The House of Representatives has rolled out a proposal that would ensure stiff punishment for electoral infractions and promote fair and credible polls.
In a proposed legislation tagged: “A Bill to Establish the National Electoral Offences Commission, the lawmerkers propose at least 15-year jail term for anyone convicted of vote buying in any election and 20 years or a fine of N40 million for persons convicted of ballot box snatching, 15 years for anyone convicted of destroying or defacing a voter’s card, sells or offers to sell or purchase 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.
Similarly, the Green chamber is 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.
The 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 amongst others.
This is as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) stressed the need for the prosecution of sponsors of electoral offences as a means of curtailing the menace.
The Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, at the public hearing by the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral Matters in Abuja said the electoral body would want to see not just the prosecution of electoral offenders, but also their sponsors, who are usually beneficiaries of electoral crimes.
He noted that the reform of the electoral system would be incomplete without effective sanctions against violators of the rules.
According to him, “at present, INEC is saddled with the responsibility of prosecuting electoral offenders under the Electoral Act. This has been very challenging. 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.”
Yakubu stated that in as much as INEC is desirous of seeing more successful prosecution of electoral offenders, its efforts is hampered by its other functions, hence the need for a National Electoral Offences Commission.
“The Commission’s incapacity to arrest offenders or conduct investigation that leads to successful prosecution of, especially the high-profile offenders, led to the suggestion to unbundle the Commission and assign some of its extensive responsibilities to other agencies as recommended by the Uwais and Nnamani Committees. For those who argue that the solution does not lie in expanding the federal bureaucracy by creating a new commission, we believe that the National Electoral Offences Commission should be seen as an exception. While there are other security agencies that deal with economic and financial crimes, I am yet to hear anyone who, in good conscience, thinks that it is unnecessary to have established the anti-corruption agencies.”
However, the INEC boss disagreed with Clause 33 (1) of the Bill which confers jurisdiction for the prosecution of electoral offenders on federal, state and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) high courts. Yakubu, while stating that the courts were already over-burdened, canvassed for the establishment of an Electoral Offenders Tribunal with exclusive jurisdiction to try electoral offences.
Similarly, he faulted clause 44 of the bill, which empowers the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to make rules for the proposed commission.
“Conferring additional power to any other body may cause friction or conflict with the Commission which should be independent in the discharge of its functions even if doing so requires consequential amendment to other laws of the Federation to empower the Commission and guarantee its independence.”
Regardless, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), kicked against the bill, saying the establishment of the commission is not necessary.
The EFCC, in a presentation by Deborah Ademu-Eteh, assistant commander, said rather than establishing a new commission to tackle electoral offences, existing agencies should be empowered to undertake the task.
“It is apposite to state that these offences are offences that the Nigerian police, the Federal Ministry of Justice, the Economic and Financial Crimes (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) and even the Independent National Electoral Commission (in Section 145 of the Electoral Act, 2022) are empowered under our extant laws to investigate and prosecute.
“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 4 years in the country.”
Earlier, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, while declaring the public hearing open, said despite recent successes recorded by INEC in the Ekiti and Osun states governorship polls, a lot still needs to be done to improve the country’s electoral processes.
Gbajabiamila, who was represented by the deputy speaker, Idris Wase, said: “While we acknowledge that even our recent governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states signifies a milestone in Nigeria’s democratic evolution, there is no doubt that a lot of work still needs to be done to take the country to the point where elections are devoid of the usual challenges of violence, fraud and abuse of process.
“A review of our past elections indicate the need for the National Assembly to take necessary legislative steps to address identified challenges and plug the loopholes encountered with the conduct of elections in this country. In truth, electoral crimes lead to low quality, corrupt and violent political leadership. It helps election riggers and offenders take control of governments against democratic will of the electorates.
Civil disturbances and violence resulting from manipulated elections strain otherwise harmonious communal relationships with adverse effects on national cohesion, peace and security because rigged elections throw up political schemes that are not conducive for businesses and the national economy. Electoral offences are self-inflicted injuries to be avoided at all cost.”
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