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Wanted: Special courts for electoral offences

ELECTORAL rigging is considered as the mother of all other maladies in a democracy. Once a mandate is obtained through fraudulent or criminal acts it lacks legitimacy. This is a precursor for corruption and lack of accountable leadership.

Electoral crises

The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the body constitutionally empowered to conduct elections in Nigeria, defines electoral offences thus: “Any conduct – action or inaction which is prohibited by the Constitution and the Electoral Act and a breach of which attracts punishment…electoral offences may be committed by INEC or security officials, political parties and their officials, candidates, observers, journalists/media houses or the general public”.

Some of the offences specified between Sections 117 and 131 of the Electoral Act 2010 (As Amended) include the forging of electoral materials, giving or accepting bribes or financial gratification (which is called “treating” in some advanced democracies), voting at elections by unqualified persons (such as under-aged persons and foreigners), use or threat of violence and a host of others.

In spite of these and other extant laws aimed at cleaning up our electoral process, most elections in Nigeria are conducted more in breach of the law than in  observance of its provisions. After a brief period of improved credibility in our electoral process between 2010 and 2015 (during which the ruling and opposition parties freely won and lost elections and congratulated one another because of perceived acceptability), recent elections give great cause for worry.

Of particular concern are the local government polls conducted by the states in which the ruling parties in the states invariably sweep all seats. Also, the elections in Edo, Anambra, Ondo and Ekiti continued to show that the darkest days of the brazen reign of electoral criminality are closing in again. The election officials, security agencies, political parties and their agents have thrown caution to the winds; the buying and selling of votes are no longer concealed.

The major reason for this utter disregard for our electoral laws is that there is very little deterrence. Offenders are not brought to justice after elections though sometimes arrests are made.

The proposed Nigerian Electoral Offences Commission should be created without further delay to tackle this issue. The Bill on this in the House of Representatives is still a long way before such a body becomes a reality.

While we wait for the tedious constitutional process of creating this body to play out, we call on the Chief Justice of Nigerian, CJN and the National Judicial Council, NJC, to create Special Courts to focus on electoral offenders. Given the giant strides recorded through a similar experiment in tackling corruption offences we are convinced that it will make a profound impact towards sanitising our elections.

 

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