President Muhammadu Buhari, the other to main opposition PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar, have clashed over a controversial statement by Mr Buhari where he threatened ballot box snatchers will be killed if they strike during the upcoming polls.
The Director of Strategic Communications of the All Progressives Congress, (APC) Campaign Council, Festus Keyamo, and the senator representing Kogi West District, Dino Melaye, on Tuesday, engaged each other in a bitter debate on television over the propriety of the comment.
Mr Buhari who spoke at an APC caucus meeting on Monday had said anyone caught snatching ballot box ”will do that at the expense of his or her life”.
The comment has already torn the polity apart, with a segment saying the president was subtly calling for the extra-judicial killing of electoral offences suspects. Nigerian security operatives are well-known for carrying out gross human rights abuses, at times leading to extra-judicial killings
Another group, however, claim the president was right in issuing the statement as it will serve as a deterrent for political thugs.
The army in a subsequent interview with the PREMIUM TIMES had said it would carry out the order without qualms if Mr Buhari instructs them to do so.
The electoral act provides that anyone caught snatching ballot boxes should be arrested and prosecuted accordingly.
The Constitution, however, provides for instances where a person could be shot and killed lawfully (especially in self-defence) by state officials though lawyers argue this is not a defence for Mr Buhari’s comments in a tense political season.
On Tuesday while appearing on Channels TV Politics Today programme, Mr Melaye compared Mr Buhari with the late African dictator, Idi Amin, and asked the president to apologise to Nigerians for issuing the death threat.
“I am utterly disappointed in my president. I am completely in shock that in a democratic setting, a president will speak with the anointing of Idi Amin of Uganda, the president will use the word ‘ruthless’, the president will order killings of Nigerians without going through legal procedures. That is totally unacceptable.
“I expected that by now the president should have apologised to Nigerians and withdrawn that statement but instead there has been a lot of efforts, ‘boxing the wind’ by chieftains of the APC, trying to defend what is not defensible,” the senator said.
Reacting to this, an enraged Mr Keyamo said the president spoke appropriately adding that he (Keyamo) would urge Mr Buhari to “say the statement over and over again.”
“I think I have listened to so many uninformed comments. What the president said is 100 per cent correct, defensible and I will urge him to repeat it over and over again.
“The president said that whoever leads a band of thugs to go and snatch ballot boxes will pay dearly for it with his life. That is a correct position of the law.
”Ballot box snatching is robbery. Ballot box snatching is armed robbery. Ballot box snatching is thwarting the will of the people. Ballot box snatching is changing a government by force, It’s treason. All are punishable by death.”
The two, in defending their respective principals and parties, then went on personal attacks on each other and the two main presidential candidates. The presenter, Seun Okinbaloye, had to intermittently sue for peace during the charged session.
The presidential election was postponed last Saturday to February 23 after the electoral commission cited some logistics challenges. The governorship election is expected to come up on March 9.