It is no longer news that President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered the police and other security personnel to make sure that ballot box snatchers pay with their lives.

Considering the position of the person that gave this order, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, it is certainly an order that must be carried out. Carrying out this order will undermine the Electoral Act 2010, Administration of Criminal Justice Act, constitution. Ultimately, it ignored the role and functions of the law court and judiciary at large, whose primary functions and responsibilities are to interpret the laws and pass judgement on accused persons.

When one orders that whoever commits such an offence should pay with their life instantly without following the laid down rules and procedures, and not that the law prohibiting such offence has been scrapped, it then means such a person is taking the law into their own hands to do otherwise, which may be tantamount to illegality especially the very law the person had sworn to protect.

Section 129 (4) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) provides that, “Any person who snatches or destroys any election material commits an offence and is liable on conviction to 24 months’ imprisonment”. It appears that the punishment spelt out in this section is not strong enough to deter anybody from committing the stated crime. And the best thing to do is to call for the amendment of such section(s) or laws.

Again, Nigerians should not forget that such an opportunity to reform the Electoral Act by signing its amendment bill, which was an opportunity to increase the penalty for ballot box snatching from 24 months to say five years was given to President Muhammadu Buhari in November, but he refused to assent to it in December 2018. Rewriting the law to make it capital punishment for ballot box snatching is something that doesn’t go down well with many Nigerians, many of whom frown upon it and describe it as jungle justice.

It is also worthy to note that every public official in Nigeria, from the President down to local government councillors, took the oath of allegiance to obey the rule of law, protect the citizens and uphold the constitution of Nigeria. Such that they can only approve the elimination of life by the pronouncement of a competent court of jurisdiction under a democratic setting.

What is more surprising is the fact that such a pronouncement was not made when it was needed. One expected it at a time when Boko Haram and herdsmen were killing hundreds of Nigerians across the country and many are still dying on a daily basis, but such an action was not taken. Even bandits such as kidnappers were not given such marching orders to be killed, but many were taken to court to face the judgement of the crimes committed. An example of such was the case of Evans, the suspected kidnapper, who even confessed to the crime at the time he was arrested but he was not shot on sight. Instead, the rule of law was allowed to take its course on him, and he is still going to court since 2017. If such high-level crimes that involved human lives were not treated with aautomatic order of “pay with life” on sight, why should ballot box snatching offence become so grievous? Does it mean we place more value on ballot box than human lives?

Furthermore, if such an order is being carried out by the security personnel, as there is a likelihood of obeying the President’s order, do we still need the judiciary, the third arm of the government?

Moving forward as a nation, and for us to minimise the level of bloodshed in this country, I think it is very important our security personnel employ diplomacy in carrying out orders from the above, and not to take the law into their own hands to do what is opposite of the laid down rules.

We will still have a country called Nigeria after the 2019 elections, or after the reign of President Buhari. So, it is crucial we tread with caution while carrying out our official duties and responsibilities of maintaining law and order.

Anything short of peace, unity, progress and development of our country will be questionable.

Omale Omachi Samuel,Centre for Social Justice, Abuja, oma_omasam@yahoo.co.uk, 08173736764

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