The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has again made a case for the establishment of a new commission to deal with electoral offenders.
At a public hearing on the “Bill for an Act to establish the National Electoral Offences Commission” on Tuesday in Abuja, INEC Chairperson, Mahmood Yakubu, said work on the country’s electoral process would remain incomplete if electoral offenders continue to walk freely.
The hearing was organised by the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral Matters.
Mr Yakubu, who acknowledged additional powers given to the commission in the recently signed Electoral Act 2022, argued that only electoral offenders are tried while the masterminds of the offences have not been properly dealt with.
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.
He said of the 125 cases of electoral offences filed in various courts, only 60 convictions have been made since 2015.
“The Bill for an Act to establish the National Electoral Offences Commission is a critical legislation. It has been part of all national conversations on constitutional and electoral reforms for the last 13 years,” Mr Yakubu said.
“The Justice Mohammed Uwais Committee on electoral reforms recommended it in 2009, echoed by the Sheikh Ahmed Lemu Committee following the post-election violence of 2011 and, most recently, by the Senator Ken Nnamani Committee on Constitutional and Electoral Reform in 2017.
“Similar recommendations are contained in reports of police investigations, INEC administrative enquiries, court judgments, reports by the National Human Rights Commission as well as several accredited election observers. It is clear that the reform of our electoral process cannot be complete without effective sanctions on violators of our laws.
“At present, INEC is saddled with the responsibility of prosecuting electoral offenders under the Electoral Act. This has been 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. In addition to these responsibilities, the Commission is required to prosecute electoral offenders.”
The INEC boss noted that the Commission’s incapacity to arrest offenders or conduct an investigation that leads to the successful prosecution of especially the high-profile offenders led to the suggestion to unbundle it and assign some of its extensive responsibilities to other agencies as recommended by the Uwais and Nnamani Committees.
According to him, the proposed electoral offences commission would take care of such gaps.
Mr Yakubu said he looks forward to a day in Nigeria where not just ballot box snatchers, falsifiers of election results and vote buyers at polling units are successfully prosecuted but “also high-profile figures that seek to benefit from these violations, are arrested and prosecuted.”
Dismissing the arguments against the establishment of the new commission in the past by different committees, Mr Yakubu argued that if other security agencies have been established to deal with economic and financial crimes outside the EFCC, having an agency to specifically deal with this concern (election offences) should not be regarded as unnecessary.