By Dominic James
28th April 2021.
Out of all the responsibilities that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is saddled with, the prosecution of electoral offenders has been one of the most challenging, the Commission’s Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has said.
Speaking at the Public Hearing on the National Electoral Offences Commission (Establishment) Bill organised by the Senate Committee on INEC in collaboration with YIAGA Africa in Abuja on 28th April, Prof. Yakubu also revealed that since the conclusion of the 2015 General Election, only 60 out of the 124 cases of electoral offences filed in various courts had been secured.
He said that the Commission would like to see more successful prosecution of offenders, not only in terms of ballot box snatchers and falsifiers of election results but also their sponsors.
Prof. Yakubu said: “We look forward to the day when highly placed sponsors of thuggery, including party chieftains and candidates that seek to benefit from violations of the law are apprehended. We believe that the work of the proposed Commission will help in this regard.”
The INEC Chairman commended the National Assembly’s leadership and the Senate Committee on INEC for organising the public hearing, describing it as a “giant step”. He also thanked Senator Abubakar Kyari (Bornu North), Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (Delta Central) and Senator Kabiru Gaya (Kano South) for sponsoring the Bill.
He said: “I recall that Sen. Kyari, in particular, has been working on this Bill since 2016 when he was Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC in the 8th Assembly. At last, we are here today for public input into the Bill for the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission, 13 years after the recommendations of the Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais Committee on Electoral Reform (2008), echoed by the Sheikh Ahmed Lemu Committee on the 2011 post-election violence (2011) and, most recently, the Senator Ken Ugwu Nnamani Committee on Constitution and Electoral Reform (2017).
“In addition, there are issues that reinforce the recommendations of the Uwais Committee, arising from the reports of the police investigation, INEC administrative enquiries, court judgements, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and several accredited election observers.”
He said the Commission would submit a detailed clause-by-clause comment on the Bill to the Senate Committee on INEC ahead of the commencement of its technical work.
However, Prof Yakubu reiterated INEC’s appeal to the National Assembly for the expeditious passage of the Electoral Offences Commission (Establishment) Bill 2021 and the pending review of the electoral legal framework. He expressed the confidence that the National Assembly would take fast-track legislative action and conclude work on the legal framework in good time.
He explained: “The Commission is anxious to know the legal framework to govern the conduct of the 2023 General Election. By the principle established by the Commission, the next General Election will hold on Saturday 18th February 2023, which is exactly one year, nine months, two weeks and six days or 660 days from today. We hope to release the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the General Election immediately after the Anambra Governorship election, scheduled to hold on 6th November 2021. In order to do so, there should be clarity and certainty about the electoral legal framework that will govern the election. We are confident that the National Assembly will do the needful soonest.”
In his remarks, Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Kabiru Ibrahim Gaya, affirmed that between 1999 and 2019 General Elections, Nigeria witnessed “an unprecedented geometric increase” in the sequence of disruptions in elections and electoral violence across the country. He regretted that the increase did not correspond with the number of prosecutions and convictions of electoral offenders.
The initiative by a member of the Senate Committee to move for the Bill, he observed, “will no doubt change the narrative of our electoral process, a process which is conditioned by a situation where violators of Electoral Laws over the years are not deterred, neither have they been effectively prosecuted.”
He added: “The bill provides for the Commission to investigate and prosecute electoral offenders on the powers of the Attorney General and adopt measures to prevent, minimise and eradicate electoral offences.”
He assured Nigerians that the Senate Committee would leave no stone unturned to improve the electoral law and sanitise the electoral process.
Former Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Abubakar Kyari, said the intendment of the Bill is to prevent and effectively manage “a troubling sub-culture of electoral offences, impunity and violence that allows election riggers and offenders take control of government and occupy elective public offices against the democratic will of our electorate.”
He noted that while Section 149 and 150 (2) of the Electoral Act (as amended) vests INEC with the powers to prosecute alleged electoral offenders, the Commission “is not equipped to prosecute the said electoral offenders unless otherwise determined by a Tribunal.”
He added: “More significantly, with less than 100 legal officers and other operational challenges, INEC clearly does not have the required capacity to prosecute electoral offences committed across Nigeria’s 119,973 polling units, 8,809 Wards, 360 Federal Constituencies, 109 Senatorial Districts and 774 Local Government Areas.”
The INEC team included five National Commissioners – Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu, Dr Adekunle Ogunmola, Barrister May Agbamuche-Mbu, Barrister Festus Okoye and Malam Mohammed Haruna. Others include the Chairman’s Aides – Chief Technical Adviser, Prof. Bolade Eyinla; Special Adviser, Prof Mohammad Kuna, Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi, Director (Legal Services), Mrs. Toyin Babalola, Director (Operations) Mr. Abdulazeez.T Yusuf and Director (IC&P) Engineer Okop Umobong.