The constitutionality of President Buhari’s declaration

There has been much criticism, comments and tensions since the declaration of the President, warning ballot box snatchers with a threat to life. I have decided to look at this from a constitutional point of view because the constitution remains the supreme law of the land and as such, all other laws including the electoral law are secondary to the Constitution.

Some have argued that the declaration by the President is a threat to life and as such, a violation of the right to life guaranteed in section 33 of the Constitution. It should be noted that no right is absolute. Every right is a privilege because the Constitution itself has stipulated circumstances where a person could not allege a violation of his or her right.

While it true that the electoral law has stipulated punishments for electoral malpractices, these stipulations cannot override the express exceptions stipulated in section 33 of the Constitution. In fact, depending on the circumstances, the exceptions stipulated in section 33 of the constitution supersede the provisions of the electoral law.

The fundamental question now is whether ballot box snatching falls under the umbrella of exceptions mentioned in section 33 of the constitution. There are three exceptions stipulated in section 33 when the right to life could be justifiably be violated. They are: For the defence of any person from unlawful violence or defence of property; In order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; For the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny.

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Looking at the above exceptions, it is very clear that the life of a ballot box snatcher could be lawfully violated under paragraphs 2 and 3 above. First, snatching of a ballot box is an offence under the electoral law. Thus, a ballot box snatcher is exposing his life to risk because by paragraph 2 above, a security agent is under a duty to prevent snatching of the ballot box and in the process of making an arrest, the offender may be killed without violating his right to life. This is in view of the fact that one cannot expect a security agent to stand still while electoral offences are being committed.

Also, by paragraph 3 above snatching of ballot box could amount to an act of insurrection. An act of insurrection includes revolt, uprising, disobedience to express authority and much more. Therefore, snatching of the ballot box is an act of uprising capable of truncating our nascent democracy.

In conclusion, the declaration by the president was just a warning telling Nigerians that your right to life could be inflicted within the framework of the Nigeria Constitution.

Therefore, my questions to dissenters are: do you have any intention of snatching a ballot box? If no, why worry?
On the other hand, if you have any intention of snatching a ballot box, be worried because you are exposing your life to unbearable risk.

Abdulkadir Bolaji Abdulkadir is a Senior Lecturer, Department of Public Law, Faculty of Law, University of Ilorin.

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