President Muhammadu Buhari, on Monday February 18, issued a warning to miscreants who may have nursed the intention of looting ballot boxes in the general elections to be held on February 23. The context of the wording and the tone conveyed in his message have led to a lot of controversy in respect of the current political clime and have provoked reactions from observers. Bear in mind his exact words were, “I will warn those who have planned to disrupt the peaceful elections to desist from their planned actions, anyone who tries that is doing it at the expense of his own life.”
But what does the extant law say about snatching ballot boxes? Section 118 (2) of the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) provides that anyone who willfully destroys or removes any ballot paper, result form or such other election material is liable on conviction to a maximum term of imprisonment of two (2) years.
In respect of what offences are punishable by death, Section 33 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria stipulates that “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria”.
Festus Keyamo (SAN) the Director, Strategic Communications of All Progressives Congress and Buhari’s Campaign Council, unsurprisingly backed President Muhammadu Buhari’s utterances He went on to say this in an interview conducted on February 19 at Channels Television:
“I think I have listened to so many uninformed comments. What the president said is 100 percent 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 would pay dearly for it with his life. That is a correct statement of the law”.
You notice a slight difference in the wording: prior to the interview, there was no mention of “leading a band of thugs”.
Senator Dino Melaye, a staunch member of the opposing People’s Democratic Party (PDP), responded to Keyamo's assertion by saying that “what the President had done was to endorse jungle justice”. For the purpose of clarity, jungle justice (otherwise known as mob action) is a form of public extrajudicial killing in Sub-Saharan Africa, which involves being lynched by the public upon perceived commission of a crime.
Melaye further argued that the government wouldn’t win any case involving extra judicial killings, even if the victims were in the wrong. He quoted a landmark case, Aliu Bello vs. The Attorney General of Oyo State where the Supreme court held that the execution of an armed robbery convict whose appeal was still pending was an infringement of the right to life, and awarded damages to the defendant as reparation for this deprivation.
With the elections looming, tensions remain high, both parties seem to be obsessed with getting one over the other. One wonders, then, how far people will go in defending their stance on sensitive matters, especially when it involves misinterpreting existing laws.
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