As the 2019 general elections draw nearer and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) timetable of activities for the election already released, lawyers have called for strict implementation of the electoral offences laws with particular emphasis on the role of the judiciary and law enforcement agencies.
Even as the laws prohibiting all forms of electoral offences have been outlined by the Nigerian Constitution and the Electoral Act, 2010, there has been inconsistent enforcement mechanism where for instance, in a polling unit, a party agent financially induces the voter during an election, which is an offence under Section 130 of the Act; or where an unqualified person is induced to vote at an election knowing full well that it is an offence under Section 122 of the Act.
Again, law enforcement agencies have been accused of failing to act when a presidential candidate incurs election expenses exceeding N1 billion, a governorship candidate exceeds N200 million, and when a senatorial and House of Representatives candidate exceed N40m and N20m respectively, which violate Section 90, sub 1 to 10 of the Act.
Despite the seeming enhanced preparedness for elections by INEC, electoral offences have continued to undermine Nigeria’s efforts to consolidate its democracy through the power of the ballot paper. Ironically, these are not being treated strictly as criminal offences in the manner other crimes are viewed.
INEC on its website describes electoral offences as “Any conduct – action or inaction which is prohibited by the Constitution or the Electoral Act and a breach of which attracts punishment.” It added that “electoral offences may be committed by INEC or security officials, political parties and their officials, candidates, observers, journalists/media houses or the general public.”
To fashion a way out of the menace of electoral crimes, the 2008 Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) led by Justice Mohammed Uwais recommended generally among others, the setting up of an Electoral Offences Commission, and to stop the appointment of the chairman of the electoral body to guarantee its independence.
While receiving the report of Senator Ken Nnamani-led Constitution and Electoral Reform Committee in December, 2017, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) thanked the panel for a job well done especially on the review and jurisdictional mandates of the proposed Electoral Tribunal.
Besides, the panel was mandated to review relevant judicial decisions on election petitions as it relates to conflicting judgement; absence of consequential orders; trying of judges delay in issuing Certified True Copies of judgements as well as harmonising the Electoral Act in view of the judgements with a view to enhancing all the electoral processes.
It also had the mandate to review the extent of implementation of the recommendations of the 2008 Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) headed by Justice Mohammed Uwais (Uwais Report) and advise on outstanding issues for implementation.
Barr. E.M.D. Umukoro enumerated the steps to enforce breaches in the country’s electoral laws. Such as: First, “the President must be able to show the way forward by speaking up and insisting on the enforcement of the laws. Second, the security agencies must be fully trained, retrained and equipped for the responsibility ahead.”
He went further to suggest thirdly, “that there must be synergy amongst the various government agencies. Fourth, that the government agencies must be fully funded as politicians’ lured most of the security agents with financial inducement. Fifth, the courts must treat electoral offences with dispatch. And sixth, government must ensure there is adequate publicity of the laws and the consequences of breaking the law.”
Also speaking, Hamid Ajibola Jimoh accused INEC officials, political parties and their officials, security personnel, candidates, observers, media houses, media men or the general public for being responsible for electoral offences.
He therefore submitted that: one, “the electoral offences laws are sui generis – i.e. of its own procedures; two, prosecuting agencies should be specially trained for handling electoral offences; three, there should be specialised criminal rules for electoral offences and reportage; fourth, law enforcement agencies to investigate or arrest on electoral offences should not be officers of the Nigeria Police Force, due to suspected level of corruption lingering in the police force, if we want the electoral system to work as expected; and finally, the provision of Section 150 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) will work as expected only where investigating agencies are specially trained.”
The citizens and international community expect Nigeria through the National Assembly to improve its electoral processes through the review of existing laws. The task of enforcing electoral offences will bring sanity in the system and deepen the country’s democracy.
Source: Daily Trust