Two prominent Nigerian lawyers have expressed different views on President Muhammadu Buhari’s statement that those planning to snatch ballot boxes may be carrying out their last illegal acts.
Mr Buhari made the statement on Monday at a meeting of the national caucus of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to review the Saturday sudden postponement of the elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The president said he had issued an order to the military and security agencies to deal decisively with anyone caught fomenting trouble at the elections.
Reacting to the statement on Tuesday, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ozekhome, described it as inflammatory and unconstitutional.
In a statement made available to PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Ozekhome said the president is usurping the powers of the INEC and the Police.
“This statement, to say the least, is not only outrageously unpresidential, but it shows his extreme desperation and panicky mindset,” Mr Ozekhome said.
“For the records, it is the president’s own APC party that has so far been involved, to the knowledge of the whole world, in bizarre acts of electoral malpractices during their primaries, leading to an implosively divided party of disparate and inchoate tendencies.
“APC’s leading lights have so far preached terror, ‘body bags,’ mayhem, strife, stoned their president and leaders, booed others, killed some in cold bloodshed, denied themselves tickets, and generally engaged in acts of asterism, hooliganism and shameless ‘agberoism,’ quite unbecoming of a ruling party. Presidents don’t preach violence nor engage in scare mongering, as Buhari is currently doing at every turn and opportunity.
“Presidents are known to be extremely cautious and restrained, even when others do not. This is because a president is supposed to approximate the highest ideals, morals, and nobility of the national psyche, ethos, and consciousness.”
Mr Ozekhome said the president ought to realise that he is no longer in opposition as he was between 2003 and 2015.
He added that Mr Buhari’s statement is aimed at instilling in officials of the INEC “as he has done to the judiciary, NASS, the press and voices of the opposition and critics.”
“For the avoidance of doubt, the Electoral Act has already taken care of such matters as he appeared suddenly to be aware of section 129(4) of the Act which states that it’s 24 months imprisonment for anyone who snatches ballot boxes at an election.
“Also Section 131 of the Electoral Act on the other states that “A person who- Threatening directly or indirectly, by himself or by another person on his behalf, makes use of or threatens to make use of any force, violence or restrain; (b) inflicts or threatens to inflict by himself or by any other person, any minor or serious injury, damage, harm or loss on or against a person in order to induce or compel that person to vote or refrain from voting, or on account of such person having voted or refrained from voting; or (c) by abduction, duress, or a fraudulent device or contrivance, impedes or prevents the free use of the vote by a voter or thereby compels, induces, or prevails on a voter to give or refrain from giving his vote, (d) by preventing any political aspirants from free use of the media, designated vehicles, mobilisation of political support and campaign at an election, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N1,000, 000 or imprisonment for a term of three years.”
“The law is quite clear. It never prescribes the death penalty as Buhari wants to force in. recall how he had retroactively got executed, Ojuolape, Ogedengbe and Owoh, for drug peddling in his first military junta. He made them pay the supreme price in spite of national and international uproar and condemnation for an offence that did not carry death penalty when it was committed.”
However, a Lagos-based lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, expressed a different view on Mr Buhari’s statement.
In a post on his Facebook page on Monday, Mr Ogunye wrote: “When a ballot box snatcher, armed with offensive weapons, including gun, is shot dead by security agents, he has been brought to justice in accordance with the law- section 33(2)(a-c) of the constitution of Nigeria.”
The section quoted by Mr Ogunye reads in part:
A person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his/her 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-
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
c. for the purpose of suppressing a riot , insurrection or mutiny.