President Muhammadu Buhari caused quite a stir on Monday when he said those who influence ballot box snatching at the 2019 elections do so at risk to their lives.
The President, speaking in Abuja at a meeting of the national caucus of the All Progressives Congress (APC), following the one-week postponement of the elections announced on Saturday, had said: “Anybody who decides to snatch ballot boxes or lead thugs to disturb, it may be that [this will be] the last unlawful action you will take…
“The whole 36 states in Nigeria, I went round. I think I have got enough support across the country to look after me. So I’m going to warn anybody who thinks he has enough influence in his locality to lead a body of thugs to snatch boxes or to disturb the voting system, he will do it at the expense of his own life.”
Having also said he was “giving the military and the police [the power] to be ruthless”, it appeared Buhari had no problem with security forces gunning down ballot box snatchers.
But what exactly does the law prescribe for this electoral offence?
Sections 129 (1) and (2) Electoral (Amendment) Act, 2010 list Election Day offences as follows:
129 (1) No person shall on the date on which an election is held do any of the following acts or things in a polling unit or within a distance of 300 metres of a polling unit-
(a) canvass for votes;
(b) solicit for the vote of any voter;
(c) persuade any voter not to vote for any particular candidate;
(d) persuade any voter not to vote at the election;
(e) shout slogans concerning the election;
(f) be in possession of any offensive weapon or wear any dress or have any facial or other decoration which in any event is calculated to intimidate voters;
(g) exhibit, wear or tender any notice, symbol, photograph or party card referring to the election;
(h) use any vehicle bearing the colour or symbol of a political party by any means whatsoever;
(i) loiter without lawful excuse after voting or after being refused to vote;
(j) snatch or destroy any election materials; and
(k) blare siren.
(2) No person shall within the vicinity of a polling unit or collation centre on the day of which an election is held-
(a) convene, hold or attend any public meeting during the hours of poll as may be prescribed by the Commission;
(b) unless appointed under this Act to make official announcements, operate any megaphone, amplifier or public address apparatus;
(c) wear or carry any badge, poster, banner, flag or symbol relating to a political party or to the election.
“A person who contravenes any of the provisions of this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N100,000 or imprisonment for a term of 6 months for every such offence,” Section 129 Subsection 3 confirms.
The following subsection lists the penalty for ballot-box-related offences. It says: “Any person who snatches or destroys any election material commits an offence and is liable on conviction to 24 months imprisonment.”
Therefore, any other punishment beyond two years, such as the one advised by Buhari, runs foul of the law.