Politicians and their supporters who are banking on ballot box snatching to win elective positions in the rescheduled 2019 general elections may meet their Waterloo as President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered security agents to be ruthless with them.
As he reiterated his commitment to free, fair and credible elections, Buhari said that anyone who dares to resort to violence or snatches any ballot box during the polls, may be embarking on such unlawful act for the last time in his life.
The president gave the marching orders to the police and military yesterday at the All Progressives Congress (APC) emergency caucus meeting in Abuja, called by the party leadership to review the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC's) postponement of the presidential and National Assembly elections fixed for last Saturday.
A tough-talking Buhari told the APC leaders present at the meeting that he had directed security agencies to "deal ruthlessly" with anyone who is involved in ballot box snatching.
The president said that INEC would have to explain the remote and immediate factors that led to the postponement of the elections after the process might have been completed, stressing that it was necessary for the strengthening of the process.
According to him, he has briefed the security agencies on what to do and had also done all that is required for them to carry out their duties on the election days.
He said: "I do not expect anybody to make any disturbance, I have briefed the law enforcement agencies and the military to identify hotspots, flash points; they should be prepared to move. They too would have made their own arrangement as possible and resources provided as much as the country can afford. And anybody who decides to snatch ballot boxes or lead thugs to disturb it (election); maybe that would be the last unlawful action he would take. I have directed the police and the military to be ruthless.
"We are not going to be blamed that we want to rig elections. I want Nigerians to be respected, let them vote whoever they want across the parties. I'm not afraid ... As you said (referring to Adams Oshiomhole), I have gone round all the 36 states and Abuja. I think I have gotten enough support across the country.
"I am going to warn anybody who thinks he has enough influence in his locality to lead a body of thugs to snatch ballot boxes or to disturb the voting system, he would do it at the expense of his own life," Buhari said.
Earlier, APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole had declared that the party would go ahead with its campaigns against INEC's directive that electioneering had been closed.
Oshiomhole said that APC's decision was informed by the provisions of the Electoral Act that campaigns stop 24 hours to the election day.
On Sunday, the opposition parties had resolved to resume their campaigns yesterday because INEC acted against the Electoral Act, which regulates the activities of the umpire and political parties.
Oshiomhole said that APC did what was expected to ensure a successful outing, including providing all logistics to all those involved in the election exercise, including party agents.
The APC chairman, who came down hard on INEC, insisted that there was connivance between some INEC staff and governors in their states and called for inquest into the development.
Oshiomhole said "And the way forward for us is that we must now go back to bear the additional cost that will entail to renew our campaigns and again INEC's own decisions to attempt to amend the law through mere administrative pronouncement namely to the effect that our campaigns are frozen. Mr. President, INEC is not in the position to make laws.
"The laws made by our parliament are superior to the opinions of INEC chairman (with all due respect to his office). The extant provision of the law is clear. When you postpone elections, it has happened before, the law says you are entitled to renew campaigns up to 24 hours before the date of the elections. It did not say you would stop campaigns on the 15th of February regardless of when the elections will actually take place.
"Therefore, as a law-abiding party, we will proceed to energise our members to renew campaigns and to urge them to come out en masse," he said.
On his concerns about INEC, Oshiomgole said: "One, we have been told that they would re-configure card readers and we were told that the numbers is about 180,000 and there are two issues. Namely: INEC, have you started? When will you finish this configuration? If they are 180,000, it means the extra is only 4,000 since we have 176,000 polling booths. Is INEC assurance that from their own projections and past experience across the country that the failure made of card readers is only one or two per cent? What is the basis for only making allowance for only 4,000? Is this based on past experience?
"Mr. President, why we need concrete answers to all these questions is that in the absence of incident forms, should there be more failing over and above 4,000, what is INEC's contingency plans to deal with that? We don't want staggered elections. We want nationwide elections, same time, same day all over the country. So, INEC needs to brief us on the basis of this small addition.
"All we have fought for is that every card reader should have a spare. So, if we have 176,000 polling units, we want to have 176,000 spares. So, whenever one fails, the other can be used. What they have done creates rooms for suspicion," he said.
