Special Electoral Offences Commission splits Nigerians


The National Assembly, particularly the House of Representatives has taken steps to establish the Electoral Offences Commission charged with the responsibility to among others, investigate all offences created in any law relating to elections in Nigeria and prosecute offenders.

Titled ‘A Bill for an Act to Establish National Electoral Offences Commission and for Related Matters, 2022,’ the proposed legislation has passed first as well as second readings and subjected for public hearing with only the consideration/adoption of report and third reading – passage left.

The piece of legislation is proposing, amongst others, a15-year jail term for anyone convicted of vote buying in any election, 20 years or a fine of N40 million for persons convicted of ballot box snatching while anyone convicted of hate speech or action which incites violence shall be liable to a minimum of 10 years imprisonment or at least N40 million.

Also, the new law proposing at least six-months jail-term or a minimum of N100,000 for anyone convicted of disturbing public peace at the venue of an election while security personnel and staff of INEC convicted of trying to influence an election in favour of a candidate in an election shall be liable to at least six-month imprisonment or a minimum of N500,000.

Other proposals include at least a 15-year jail term without option of fine for any judicial officer convicted of perverting electoral justice and at least 10 year-jail term or a fine of N5 million or both for anyone convicted of impersonating a candidate in an election.

Clause 33 (1) of the bill proposed that the Federal High Court, High Court of a State or the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja shall have the jurisdiction to try alleged offenders under the planned legislation.

However, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), presently saddled with role of handling such offences recommended that provisions be made in the bill to establish Electoral Offences Tribunal with exclusive jurisdiction to try electoral offenders a those courts are already over-burdened.

Critical stakeholders in the electoral process are backing the establishment of the commission, in that a separate body to handle electoral offences becomes expedient as INEC is encumbered and cannot prosecute or sanction those who contravene the laws governing elections in Nigeria.

Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman, in his presentation at the recent public hearing on the bill at the instance of House of Representatives Committee on electoral matters said, the reform of the country’s electoral process cannot be complete without effective sanctions on violators of the laws.

Yakubu said INEC was presently saddled with the responsibility of prosecuting electoral offenders under the Electoral Act but the task is very challenging for the Commission.

“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.

“The Commission would like to see more successful prosecution of offenders, not just ballot box snatchers, falsifiers of election results and vote buyers at polling units but most importantly, their sponsors. We look forward to the day when highly placed sponsors of thuggery, including high-profile figures that seek to benefit from these violations, are arrested and prosecuted. We believe the work of the proposed Commission will help in this regard.

“However, much as the Commission would like to see more successful prosecution of offenders, our effort is hampered by obvious constraints. INEC is basically an electoral commission with extensive responsibilities which include the registration and regulation of political parties, the monitoring of party and campaign finance, their primaries, congresses, meetings and conventions; nationwide Continuous Voter registration (CVR) and the maintenance of the national register of voters; creation of polling units (etc).” delimitation of electoral constituencies; voter education and publicity; management of electoral logistics; recruitment, training and deployment of election duty officials,” he said.

Read also: INEC, political parties back creation of electoral offences commission

Similarly, Yabagi Sani, chairman of the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) said the political parties were afraid as to how INEC was going to enforce the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022 as the commission is more or less, “bulldog that cannot bite.”

Sani however, said with the proposed Electoral Offences Commission, the political parties “believe this is the missing link with Nigeria having a credible, free fair and more inclusive election.”

He observed that, “In the membership of the commission, there is no mention of civil society groups. We are thinking that if at least one or two of them are included in the membership of the Commission, perhaps it will bring the interest of the public to be protected.”

Clement Nwankwo, executive director of Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), who backed the proposed commission, said it would be an important institution that supports INEC in delivering credible election.

He said: “It will also be an institution that supported the work that a lot of democracy stakeholders are doing in Nigeria including, civil society organisations who come out with the reports on the conducts of elections and who will like to see each election be an improvement of the previous one.

“The composition of the national electoral offences commission is very crucial that electoral offences commission must be independent, must be insulated from politics, from partisanship. And I think it was all of these considerations that led to the suggestions made by justice Uwais in his recommendations.”

On the contrary, Deborah Ademu-Eteh, Assistant commander of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), kicked against the proposed body and called for strengthening of existing security agencies to handle such tasks.

Ademu-Eteh said the offences contained in in Part IV (Sections 13-32) of the bill largely constitute offences that have already been criminalised by extant laws such as “the Electoral Act, 2022; The Penal and Criminal Codes, the Independent Corrupt practices and other related offences Act, 2000; and Economic and Financial Crimes (Establishment)Act, 2004.”

She said: “There is therefore, no need to create an agency solely for the purpose of investigating and prosecuting electoral offences most especially when our electoral process is seasonal in nature being that elections are held once in four years in the Country.

“It is our suggestion that the existing law enforcement agencies should be strengthened to achieve maximum output instead of creating a new agency of investigation and prosecution of electoral offences in the light of the ongoing plan to implement the Oronsanye Committee’s proposal by the Federal Government of Nigeria.”

Afam Osigwe, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said that it was hypocritical for the politicians that perpetrate electoral fraud to be the ones to sponsor bills to establish a commission to try them.

He said that the sponsors of the bill were just driven by ego; just to tell their constituencies that they sponsored a bill.

“There is no plan to make this work,” he said.

According to him, “It is not about establishing agencies and tribunals, what happened to the existing ones? It is not about telling government to multiply cost centres when it has not been able to effectively utilise the ones already on ground.”

He blamed lack of will on the part of government to punish offenders that has encouraged electoral fraud in the country.


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