We need electoral offences commission now – INEC

Arising from the judgements of election petition tribunals on the 2019 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said it would conduct re-run elections in 30 constituencies across 12 states of the federation.

The elections, the commission said, included two senatorial districts out of 109, 13 federal constituencies out of 360, and 15 state constituencies out of 991. 

INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, said this Tuesday at a meeting with Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) in Abuja.

He also said, “the commission will continue to work with the National Assembly and all stakeholders for the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal.”

 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 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 and favour. Where offenders are not punished, bad behaviour is encouraged,” he further 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.

“For instance, in the 2015 general elections held in 1,490 constituencies (excluding the 68 constituencies in F CT where elections were not due as was the case in 2019), re-run elections by court order were held in 80 constituencies (5.37%) made of 10 senatorial districts, 17 federal constituencies and 53 state constituencies across 15 states of the federation. 

“The commission will continue to improve on our processes in spite of the extremely challenging environment created by the action and inaction of actors outside our control,” he said. 

The INEC boss said the meeting with the RECs was important “to undertake our internal appraisal of recent elections, beginning with briefings by the RECs responsible for the states where elections were held. 

“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. 

“It is for this reason that this meeting will discuss the bill recently referred to the Committee on INEC by the Senate. Copies of the bill have been made available to the RECs for critical evaluation and input. 

Highlighting the indispensability of the smart card readers, the INEC chairman said:”One critical area that the commission will engage the National Assembly is the status of the Smart Card Reader (SCR). Let me reiterate that the SCR has come to stay. It cannot be jettisoned or abandoned. 

“Rather, the commission will seek ways by which its utility in elections can be enhanced for the triple objectives of verification of the genuineness of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), confirmation of ownership and fingerprint authentication of voters. The status of the SCR must be provided for and protected by law. Similarly, accreditation data from the SCR should be used to determine over-voting and the margin of lead principle.

“The judgement of the Supreme Court on the primacy of the voters’ register as the determinant of over-voting in law merely draws attention to the lacuna in the electoral legal framework which must be addressed through immediate and appropriate amendment to the Electoral Act. 

“The Commission will present a proposal to the National Assembly on this matter as well as other areas in which further deployment of technology will deepen the integrity of our electoral process”, the INEC chairman said.

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