The sanctity of elections vs the sanctity of human life

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By Onyedikachi Edeh

The Constitution  of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) provides for both the sanctity of human life and the sanctity of elections in Nigeria.

 

 

Section 33 (1) provides thus: “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.”

Section 7 (4) provides thus: “The Government of a State shall ensure that every person who is entitled to vote or be voted for at an election to House of Assembly shall have the right to vote or be voted for at an election to a local government council.”

Section 178 (5) provides thus: “Every person who is registered to vote at an election of a member of a legislative house shall be entitled to vote at an election to the office of Governor of a State.
I reproduced the above provisions to support that assertion that the sanctity of life and the sanctity of elections in Nigeria both has Constitutional roots. If both should come into conflict, which should be given precedence? This seems to be the situation in Anambra State at the moment.
In January 2021, the Independent Electoral Commission INEC, released a timetable for the 2021 Anambra Gubernatorial elections which the electoral umpire has scheduled for November 6, 2021. By the said timetable, various activities such as party primaries, publication of party candidates,  electioneering campaigns and so on were lined up to precede the actual elections. It is now barely one month to the date of the elections but the coast is not clear.

I recent days, there has been tragic attacks on both individuals and institutions by some masked gunmen. With the open opposition of the IPOB to the holding of elections in Anambra State, the group becomes the prime suspect in these attacks. But it should not be hurriedly forgotten that elections in Nigeria has a terrible history of coming with various degrees of pre and post election violence. Hence it may not be conclusive to assume without more that these attacks are carried out by persons with links to IPOB. The question which our security intelligence system needs to answer is: are these increased security breaches in Anambra State more connected with the agitations of the IPOB or closer to the regular electoral violence which has regrettably become an electoral bride in Nigeria?



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It is worrisome however that instead of the government, especially at the centre, to make concerted efforts at solving this puzzle and arresting the escalating security tension in the state, it is more interested in threatening everyone with a possible declaration of a state of emergency in the state. Such an approach seems to suggest that holding an election at whatever cost was more sacrosanct than arresting the worsening human conditions in the state caused largely by the attacks of the unknown gunmen. Elections are the means by which the populace participate in the democratic process  of chosing their leaders. Whenever that element of popular participation is threatened or not assured, then the electoral process becomes a shell – a mere formality.

To my mind, the stance of the government which suggests that it is more interested in the formality of an election rather than securing peoples’ participation in the process is already flawed. How would anyone expect that people who are already terrorised and who feel so threatened would freely come out to cue and vote on November 6? I am not a prophet of doom but I can say with certainty that the outcome of the November 6 elections in Anambra State already have some legitimacy questions to answer.

The government should try to put the horse before cart especially in view of Section 180(3) of the Constitution which permits the extension of the Tenure of the incumbent when the state is at war. The Nigerian State is currently at war with various terrorist groups and if one of them is responsible for the security breaches in Anambra State as variously alleged, then this provision can be lawfully activated provided concrete steps are being taken to restore security normalcy in the State.

 

Onyedikachi Edeh

Legal Practitioner, Abuja.

 


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