Desirability of electoral offences commission

The reassurances by the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) , Professor Mahmood Yakubu, to the effect that the commission will continue to work with the National Assembly and all stakeholders for the establishment of the electoral offences commission and tribunal is indeed a welcome development. The move will go a long way in ensuring the diligent and expeditious dispensation of electoral cases and matters.

Yakubu, who was speaking in Abuja last week, said arising from the judgements of election petition tribunals on the 2019 general elections, INEC would conduct re-run elections in 30 constituencies across 12 states of the federation. He said the elections included two senatorial districts out of 109, 13 federal constituencies out of 360, and 15 state constituencies out of 991.

Yakubu said  several presidential committees, namely, the Uwais committee on electoral reform (2008), the Lemu committee on post-election violence (2011) and, most recently, the Ken Nnamani committee on constitutional and electoral reform (2017), had made recommendations for the establishment of the electoral offences commission and tribunal.

Explaining the commission’s constraint in prosecuting electoral offenders as well as the need for the establishment of the electoral offences commission and tribunal, the INEC chairman said:  “We have no capacity to arrest offenders and conduct investigation without which successful prosecution is impossible.

“Over the years, we have worked closely with the Nigeria Police. Since 2015, we have received a total of 149 case files, including 16 cases arising from the 2019 general elections. The cases are prosecuted in the states where the alleged offences were committed. Unlike pre-election and post-election cases, there is no timeframe for the prosecution of electoral offenders.

“A case may go on for several years. Some of the cases were dismissed for want of diligent prosecution, while in some states, the attorneys-general entered nolle prosequi to get the alleged offenders off the hook.

“Even where the commission recorded the most successful prosecution of electoral offenders following the violence witnessed in the Minjibir state Assembly bye-election in Kano state in 2016, it is unclear how many of the 40 offenders sentenced to prison with the option of fine actually spent time in jail. The fine was paid presumably by their sponsors.

“That is why we believe that the electoral offences commission and tribunal will dispense justice dispassionately and speedily in the same way that the electoral court deals with violators in other countries such as South Africa. We also hope that the security agencies will get to the root of all violations and support the commission to prosecute not just the thugs that terrorise voters and INEC officials, snatch election materials at polling units and collation centres, but their sponsors as well.”

 Lamenting that elections in Nigeria, especially for executive positions, are increasingly characterised by brazen acts of impunity, Yakubu stated that the commission plans for all elections to be successfully concluded and for the will of the people to prevail. He also exonerated the commission from election malpractices. “It is inconceivable that INEC will make elaborate arrangement for the deployment of personnel and materials and then turn around to undermine ourselves in the field on election day.”

“Impunity has become the bane of our elections. The best antidote to impunity is the enforcement of sanctions under our laws without fear or favour. Where offenders are not punished, bad behaviour is encouraged,” he said.

“Arising from the 2019 general elections, a total of 807 post-election petitions were filed at the tribunals. Out of this figure, 582 were dismissed, 183 withdrawn by the petitioners, 30 for re-run election and 12 for issuance of certificates of return. This means that the commission is required by order of the tribunals to conduct re-run elections in 30 constituencies across 12 states of the federation involving two senatorial districts out of 109, 13 federal constituencies out of 360 and 15 state constituencies out of 991.

“In a majority of cases, elections are to be re-run in just a few polling units, some of them in only one polling unit in the entire constituency,” Yakubu also stated. Drawing a contrast from the 2015 elections, he said: “You will recall that elections were held in 1,558 constituencies nationwide in the 2019 general elections.

“The 30 constituencies into which rerun elections will be conducted represent 1.92% (approximately 2%) of the total number of constituencies. The commission believes that we are making progress in this respect.

 “Lessons learnt from these elections are important in fine-tuning our processes, especially in view of the impending review of the electoral legal framework for which the commission will vigorously engage the National Assembly and stakeholders.

We commend INEC’s commitment towards electoral reforms in the country, particularly its desire for the establishment of the electoral offences commission and tribunal, which is long overdue. It is our considered opinion that the electoral offences commission and tribunal, when operational, will address the plethora of electoral irregularities and violence that had stymied the nation’s electoral system over the years, thus deepening the integrity of our electoral process.

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