The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has vowed to work with the National Assembly and all stakeholders to ensure the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal recommended by 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).
Commission’s Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, who made this known during a meeting with Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) in Abuja, yesterday, lamented that impunity has become the bane of Nigeria elections.
He warned that the best antidote to impunity will be the enforcement of sanctions under the laws without fear and favour, noting that where offenders are not punished, bad behaviour is encouraged.
“At the moment, INEC is saddled with the responsibility of prosecuting electoral offenders. We have drawn public attention to our constraint in this regard. 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 Election. 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,” he said.
To buttress the need for stringent enforcement, he said: “This meeting is taking place shortly after the govemorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi States, the conclusion of Brass 1 State Assembly Constituency in Bayelsa State, the court-ordered re-run elections in Kogi West Senatorial District and Ajaokuta Federal Constituency in Kogi State and the bye-election in Sabuwa State Constituency in Katsina State.
“You will recall that earlier in August this year, a bye-election was conducted for the Pengana State Constituency in Plateau State. This means that the Commission has either conducted or concluded seven elections in four States across three geo-political zones in the last four months.
“In addition, the Commission is also saddled with the responsibility of conducting more elections arising from the judgements of the Election Petition Tribunals nationwide. Arising from the 2019 general election, 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…
“The Commission is deeply concerned that elections in Nigeria, especially for executive positions, are increasingly characterised by brazen acts of impunity. The Commission plans for all elections to be successfully concluded and for the will of the people to prevail. 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.”