19 February 2019
President Muhammadu Buhari, who is running for re-election, while addressing party members yesterday, warned that: “Anybody who decides to snatch boxes or lead thugs to disturb the election, may be that would be the last unlawful action you would take. 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 sycophants in the room applauded. His wife, Aisha, also gave the thumbs up on Twitter to her husband’s bloodcurdling threat.
In response, Sagir Musa, a Nigerian army spokesman, told a Nigerian newspaper: “If Commander-in-Chief has given order to the Nigerian Army to that effect, be rest assured that order will be totally and effectively obeyed without any ifs or buts.” Nigeria is entering dangerous territory as the rescheduled (s)election for the presidency and national assembly takes place this Saturday.
It has been estimated that about 181 Nigerians have died in political violence in the lead up to the polls from October 2018 to 15 February this year.
Amnesty International’s director in Nigeria, Osai Ojigho had earlier this month called on Nigerian authorities to uphold human rights during and after the elections: “The authorities must fully investigate all allegations of incitement to violence and other human rights abuses before, during and after the elections and ensure that suspected perpetrators are brought to justice. Political parties and candidates must publicly condemn any advocacy of hatred or incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”.
Instead, the occupant of the highest office in the land was openly inciting the army and police to shoot ballot box snatchers. Buhari’s upping of the ante followed comments made by his close ally and governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, that any foreigner that intervened in Nigeria would go home in “body bags”.
As pointed out in the above report, incitement to violence is an offence under Section 95(2) of the Nigerian Electoral Act. The Act also prescribes two years in jail for ballot box snatchers. But the president clearly has little time for legal niceties such as due process, arresting and charging offenders and so on. He prescribed a shoot to kill policy.
Buhari has form in unlawful behaviour. In May 2012, he told members of his then party, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) who visited him in Kaduna: “If what happened in 2011 (alleged rigging) should happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood”.
Buhari won that (s)election in 2015 and there was no need for the dog and the baboon to be soaked in blood. But since he became president, hundreds of Nigerians have died in extrajudicial killings by the army and police, including Shi’ites and pro-Biafran protesters.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has already confirmed it is carrying out preliminary investigations into the conduct of Nigerian security forces. Unlike in previous killings, where Buhari had plausible deniability in terms of whether he issued the orders to kill, yesterday’s call to shoot people that snatch ballot boxes makes the president directly responsible for any deaths that arise from that order. The principle of “command responsibility” means that “a commander is liable for the criminal misconduct of subordinates which the commander ordered, or about which the commander knew or should have known, and failed to take reasonable action to prevent”. The “commander” can be military or civilian and Buhari is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.
An irresponsible president must be held responsible for the criminality of the security forces under his command. Many people in high and low places in Nigeria may have little regard for the law and human rights, but that shouldn’t be the case with the ICC.