PMB's Directive Call For Jungle Justice
Meanwhile, the PDP has rejected Oshiomhole's call for the reshuffling of INEC's resident electoral commissioners (RECs) and Buhari's obvious directive to the military and police to shoot on sight during the elections.
The party said yesterday, that the president's directive was call to jungle justice.
The PDP urged Nigerians not to be scared with the order and come out on Saturday to vote out the APC.
The opposition party said that the redeployment of RECs was aimed at sending compromised officials to manipulate the electoral process in President Buhari's favour, as they did with the police shortly before February 16, 2019 cancelled polls.
In a statement issued by the PDP national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the party accused the presidency and APC of plots to trigger widespread political crisis to "derail our democratic process and plunge the nation into anarchy."
Ologbondiyan said that Buhari's threat to the lives of Nigerians at the APC's national caucus meeting in Abuja yesterday, "is a direct call for jungle justice and attempt to divert public attention from their closed session where details of their dastardly plot to truncate the democratic process will be perfected."
He said: "We do hope that this call by President Buhari is 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 is indeed a license to kill, which should not come from any leader of any civilised nation.
The PDP denied any prior knowledge of the plot to postpone last Saturday's elections, saying "we categorically deny these false claims and unnecessary blackmail."
The opposition party said that it regarded the president's statement "as a call for extra-judicial killing considering the fact that there are adequate provisions in our laws to address electoral offences.
"These statements clearly indicate that our democracy has become the victim of a full-blown dictatorship, when one considers that a democratically elected president would give a directive that is in clear violation of the laws of the land which by his oath of office he is to defend and protect," it noted.
The party further observed that "with the remarks made by the president, it is obvious that the military has been given a central role and co-opted into the conduct of the election despite the fact that they have no constitutional role in our electoral process.
"The underlining fact to the above is that President Buhari and APC leaders, upon getting to their voting constituencies last Saturday, realised that there is a nationwide rejection of Buhari's re-election bid, and this has thrown them into a panic mode.
"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 acts to truncate the process of a free, fair and credible election.
"Intelligence available to us shows that the Buhari Presidency has directed the leadership of INEC to immediately reshuffle the RECs in order to deploy compromised officials to manipulate the electoral process in President Buhari's favour, as they did with the police shortly before February 16.
"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.
"It is already known that President Buhari has been unrelenting in his attempts to subdue our democracy by trying to subjugate the legislature, emasculate the judiciary and seize control of the electoral umpire.
"Nevertheless, the PDP wants to assure President Buhari that our nation is bigger than him and that Nigerians will never allow him and the APC to rig this election.
"Nigerians have reached an irreversible democratic consensus to vote Buhari out and elect the peoples candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who is ready to rescue our nation from the hardship, anguish, agony and bloodletting which the Buhari administration has plunged us," he said.
FG Set To Remove INEC Chairman, Says Dogara
Also yesterday, the PDP accused Buhari and the APC of seeking to discredit the leadership of INEC in order to sack the chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yabuku Dogara, who doubles as the technical adviser to the PDP presidential candidate, stated this at the party's press conference in Abuja.
Dogara alleged that the presidency and the APC were unhappy with the INEC leadership because he disagreed with the move by the APC to stagger the presidential elections.
He also condemned the shoot on sight order given by the president earlier yesterday.
On the alleged plot to remove Mahmood as INEC chairman, the party said: "Obviously, we know they are doing everything humanly possible to discredit INEC, remove the chairman and stall the process conscious of the fact that they cannot win this election.
"Embarrassingly, this is the first time that we have witnessed a ruling party play victim, which is a clear indication that they have lost the plot. Evidently, their recent actions and statements clearly show they are panicking and desperate to cling onto power, even when the people have rejected them" the stated.
The party also said that it supports a genuine and transparent probe into why the presidential and National Assembly elections could not hold. "We also hope that the president's inflammatory statement is not a threat aimed at intimidating the electoral commission.
"We also strongly condemn Oshiomhole's false, mischievous and inflammatory claims against our party, when he said INEC colluded with PDP to abort last week's elections. This is a very surprising statement considering the fact that the federal government controls every institution and agency involved in the electoral process, including the CBN, Nigerian Air Force, aviation authorities, amongst others."