• Orders security agencies to be ruthless with miscreants
• Vows to investigate vote postponement
• PDP, Atiku: President’s directive is license to kill
• Dickson calls for emergency Council of State meeting
Iyobosa Uwugiaren, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja and Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday threatened that anyone planning to snatch ballot boxes in Saturday’s presidential and National Assembly election will be doing so at the ‘’expense of his own life,’’ and directed security agents to be ruthless with miscreants.
The president, who barely subdued his anger at the shift in casting of ballot from last Saturday, spoke at the opening of the National Caucus meeting of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Abuja, promising those minded to foment trouble during the rescheduled polls a hard time.
He said: “The security agencies have identified hot spots and flash points and should be prepared to move. We have made as much arrangement as possible for them as much as the country can afford. Anybody who decide to snatch ballot boxes or lead thugs to disturb the process, may be that will be the last unlawful action you will take.
‘’We have directed the military and other security agents to be ruthless. We are not going to be blamed that we want to rig elections.”
But reacting to the president’s tough talk, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said it amounted to threat to the lives of Nigerians and a direct call for jungle justice, contending that it was an attempt to divert public attention from the national caucus’ closed session where details of its “dastardly plot to truncate the nation’s democratic process will be perfected.”
Buhari said there was no justification for the postponement of the election last Saturday by INEC, vowing to investigate the issue after the general election.
The president’s threat was preceded by a long speech by the National Chairman of the APC, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, who said the party would be pushing for an inquisition over what led to the sudden decision by INEC to postpone the poll.
Two governors, Ibikunle Amosun and Rochas Okorocha of Ogun State and Imo State respectively, were conspicuously absent at yesterday’s meeting. They are currently engaged in a running battle with the national leadership of APC.
Buhari said having gone round the country and witnessed the enormous support by Nigerians, he was not afraid of defeat at the election.
“I want Nigerians to be respected and let them vote whoever they want across the parties. I am not afraid of that. I went round the 36 states and the FCT and I think I have enough support across the country. So, I want to warn anybody who thinks he has enough influence in his locality to lead a body of thugs to snatch ballot boxes or disturb the voting system, he will do it at the expense of his own life,” he said.
The president described INEC as ‘’incompetent’’ for failing to meet the expectations of Nigerians last Saturday, adding that the electoral commission had all the time and all the resources it wanted and didn’t have to wait for only six hours to cancel the election.
He vowed to seek the reason for such incompetence, adding that the leadership of the commission would have to explain to the nation after the election.
He stated: “After the elections, we have to know exactly what happened and who is responsible. Otherwise, our efforts to make sure that this system is acceptable would have been eroded. The constitution and the law protected INEC. But they must not take us for granted.
“If for example, the National Assembly refused to approve what they wanted; INEC would have had moral reasons for why they couldn’t perform. If the time of four years of election was not constitutionally obeyed by the government, INEC would have a case.
“But we don’t understand the reason for this inefficiency and we have to go into details after the elections to find out who is responsible.”
The president, who narrated the efforts made by the party and his campaign team to ensure water-tight monitoring of the poll, charged party leaders to go back to their loyal members in all constituencies to encourage them to come out to vote on Saturday.
He said party members should exhibit maturity and be peaceful as they go to vote.
While addressing the party leaders at the meeting, Oshiomhole said shifting the polls was as repugnant as the reasons INEC gave for its action.
He accused the electoral umpire of working with PDP by sharing relevant information about the shifting of poll hours before the decision was made public.
A visibly enraged APC’s national chairman described INEC’s explanations for the postponement of the election as not only disgusting but provocative.
He said the party would not obey INEC’s order on stoppage of campaigns and would go ahead with further campaigns.
He said: “I shall put my hand on the Holy Qur’an that the electoral body shared information with the PDP that they were going to postpone the election.’’
Oshiomhole told the president that it was the collective responsibility of the APC and his administration to put to shame all those responsible for what happened last Saturday.
Oshiomhole also demanded the redeployment of certain INEC Resident Electoral Commissioners in the South-south states who he accused of exhibiting bias towards the PDP.
According to Oshiomhole, the PDP has betrayed its connivance with the INEC in the various contradictory responses from its party leaders.
Earlier, he stated that the caucus meeting was very crucial in order to restore hope to party members who may have been shocked or disillusioned by the postponement of the presidential poll.
At the end of the meeting, the party leaders expressed deep regrets over the unfortunate death of party members due to stampede as a result of overwhelming crowds during the presidential campaigns in some parts of the country.
The caucus said that it also received with shock and disbelief the last minute postponement of the February 16 elections, reiterating its disappointment over the unfortunate action, considering especially, the repeated assurances by INEC that all challenges would be overcome before the February 16 elections.
“The caucus urged all APC members to immediately commence campaigns in line with the Provisions of Section 99 (1) of the Electoral Act, which states clearly that campaigns shall stop 24 hours to the elections. Our party would therefore abide by the provisions of laws,” it said.
PDP, Atiku: President’s Directive is Licence to Kill
Reacting to Buhari’s warning to miscreants, the PDP yesterday warned that it could trigger widespread political crisis that could derail the nation’s democratic process and plunge the country into anarchy.
It described Buhari’s comment as a direct call for jungle justice and attempt to divert public attention from the caucus’ closed session where details of its alleged plot to truncate the democratic process would be perfected.
The party in a statement by its spokesman, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said it hoped that the president’s directive to security agents was not “a camouflage for the fake soldiers mobilised by the APC to shoot at innocent Nigerians, snatch ballot boxes and execute their rigging plans on the Election Day.”
