The Presidency has reiterated President Muhammadu Buhari’s comment that anyone who dares to snatch ballot boxes during next weekend’s elections will be doing this for the last time.
It said Mr Buhari’s comments should be seen as a strong message against the long history of “savagery associated with elections in the country.”
Speaking Monday, Mr Buhari had delivered a blunt warning that, “Anybody who decides to snatch boxes or lead thugs to disturb the election, maybe that would be the last unlawful action you would take.
He added, “I have given the military and police the order to be ruthless. I am going to warn anybody who thinks he would lead a body of thugs in his locality to snatch boxes or to disturb the voting system; he would do it at the expense of his/her own life.”
The president’s remarks at a meeting of the ruling All Progressives Congress on Monday has been criticised by many who argue that such declaration may lead to mob justice and arbitrary killing of innocent persons.
Others have supported the president, defending his comments as a strong message that will help curb the menace of electoral fraud. They also argue that ballot box snatchers are usually armed, and therefore, would only require a forceful response.
Nigeria’s electoral law prescribes a jail term of 24 months for the offence of destroying or snatching election materials.
Speaking to State House Correspondents on Tuesday, presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, recalled some past elections in parts of Nigeria, during which innocent voters lost their lives while ballot boxes were being snatched by armed thugs.
“Snatching ballot boxes often entails putting the lives of innocent Nigerians at risk,” he said. “About 10 years ago, evidence was brought before an election tribunal from one of the states in North Central of the gruesome killing of 26 prospective voters by ballot box snatchers.
“Their modus operandi is well known. They storm election venues in commando style, overwhelm the law-enforcement agents and seize ballot boxes leaving a trail of death and injury,” Mr Shehu said.
According to him, “Anyone who dares to put the lives of innocent citizens at risk in their desperation to rig elections, must be prepared for the possibility of losing their own lives because our security agents will certainly not stand by, clap for them and watch them kill and maim.”
He added that President Buhari had the safety and security of Nigerians uppermost in mind when he made the comment, and should be praised rather than criticised for issuing this stern warning to potential ballot box snatchers.
Mr Shehu further expressed concern about those attacking the president’s comment, and their worry over the fate of anyone caught snatching ballot boxes.
“This sounds like members of the opposition, specifically the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP who have perfected plans to rig the elections and to snatch ballot boxes. They can tell that President Buhari is not prepared to tolerate their antics this time around, and they are afraid. They have shown their intent,” he said.
He said no one had anything to fear from the President’s comments if their conscience and intentions are clear.
“Let’s just have free and fair elections and no one need worry about anything,” he said.