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When will election riggers ever be punished?

FOR the fourth time in three years, electoral  tribunals have ousted governors after lengthy judicial processes that have exposed the ineffectiveness of electoral tribunals in granting justice timely.

When Peter Obi won in Anambra State after more than 30 months in court, Nigerians hailed the judiciary. They repeated the celebrations for Adams Oshiomhole in Edo State, Dr. Segun Mimiko in Ondo State, and now Dr. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State. The average duration of these cases was more than two years.

Each time the courts make decisions on electoral cases, they leave out a vital aspect of the matters — the punishment of those who caused the infringements, including providers of false information that resulted in deliberate prolongation of matters.

We have often wondered why there would be offences but no offenders. If the cases of the four governors are reviewed, whether individually or collectively, was it possible that they were rigged out of their victories without anybody committing the offence?

Must the beneficiaries of rigged elections be set free as has always been the case? What lessons are we passing to future riggers? What is better than getting into an office illegitimately, cornering public resources for private use, without accounting to anyone, and being asked to go scotfree at the end of the day?

There are high incentives for people to rig elections. They would remain so for as long as there are no intentions, no attempts, and no inclinations to punish election riggers or if they are invisible, beneficiaries of rigged elections.

More than 10 sections of the 2006 Electoral Act, under which the 2007 elections were conducted, provide elaborate punishments for all types of electoral offences from rigging, threats, unruly behaviour at political meetings to denying others use of the mass media.

Instructively, it is not stated who should prosecute these offences. We suspect it is the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, which is always a party to the election disputes.

While contestants blame INEC in court for their losses, INEC is always insistent that elections were free and fair. INEC thinks prosecuting election offenders would be an admission of its own failure. After pleading free and fair elections in court, INEC is not in a position to prosecute election riggers as this would contradict its earlier position.

It therefore gives little consolation when President Goodluck Jonathan in congratulating Dr. Fayemi merely regretted, “that it took him so long” to access victory.

“The delay in reaching a final determination of this case once again exposes loopholes in our electoral laws which we have to plug. I am glad to note that these loopholes have caught the eyes of the legislative arm of government which is working with other arms of government to amend current legislation to ensure a resolution of these issues,” the President noted, while suggesting there was “no victor no vanquished.”

If there was no vanquished why is Dr. Segun Oni no longer the Governor of Ekiti State? It took being a victor for Dr. Fayemi to replace him. These are facts and there is no point minimising them.

The President wants both parties to work together, “so that the people of Ekiti State can continue to enjoy the dividends of democracy as they did under the previous administration of former governor Segun Oni.”

Of course, it would not be in the President’s place that to admit his party man did any wrong, or that he was a beneficiary of a rigged election. If the President cannot bring himself to this position, how would he work for electoral laws that would stop rigging?

Would whatever Dr. Oni did in Ekiti be deemed democratic when a rigged election produced him?

There are no plans to punish election riggers. The various amendments to the Electoral Act are skewed to protect politicians who invest most of their energies in thuggery and electoral violence. The lack of clarity about who would enforce the punishments in the Electoral Act could be deliberate. If thugs are charged to court, would they not name their masters?

Section 126 of the Electoral Act states: “Any person who at a political meeting held after the date for an election has been announced, a.) Acts or incites another to act in a disorderly manner for the purpose of preventing the transaction of the business for which the meeting was convened or b.)

Has in his possession an offensive weapon or missile, commit an offence and is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N100,000 or imprisonment for 12 months or both.” Is this provision not too mild considering that these thugs are armed?

More interesting is Section 138: “A person who: (a) directly or indirectly, by himself or by another person on his behalf, makes use of or threatens to make use of any force, violence or restrain;

(b) inflicts or threatens to inflict by himself or by any other person, any minor or serious injury, damage, harm or loss on or against a person in order to induce or compel that person to vote or refrain from voting, or on account of such person having voted or refrained from voting; or

(c) by abduction, duress, or a fraudulent device or contrivance, impedes or prevents the free use of the vote by a voter or thereby compels, induces, or prevails on a voter to give or refrain from giving his vote,

(d) by preventing any political aspirants from free use of the media, designated vehicles, mobilisation of political support and campaign at an election, commits the offence of undue influence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N100,000 or imprisonment for 3 years.”

How would Section 138 (d) in particular be enforced when those violating it have immunity? Most governors order state media not to air political materials from opponents even if they pay for them.

It is an aberration for an election rigger to walk away unpunished when we claim rigging is an offence. Without stiff punishment for riggers and beneficiaries of rigged elections, electoral reforms are meaningless and the crises around elections can only get worse.


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