Nigeria 2019: When Words Become Dangerous Portents, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú
Clearly, the fear of loss, despite the denial, caused the president to misdirect his anger…The shoot at sight order will likely aid voter suppression on Saturday. Out of the fear of possible violence, most voters, especially in the South where the military are good at baring their fangs, are likely to sit at home.
Words have meaning and they can be used to devastating effects, especially when the tone is given virility. On February 18, 2019 at the All Progressives Congress (APC) caucus meeting, President Muhammadu Buhari said: “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.” It is rather disappointing that the president will deploy a blanket and inciting rhetoric to security operatives to kill anyone, whose conduct is deemed to have violated the electoral law.
Is there any hope for a country whose leader is promoting a climate of impunity? Can we build a united nation with the sort of divisive language that politicians have been using? The president went further: “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 or her own life.” What exactly is the definition of “disturb the voting system”? Would insisting on the correct tallying of votes at the polling booth be interpreted as disturbing the voting system? How about keeping vigil at the collation centre? Given the kind of military and law enforcement we have, the president’s remarks is an open sanction that voters may come to some kind of physical harm or be killed altogether if they challenge any violation to their power to choose a candidate at the polling booth. The police and the Army are known to always support the ruling party in this country. When anyone does anything that may be in support of the opposition this election season, the military and law enforcement would be obeying an order if they shot such person dead. The Army spokesperson, Sagir Musa confirmed that logical point when he told PREMIUM TIMES that: “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.” And, there you have it!
It is so sad that a president who knows the pain of defeat and has fought to keep this country one, will be quick to call for the killing of ballot snatchers, while he remains passive and quiet about the herdsmen issue. Till date, the president has given no solution to stem the carnage from the killing fields of Zamfara. Nor, as indicated, has he expressed urgency in bringing to book the marauding herdsmen who kill, main and dispossess people of their homes and lands in Benue and Taraba. The best we have heard is his plea to accommodate and surrender ancestral lands to the nomadic Fulanis for grazing.
It is so sad that a president who knows the pain of defeat and has fought to keep this country one, will be quick to call for the killing of ballot snatchers, while he remains passive and quiet about the herdsmen issue. Till date, the president has given no solution to stem the carnage from the killing fields of Zamfara.
For months, President Muhammadu Buhari did not deploy any fiery rhetoric to halt the building maelstrom in the once peaceful North-West. Several parts of the North-West have fallen to the deadly arms of Fulani bandits from God knows where. They take tolls, collect taxes and issue trade permits to locals, while the government looks on perplexed! Under Buhari, the once immune South-West joined the South-East as the hotbed of kidnapping for ransom. No shoot at sight order was prescribed for kidnappers and security chiefs were neither mandated nor charged to smoke them out. On February 23, 2019, many people from Plateau, Nasarawa and Benue States will vote from Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. They have been chased away or lost their homes to rampaging Fulani herdsmen.
Back to the election. Clearly, the fear of loss, despite the denial, caused the president to misdirect his anger. In the era of card readers, the real election riggers are those who rewrite result sheets. The shoot at sight order will likely aid voter suppression on Saturday. Out of the fear of possible violence, most voters, especially in the South where the military are good at baring their fangs, are likely to sit at home. Nigerians, and indeed the whole world, know the appetite of our Armed Forces for human rights violation. Without provocation, the nation’s military and paramilitary forces are known to kill Nigerians extrajudicially. On Saturday, any voter who insists on his or her franchise can be killed. That is the potential tragedy our president has lent his weight to. With every step, Buhari has succeeded in demystifying himself in unexpected ways. I’m glad he won in 2015, otherwise, we may have erroneously canonised him. If he wins again, he may create a special place for himself in infamy. What a letdown he has been!