A new twist that could accentuate the passage of the Electoral Offenders Tribunal bill has been activated with the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) instituting a lawsuit against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) over its alleged failure to investigate and probe electoral offenders during the 2023 general election. In a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/583/2023
A new twist that could accentuate the passage of the Electoral Offenders Tribunal bill has been activated with the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) instituting a lawsuit against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) over its alleged failure to investigate and probe electoral offenders during the 2023 general election.
In a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/583/2023 and filed at the federal high court in Abuja on Friday by Kolawole Oluwadare, Andrew Nwankwo and Blessing Ogwuche, SERAP wants the electoral umpire to be compelled to appoint an independent counsel to investigate and prosecute allegations of electoral offences against politicians, including governors and their deputies during the 2023 general elections.
SERAP argued that by allegedly “engaging in electoral violence and other electoral offences in so blatant a fashion, suspected perpetrators and their sponsors have clearly acted in violation of constitutional provisions, international standards and the electoral act”.
The group said the investigation and prosecution of culpable politicians will end the impunity of perpetrators and advance Nigerians’ right to freely participate in the democratic process. “Addressing the brazen impunity and reports of electoral violence and other electoral offences during the 2023 general elections would also send a strong message to politicians that they would be held to account for any infringement of the electoral process,” the suit reads.
“Election violence is inconsistent and incompatible with the principles of democracy, the rule of law, transparency and accountability for politicians to allegedly use violence to disrupt the electoral process”.
According to SERAP, “section 52 of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act allows INEC to seek the appointment of an independent counsel to probe allegations of electoral violence and other electoral offences that may have been committed by any state governors and/or their deputies.
“When politicians and their sponsors decide to engage in electoral violence and other electoral offences rather than contest fairly for people’s votes, there are possibilities that such politicians will show a disregard for democratic rules and a disposition to adopt illegal means becomes inevitable.
“Ending impunity for electoral violence and other electoral offences would promote accountability of suspected perpetrators and their sponsors, ensure justice for victims, and ultimately advance the people’s right to vote as well as bolster voter confidence in the electoral process.
“In several states, political thugs, apparently with the support of law enforcement officials, disrupted and sent back voters intending to vote for opposition parties. Party agents were reported to be directing people who to vote for while those unwilling to do as directed were denied ballot papers and forced to leave the polling units.”
The INEC Chairperson, Mahmood Yakubu, has noted that the country’s electoral process will remain ineffective without proper agency to deal with electoral offenders.
When he spoke at a public hearing on the “Bill for an Act to establish the National Electoral Offences Commission” INEC Chairperson, Mahmood Yakubu, said work on the country’s electoral process would remain incomplete if electoral offenders continue to walk freely.
While acknowledging additional powers given to the commission in the Electoral Act 2022, he argued that it is only when electoral offenders are tried and their masterminds are legally dealt with that electoral offences would be on a decline.
He regretted previous attempts to pass the bill for the establishment of the commission, saying the failure to do so had frustrated efforts to get justice against offenders in Nigeria’s courts over the years.
Different civil society groups have advocated for the unbundling of INEC and the establishment of the Electoral Offences Tribunal as a way of mitigating electoral offences and bringing offenders to book. More than 700 electoral offenders were arrested during the 2023 general elections but they are yet to be charged and tried in Court. INEC is still busy with the plethora of petitions on the 2023 elections.
The Civil Society Groups argued that setting up the tribunal would ease the burden of responsibilities currently shouldered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).