The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has declared that the failure over the years to systematically and consistently enforce sanctions against individuals who flout established laws during elections has encouraged impunity and violence that often characterize electoral contest in Nigeria.
Speaking at a Public Hearing on a Bill to establish the National Electoral Offences Commission and For Other Matters Connected Therewith (2017), organized by the Joint Senate Committees on INEC and Judiciary on 12th March at the National Assembly complex Abuja, Prof Mahmood Yakubu regretted that the development had led to the subversion of people’s will, and by extension, also undermined the nation’s electoral democracy.
Part of the problem, according to the INEC boss, is that while the Commission is saddled with the responsibility of prosecuting electoral offenders, Section 150 (1) and (2) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) empowers INEC to prosecute electoral offenders through its Legal Officer or any Legal practitioner appointed by it, but without the power to arrest and investigate such offenders.
Prof Yakubu argued that without the capacity to make arrest and investigate violations, the Commission’s prosecutorial role had been severely hampered.
Notwithstanding the constraints, he affirmed that the Commission had successfully prosecuted some electoral offences. His explained: “Arising from the 2015 General Elections and subsequent bye-elections, 124 cases on electoral offences were filed and so far, 60 convictions have been secured.
Yet, these convictions are a far cry from the large number of electoral offences that occur. There are several factors responsible for the inadequate success, ranging from the huge prosecutorial task, dependence on other agencies for arrest and investigation, time and resources against the backdrop of INEC’s extensive responsibilities of conducting elections and managing pre and post election litigations.”
Underscoring the need for the proposed commission, the INEC Chairman said: ‘The consideration and passage of the Bill is long overdue given the strong advocacy by two previous Committees set up by the federal government – the Electoral Reform Committee (the Uwais Report) 2008 and the Committee on the Post-Election Violence (the Lemu Report) 2011.
In their mutually reinforcing recommendations, the two committees strongly advocated the establishment of Electoral Offences Commission/Tribunal for the enforcement of laws, to address all forms of electoral offences and consequently stem the incidence of electoral violence that has undermined the stability and progress of Nigeria’s electoral democracy.
“While the Uwais Report was transmitted by the executive to the National Assembly in 2010, the Whitepaper on recommendations of the Lemu report directed the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to take steps towards the establishment of the Electoral Offences Tribunal.
Nearly a decade later, there has been no legislative action on these aspects of the recommendations of the Uwias and Lemu reports, making the present effort by the Senate and the concurrent effort by the House of Representatives a welcome development.
“The creation of the National Electoral Offences Commission with powers to arrest, investigate and prosecute all violators of electoral laws will go a long way towards ensuring that perpetuators of electoral offences are punished. The Bill, when passed into law, will not only ensure speedy and effective prosecution of electoral offenders, it will also enable INEC to focus and prioritise on its other extensive responsibilities as an Election Management Body.”
Prof Yakubu also presented INEC’s five recommendations on the Bill. He noted that the composition of the proposed Commission “is heavily tilted towards ex-officio representation.“
He observed that out of the proposed 17-member Board, 12 were to be drawn from existing agencies.