Electoral Offenders Must Now Be Punished

Soldiers and other security operatives failed to obey President Muhammadu Buhari’s order to shoot dead anyone snatching a ballot box during the elections held nationwide last Saturday. Undeterred by the directive, which many had criticised as one that shouldn’t have come from a president, ballot box snatchers actually committed the offence in Lagos and elsewhere with impunity. No soldier, policeman or DSS operative rose to the occasion; they were not even seen at flashpoints that ought to have been better guarded.

There was no doubting that some evil politicians had hired thugs to disrupt the polls or invalidate votes in their opponents’ strongholds. In Lagos, the hoodlums eventually had their way in areas dominated by Igbo voters. They not only upturned ballot boxes but also burnt them along with their contents. And because the thugs were armed, no unarmed civilian could put up to them. Only one “Demola” was caught by an irate mob as he was destroying a ballot box; he was stoned and presumably left dead. But he did not die; sympathetic voters took him to hospital where he is now receiving treatment.

In Kano, Ndigbo were not allowed to vote at all in the Sabon Gari area. In Kaduna, soldiers prevented some people from voting. A similar report came from some other northern states where the card reader was rendered useless: no accreditation, no queuing, no voters sighted, and multiple thumb-printing of ballot papers in secluded locations.

Why were the security men absent when duty called? Their presence alone could have prevented the calamity in Lagos. It is regrettable that the military chose to shoot innocent people in Rivers State. They also remained toothless as violence erupted in the state, leading to the death of 15 people. Across the country, no fewer than 39 people lay dead.

We commend Yoruba socio-cultural group Afenifere for promptly condemning the thugs’ activities and distancing the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) from them. In a statement, Afenifere extended apologies to the Igbo voters and Ohanaeze for the unfortunate incident. Yet, the Igbo are still being threatened for voting according to their wishes. This Monday, miscreants vandalised some shops and attacked Igbo traders before soldiers reached Oshodi market.

The EFCC and other anti-graft agencies also failed in their duty during the polls. Although some of them appeared near polling stations ostensibly in search of those buying or selling votes, they hardly questioned anyone. Nevertheless, there was vote-buying in most towns and cities. On the eve of the election, for instance, a satellite image of bullion vans driving into the home of a prominent Lagos politician trended on the social media. No EFCC operative dared visit Bourdillon Street in Ikoyi to see things for himself or query the offender. Chief Bola Tinubu later admitted that the vans moved cash to his home, claiming that he committed no offence because it was his money and not government money he was spending. At the same time, however, some prominent members of the opposition PDP were being hounded by “corruption fighters” for being in possession of large sums of money. That is double standard!

Tinubu’s defence that he was spending his money is not acceptable in a decent society. What was the money meant for? Since it came on election eve and many people were seen waiting in Tinubu’s home, the money was obviously meant for buying votes, hiring thugs or paying for other illegal activities. To have any iota of credibility left, agents of the law should put Tinubu on trial immediately. If it is found that he funded the armed thugs that wreaked havoc in Lagos, he should be charged with terrorism, attempted murder or murder, arson, and election offences. The rule of law should apply to everybody including godfathers, not just to miscreants.

President Buhari and his party APC will have more explanations to offer regarding the conduct of the elections on Saturday. In spite of all the charges of alleged collusion with INEC and security agents to rig elections in the party’s favour, the APC has not pretended to be intolerant of the opposition. Among other complaints received so far: armed soldiers hijacked result sheets meant for Benue State, electoral materials were delivered late in targeted areas, the card reader malfunctioned in several places in the south but were not even used in parts of the north. The elections were conducted contrary to the Electoral Act.

The worst of all is that many INEC officials were pressured to change vote figures in favour of the ruling party, and that accounted for the delay in announcing final results.

Our hard-earned democracy should not be threatened in these ways. If we must hold elections, then, the wishes of the electorate as expressed in their votes must be respected. We do not have to keep learning the ropes at every round of elections.

 “Demola” was perhaps the only victim of a mob that took the law into its own hands in Lagos. Thank God he is alive. But he must have his day in court. So must all other people caught committing one offence or the other on Saturday. Only when crimes are punished would potential future offenders think twice.

 With: The Oracle Today

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