…Offenders to Incur 5 Year Jail Term, Huge Fines …Civil Society Pushing for Visa Ban The long arm of the law may soon catch up with devious politicians, electoral offenders and sponsors of thuggery, ballot box snatching, vote buying and other forms of election infractions as the National Assembly leaks into shape the National Electoral
…Offenders to Incur 5 Year Jail Term, Huge Fines
…Civil Society Pushing for Visa Ban
The long arm of the law may soon catch up with devious politicians, electoral offenders and sponsors of thuggery, ballot box snatching, vote buying and other forms of election infractions as the National Assembly leaks into shape the National Electoral Offences Commission (Establishment) Bill 2021.
The Bill may finally lead to the abasement of these obnoxious practices that have bedevilled Nigeria’s elections for many years, as it contains stiff penalties including jail terms and the payment of huge fines for culprits, with some members of civil society also proposing visa ban for electoral offenders that may send the chill down the spines of the political elite.
An upbeat Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu who sent warning signals to politicians across party lines that their antics to mar election outcomes may soon lead them to jail, assured Nigerians and stakeholders in the political process that sanity will be totally restored to the electoral process when the Bill seeking the establishment of the National Electoral Offences Commission is passed by the National Assembly and the prosecuting body put in place.
Expressing his excitement on the Electoral Offences Bill which will take the burden of prosecuting electoral offenders off the Commission, the INEC chairman explains why the electoral body will be relieved.
“No doubt, INEC is saddled with so many responsibilities ranging from the registration and regulation of political parties, registration of voters, delineation of constituencies, conduct of elections/bye-elections/referendum/recall and prosecution of electoral offences, among others. The tasks are Herculean.
“Of the numerous responsibilities carried out by the Commission, the prosecution of electoral offenders has been one of the most challenging. For instance, since the 2015 General Election, 125 cases of electoral offences were filed in various courts out of which 60 convictions have been secured so far, including the most recent one in Akwa Ibom State.”
He added that the establishment of the prosecuting commission will complete the entire electoral reformation process needed to be put in place before the 2023 General Election.
Delivering a keynote address on Wednesday at the public hearing of the Bill sponsored by Senator Abubakar Kyari (APC Borno), former chairman, Committee on INEC and Electoral matters in the 8th Senate, Yakubu lamented that INEC expended huge sum of its budgetary allocations on legal matters resulting from these prosecutions.
“We will like to see more prosecution offenders not just of ballot box snatchers and falsifiers of result of election but most importantly, their sponsors.
“We look forward to the day when highly placed sponsors of thuggery including chieftains of political parties and candidates will be prosecuted. By doing so, we believe that we will send an even bigger message,” he said at the public hearing jointly supported by the European Union and Yiaga Africa.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC and Electoral Matters, Senator Kabiru Gaya, said between the 1999 and 2019 elections, the country had witnessed an increase of electoral violence across the country.
This he said, did not correspond with the number of prosecutions and convictions of electoral offenders.
Gaya, a former Kano State Governor, said the “Bill will no doubt change the narrative of our electoral process, a process which is conditioned by a situation where violators of Electoral Laws over the years are not deterred neither have they been effectively prosecuted.”
Programmes Director, Yiaga Africa, Ms Cynthia Mbamalu is equally excited about the Bill.
“Today is an important day for us as Nigerians as we begin the process of providing a more effective system for combating the culture of impunity in our electoral process. Over the years, we have experienced elections that are bedevilled with electoral malpractices, electoral corruption and more worrisome, electoral violence.
“As a cardinal feature in a democracy, elections should in all sense be free, fair, credible and transparent. It should guarantee the rights of voters to choose their leaders and ensure that the process is not manipulated at the expense of the will of the people.
“This has not been the case, with previous elections witnessing increasing cases of electoral offences from the pre-elections phase to election day and the post-election phase,” she posits.
