The Nigerian Army has reacted to a controversial statement issued by President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday that all those planning to snatch ballot boxes may be carrying out their last illegal acts.
The comment is already generating heated debates in the polity with many saying the president's statement is a veiled sanction to security operatives to kill (extrajudicially) those who run afoul of the electoral law.
The president made the statement at the All Progressives Congress (APC) caucus meeting on Monday.
A leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, has, however, defended the president saying President Muhammadu Buhari was 'misinterpreted'.
The Electoral Act prescribes two years in jail, not death, for persons found guilty of snatching or destroying election materials.
Lawyers also argue that Section 33 of the Nigerian Constitution gives instances where "one may forfeit his/her life as a result of certain scenarios".
The Nigerian Army on Monday added another twist to the debate when it told PREMIUM TIMES it will obey 'totally and effectively' such order if it is given by Mr Buhari.
"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," Army spokesperson Sagir Musa told PREMIUM TIMES when reached for comments about whether the military would review its rules of engagement if Mr Buhari gave an order for shooting of ballot box snatchers.
The Nigerian Army had earlier said it would deploy personnel for the elections, but only on contingent bases on the outer perimeter of communities rather than near polling units.
The police did not immediately return requests for comments about how they would treat any controversial directive by the president.
What Buhari said
President Buhari on Monday afternoon ordered security forces to be ruthless against anyone caught snatching ballot boxes after citizens had voted.
"Anybody who decides to snatch boxes or lead thugs to disturb the election, maybe 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 president said at a gathering of the ruling All Progressives Congress on Monday in Abuja.
The president's order comes as Nigerians prepare to vote at the rescheduled general elections starting on Saturday.
Mr Buhari, who was elected in 2015, is standing for reelection, with Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party being his most potent challenger.
The president's order has ignited nationwide uproar, with critics accusing him of heating up the polity at a time both local and international groups are suing for tranquillity.
Snatching of ballot boxes, which has been highly detrimental to the electoral process in the past, has been rendered largely futile in recent elections, following the introduction of technology.
Where ballot boxes are snatched, extant electoral guidelines require that the affected polling units be cancelled for a fresh election.
Critics say the president's order, even though it marked the clearest warning yet to potential political thugs, could be abused by security operatives for its blanket tone.
Nigerian security personnel are known to open fire on protesters and other civilians at the slightest provocation.
Only on Sunday, a video showing how officers of the Nigerian Customs Service killed a civilian at a checkpoint sparked nationwide condemnation.
The Customs spurned the incident as being provoked by persons who tried to disarm the officer, even though the video showed in circulation told a different story.