It said: ‘’President Buhari must, however, bear in mind that his resort to threats and scaremongering will not deter Nigerians from coming out en-masse to vote him out of office on February 23.
‘’We are aware that President Buhari, who had earlier boasted that nobody can unseat him, is bent on using every dictatorial and tyrannical act to truncate the process of a free, fair and credible election.’’
The main opposition party said that intelligence available to it shows that the presidency had directed the leadership of the INEC to immediately reshuffle the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) in order to deploy compromised officials to manipulate the electoral process in Buhari’s favour, as they allegedly did with the police shortly before February 16.
PDP further alerted, ‘’Our party is also aware of the pressure being mounted by the Buhari Presidency on INEC to cancel elections in some states and make others inconclusive so as to achieve President Buhari’s objectives of a staggered election, not minding the crisis such will trigger across the federation.
’We want Nigerians and the international community to hold President Buhari personally responsible for any electoral crisis, otherwise he will as usual, claim that he was not aware of the plots and transfer the blame to Adams Oshiomhole and Rotimi Amaechi.”
Atiku Rejects Buhari’s Plan to Deploy Soldiers for Elections
Also reacting, the presidential candidate of the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, rejected what he called Buhari’s plan to deploy soldiers in the rescheduled general election on Saturday, saying it is an anomaly to use the military for elections in a democracy.
In a statement in Abuja by his Special Assistant on Public Communication, Mr. Phrank Shaibu, he condemned the president’s directive wondering why soldiers who are trained to fight wars are being drafted into a purely civil matter like elections.
Responding to the remarks by President Buhari that military and the police will be well mobilized to stamp out rigging and thuggery, Atiku said the deployment of troops creates an atmosphere of warfare, which in turn heats up the polity, which is why it is not a common occurrence in other climes during elections.
Atiku also kicked against the arrest of perceived members of the opposition ahead of elections, describing it as anti-democratic.
“We were shocked to hear President Buhari live on national television threatening to kill people for an offence where no such prescription exists under law. The last time we looked the death-penalty was not a sanction of the 2010 Electoral Act. In fact, threatening people with death in the context of an election is incitement to electoral violence, which is an offence under that Act,” Atiku said.
The former vice president, however, said he was not surprised that such a remark was coming from the leader of a political party that has threatened that foreigners, who intervene in the forthcoming elections, should be sent home in body bags.
Atiku said the reason the APC-controlled federal government will want to deploy the military is not to stem the rising cases of violence but for the simple reason that the APC wants to use the military to intimidate the opposition and pave the way for rigging.
He said the PDP is committed to free and fair elections but would never threaten people with their lives for contravening any law where that sanction was not prescribed under law.
He recalled that during his interview on The Candidates last month, he hinted of the establishment of the Electoral Fraud Commission (EFC) to deal, according to the laws of the land, with matters relating to electoral offences.
“I have always been a democrat and defender of our laws and constitution. So rather than make up new penalties on the spot in a press conference, our plans to establish the EFC by using the framework of the 2002 Establishing Act of the EFCC have been well researched so that we can introduce this new entity within days of assuming office.”
Buhari Inciting Military, Police against Nigerians, Says Secondus
Also reacting, the National Chairman of PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, said the president by his statement was intimidating voters.
Secondus in a statement by his media adviser, Mr. Ike Abonyi, said the president’s remarks amounted to a declaration of war on Nigerian voters and a direct incitement against them, describing it as ‘’the first of its kind in Nigeria.’’
He added that by the president’s directive, the top leaders of the APC had gotten sweeping order to move about with the military at their constituencies to harass and intimidate INEC staff and the opposition agents with a view to scaring them away in order to enable them use thugs perform their result replacement strategy.
He expressed shock that a Commander-in-Chief who has been out of action in numerous security challenges in the country, particularly the needless killings in Benue, Plateau, Zamfara States and whose regime has recorded unprecedented bloodletting in the country would suddenly wake up threatening brimstone to voters.
“In all democracies world over, elections are civil matter that is usually handled by civil security like police and wondered why the involvement of our military in this matter when they have enough security challenges to tackle,’’ he further argued.
Dickson Calls for Emergency Council of State Meeting
Speaking on the postponement of the election, Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State yesterday called on Buhari to urgently convene a National Council of State meeting to agree on a bipartisan approach to resolving all the outstanding issues regarding the rescheduled elections.
Dickson who briefed the media on his position on the deferred elections at the Government House, Yenagoa, noted that a full blown crisis was in the offing if the new dates become problematic again.
While rejecting calls for the removal of the chairman of the INEC, the governor maintained that the country must continue to build strong institutions devoid of political interference.
He added that the postponement, which came about six hours before the actual polls, had made Nigeria the butt of jokes all over the world.
According to him, the National Council of State meeting, which must be called urgently should also involve the security services, presidential candidates and INEC, so as to agree on a new date to avoid an impending constitutional crisis.
He added that without prejudice to his party’s position on the postponement, all Nigerians must join hands to ensure a free, fair and credible election which the world will be proud of.
“I call on President Buhari, in his capacity as the leader to convene an expanded meeting of the National Council of State,” he said, adding: “It is at the end of the meeting that INEC should pick a new date. I disagree with INEC on the unilateral choice of a date. I don’t believe all the challenges that INEC had could be resolved within six days, that the country should expect a hitch-free election on Saturday.”