Mbamalu further reveals that, “While offenders are sometimes apprehended, prosecution of these offenders have been really poor enabling a culture of impunity. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has severally called our attention to the challenge they face in prosecuting electoral offenders.
“INEC as the election management body has a broad mandate already and have consistently called for the establishment of an independent body to focus on electoral offences. Beyond INEC, the recommendation for the Electoral Offences Commission dates back to the Justice Uwais Committee. It was further re-emphasized in the Lemu Committee, the 2014 National Conference and the Ken Nnamani committee.
“We therefore commend the 9th Assembly for moving forward with the process and calling citizens and stakeholders to this public hearing on the National Electoral Offences Commission Bill. It is our hope that this process galvanizes citizens proposals and evolves with an Establishment Act. This is an important Bill in the electoral reform agenda, and we look forward to its success as we work to build citizens confidence in Nigeria’s electoral process.
“On behalf of Yiaga Africa and our Partner, the European Union, I congratulate the National Assembly Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for listening to the people and convening this Public hearing.
“Yiaga Africa remains committed to supporting the electoral reform agenda to achieve a citizens-responsive legal framework for elections. Finally, I congratulate Nigerians, for once again believing in the future of our dear country. The future of our democracy is dependent on the collective effort of all Nigerians,” she added..
Meanwhile, the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice faulted some sections of the bill.
A representative of the Minister, Mr Abah Anthony, said “Section 6 and 7 of the proposed Bill — the Functions and Powers, propose to empower the Commission to prosecute electoral offences — appear to run contrary with section 174 of the Constitution on the powers of the Attorney-General of the Federation with respect to all public prosecutions.
“This explicit proposal would amount to a duplication of powers. At best, the Bill may propose for the power to prosecute electoral offences to be obtained via a fiat of the Attorney-General of the Federation or of the State, where applicable.”
Presentations were also made by representatives of the National Youth Service Commission (NYSC), the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), and members of the civil society organisations such as Yiaga Africa and Policy and Advocacy Centre (PLAC).
The Bill seeks to establish Electoral Offences Commission for the investigation of electoral offences and of electoral offenders in Nigeria.
Functions of the Commission will be to
(a) enforce and administer the provisions of this Bill;
(b) investigate all electoral offences created in any law relating to elections in Nigeria;
(c) prosecute offenders under this Bill subject to the provisions of clause 174 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) (on the power of the Attorneys‐General of the Federation respectively to institute, continue, takeover or discontinue criminal proceedings against any person in any court of law).
(d) liaise with the Attorney‐General of the Federation and electoral bodies in the Federation and government security and law enforcement bodies and agencies in discharges its duties under this Bill;
(e) maintain records of all persons it investigated and prosecuted;
(f) liaise with other bodies within or outside Nigeria involved in the investigation or prosecution of electoral offences;
(g) adopt measures to prevent, minimize and eradicate the commission of electoral offences throughout the Federation; and
(h) carry out such other activities as shall be necessary or expedient for the full discharge of all or any of its functions under this Bill.
The Commission shall have power to –
(a) investigate, arrest and prosecute any person, corporate body or organization –
(i) alleged to have committed an offence under this Bill, the Electoral Act No. 6, 2010 (as amended) or any other law relating to elections in force in the Federation or a part thereof,
(ii) alleged to have corruptly perverted or undermined the course of electoral justice.
(b) adopt measures to prevent, minimize and eradicate the commission of electoral offences throughout the Federation.
Offences arising from violating existing laws will also attract the following penalties:
(1) Any person who violates or acts in breach of the provisions of the Electoral Act No. 6., 2010 (as amended) or any other law on or regarding elections in force in the Federation, or a part thereof, shall be guilty and sanctioned to the extent of such violation or breach as prescribed in the relevant or applicable law.
(2) All national officers or executives of any association or political party, as the case may be, that contravene the provision of Clauses 221, 225(1), (2), (3) and (4) and 227 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable, on conviction to imprisonment for a term of at least five (5) years or to a fine of at least Ten Million Naira (N10,000,0000), or both.