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Nigerians Fear as They Go to the Polls

Ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections which were shifted by a week are now being held today. Fears of possible outbreaks of violence have gripped many Nigerians and may likely scare some of them away from the elections.

The presidential aspirants, particularly Buhari and Abubakar, were busy on the campaign trail as they approached the election finish line. They have crossed the country to attend rallies where they attracted enormous crowds.

During the campaigns, several deaths occurred. Apart from clashes between supporters of the ruling APC and their arch-rivals in the PDP, other pockets of violence, including the killing of over 60 people during attacks on two communities in Nigeria’s Northwestern Kaduna state, have been reported from various places in Nigeria.

There have also been reports of the killing of APC officials in Benue, Rivers and Imo states. All of these have sent ripples down the spines of Africa’s largest democracy as it prepares to vote.

On Monday, Buhari gave what can be best described as a military order when he asked the military and the police to deal ruthlessly with ballot box snatchers during the elections.

While speaking at a national caucus meeting of the APC, he said that miscreants who attempt to disrupt Saturday’s presidential and National Assembly elections would do so at the expense of their lives.

“I am going to warn anybody who thinks he has enough influence in his locality to lead a body of thugs, snatch ballot boxes or to disturb the voting system that he will do it at the expense of his own life,” Buhari said.

After giving orders to the military, many Nigerians, including civil societies and supporters of the main opposition party have continued to pour scathing criticisms directed at the president, with some describing it as undemocratic and others saying it is intended to scare voters away from the polls so the ruling APC can manipulate the vote.

The National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, said that president Buhari gave marching orders to the military and the police to help leaders of the APC oppress Nigerian voters in his desperation to cling to power.

At a press briefing organized by the Young Friends of Atiku, in Enugu, Eastern Nigeria, the pro-Atiku group condemned the presidential order insisting that Buhari should have signed the amended sections of the Electoral Act to avoid all forms of thuggery instead of issuing death threats to Nigerians.

Describing the decision as uncivilized and unprecedented, the Director General of the group, Silas Onu, said that the order given by the president is one that has no objective mode of application or enforcement, thereby leaving the army with a subjective discretion of determining what to describe as an act of box snatching.

The Coalition of United Political Parties, CUPP, asked Nigerians and the international community to hold Buhari responsible for any loss of life during the elections.

It said that Buhari was unambiguous in his call that citizens should be shot dead if they tried to snatch ballot boxes during the elections and that it was the most callous public statement ever made by a sitting president.

PAN Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, also described Buhari’s directives to the army as a call for jungle justice. The group said that the directive was quite unfortunate, condemnable and unacceptable as it is capable of being manipulated against voters by overzealous political opponents.

At an emergency meeting of the PDP leadership which was held after Buhari’s order, Atiku Abubakar advised the military not to obey what he described as unlawful orders.

His party asked the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, to instead concentrate on his very demanding assignment of protecting the territorial integrity of the nation and ending the deadly insurgency rather than dabbling into partisan politics.

In his response, Buratai demanded that the PDP presidential candidate withdraw his advice which he said was tantamount to incitement.

“It is unfortunate to hear persons who are aspiring to rule this country again inciting the army to disobedience,” the army chief said, adding that “direct and public incitement of the Nigerian Military against democracy and constituted civil authority will not be tolerated.”

He reiterated that one of the core values of the military was loyalty to constituted authority and that must be 100 percent.

In its response to the Buhari’s order, the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu said at a press conference in Abuja on Tuesday that the commission would stand by the Electoral Act which states that persons who snatch election materials are liable to a prison term of two years or a maximum fine of around $1,377 US dollars.

Reacting to the Buhari’s comment, Yakubu maintained that the position of the commission is that all violators of the Electoral Act should be punished according to the provisions of the Act.

In a televised nationwide broadcast in Abuja on the eve of the rescheduled election, Buhari charged electorates not to be afraid of rumors of violence and unrest.

The president asked electorates not to allow anyone to discourage them from exercising their rights as citizens and voters saying that the nation’s security agencies would ensure that adequate security measures were in place.

He emphasized that his administration had put in place adequate security measures that would enable the electorate to vote in an atmosphere of openness and peace, devoid of fear from threat or intimidation.

“As citizens, there is no greater duty than this and no greater honor. Tomorrow, I know you will once again make Nigeria proud of its people. Our security agencies have worked diligently to ensure that adequate security measures are in place,” he said during the broadcast.

Nnamdi Obasi, a senior Nigeria researcher with International Crisis Group told Al Jazeera that “the intensely acrimonious exchanges between the two major political parties have already resulted in many clashes, risking further violence during and after the polls. Nigerian elections have often been characterized by violence and with political tensions now further aggravated by current conflicts and deepening insecurity, there are fears that this election would be no different from the ones in the past.”

The president has made efforts, through his speech, to reassure the people of their safety during the polls. But one thing remains, that Nigerian voters are going to the polls with every sense of trepidation.