Readers who are familiar with tittles of some popular detective fictions of 1970s and 1980s would recall “The guilty are afraid” as the title of a 1957 thriller novel by a British writer, James Hadley Chase. Born in London in 1906 and died in 1985; Chase had a canon of 90 novels with themes that cut across crime fiction, mystery, and detective. It is said that 50 of his books have been made into films.
Only a man with gifted brain would find it easy to recall the story line of all the novels read 40 years ago. I read most tittles in James Hadley chase series between 1979 and 1980 while I was a primary school teacher in Agaie, Niger state. Now, I can only remember the narrative of few novels particularly those with fascinating stories in the Hadly Chase series. They include “The joker in the pack”, “My laugh comes last”, “The paw in the bottle”, “The sucker punch”, and “The things men do”. It’s not the story in “The guilty are afraid”, but its title, that I find relevant for this piece. James Hadley chase must have had Nigerian ballot box snatchers and their sponsors in mind when he chose this title for his novel.
While no national embarrassment in the past one week could be worse (in the opinion of this writer) than the shifting of the February 16, 2019 polls to February 23, 2019 (today), President Muhammadu Buhari’s comment on ballot box snatchers generated more noise than the reactions that followed last week’s election postponement. Although elections were shifted in a similar manner in 2015, voters who travelled in 2015 to their voting destinations did not have to travel back a week later for the same elections. Instead, they only had to wait 48 hours longer to cast their votes since the elections due for Saturday were only shifted to Monday.
To forestall a lower turnout of voters in the re-scheduled elections and to also cushion the effect of those who need to travel again over long distances to cast their votes, the federal government on Wednesday February 20, 2019 ordered the immediate payment of February salary to civil servants. Yesterday, Friday, was also declared a work free day. Similarly, some airlines have reduced their ticket tariffs by 50 percent subject to passengers showing their Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) at the point of purchase. The Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) equally ordered its members to bring down the pump price of petrol from N145/liter to N140/liter. The National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) directed its members to reduce transport fares by 15 percent.
Following the announcement by the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Prof. Mahmood Yakubu of the postponement of elections, the All Progressives Congress (APC) convened an emergency caucus meeting of the party. Speaking at the meeting in Abuja summoned two days after the postponement, President Buhari vehemently warned against interference in the electoral process. He said, “I am going to warn anybody who thinks he would lead a body of thugs in his locality to snatch boxes or disturb the voting system; he would do it at the expense of his/her life”. Buhari also said INEC Chairman shall have to, after the elections; explain to Nigerians what actually happened.
In a swift reaction to the riot act read by President Buhari to ballot box snatchers, mischievous politicians, detractors and evil minded individuals and groups began to condemn and misinterpret Buhari’s statement; obviously for ulterior and self-serving motives. The National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Uche Secondus, condemned the threat to ballot box snatchers; saying it amounted to a “declaration of war on Nigerian voters and a direct incitement against voters”. Atiku Abubakar of the PDP also said, “Threatening people with death in the context of an election is incitement to electoral violence”. Others have also translated Buhari’s remarks to either mean “shoot at sight” or “kill voters”; as if the gains of Buhari’s comment exclude opposition candidates.
With brazen desperation, political mischief makers are making frantic efforts to misinterpret every comment made by President Buhari in order to tarnish his credible image and ridicule his political fame. They have been doing this in the crudest form with so ubiquitous propaganda that attention is substantially diverted from real issues. As a result, the substance of matters is either downplayed or lost to needless controversies. For instance, the time and energy that should have been devoted in the past one week to putting INEC on its toes were deployed by Buhari’s detractors to generating and spreading unfounded insinuations.
But why should anyone be disturbed by Buhari`s warning against ballot box snatching if he/she is not nurturing any intentions to snatch ballot boxes? Why also should a law-abiding student worry over the warning by a school principal that students caught washing clothes during prep period would be expelled from school even though such is not a major bound-breaking that ordinarily attracts expulsion from school? Deep-seated attitudinal phenomena require stern warnings and measures if only to scare potential offenders from perpetrating such criminal acts. I fully stand with Festus Keyamo in his likening of ballot box snatching to treason or treasonable felony, which is punishable by death. I concur with his position that “ballot box snatchers are armed robbers by definition of the law”.
It is discernable from the fuss over President Buhari’s caution against ballot box snatching that some Nigerians are still not prepared to quit their corrupt old ways of doing things. Of course, it goes without saying that only those who have plans to snatch ballot boxes on election days would be jittery. But even if Buhari’s words were literally taken for granted, one would expect that everyone who longs for free, fair and peaceful elections would throw his weight behind the presidential order for total clampdown on ballot box snatchers. The guilty are really afraid.
Ballot box stuffing and snatching, vote buying, and election results mutilation are some of the intractable electoral offences that have, over the years, hampered the emergence of credible leaders in Nigeria’s general elections. The hullabaloo that immediately trailed Buhari’s comment on ballot box snatchers clearly illustrates how some Nigerian elites and corrupt public officers do not wish him a second term in office; a prayer that shall not be answered, insha Allah. May Allah (SWT) support the triumph of truth, honesty and trust as epitomized in President Buhari over falsehood, dishonesty and corruption in the 2019 general elections, amin.