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Election violence: What remedy for victims?

With the Presidential, National Assembly, governorship and state Assembly elections held, though supplementary elections were ordered in six states by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, following their inconclusiveness, a new date of March 23, has, however, been fixed for supplementary elections to be held in those states, namely: Benue, Kano, Sokoto, Bauchi, Plateau and Adamawa.

With the elections almost out of the way, attention is gradually shifting fully to the tribunals.

As a matter of fact, the Presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, Atiku Abubabar is at the tribunal already. One common feature in the just-concluded February 23 and March 9 elections is the violence that characterised the process. About 30 persons were said to have been killed during the Presidential and National Assembly elections of February 23.

About the same number was killed during the governorship and state Assembly elections. Aside the deaths recorded, many are still in the hospitals on account of injuries sustained during the polls.

This edition of Vanguard Law and Human Rights, features two lawyers, Mr Macaulay Ugwummadu, who is also Chairman of Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, CDHR and Chief Morah Ekwunoh, Principal Partner at M.C. Ekwunoh & Co, as they wrote on remedies available to victims of election violence.

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Excerpts:

Electoral Act should be amended to protect Nigerians during elections —-Ekwunoh

The recent orgies of violence which punctuated the recently held elections in Nigeria, particularly in relation to the presidential election, have called for succinct examination of the place of our laws in aid, assistance and protection of their numerous victims, in line with the legal maxim and aphorism of ubi jus ibi remedium.

States prominent in the most unfortunate unleashment of violence on sea of innocent citizens, who trooped out, in droves, in patriotic response to clarion calls for performance and discharge of civil duties and responsibilities to the country, include, but are not limited to, Rivers, Lagos, Borno, Adamawa, Kano, Kwara, Kaduna and Akwa Ibom. In these and other states, many people who went to purify the streams of democracy ended up in mortuaries and, if lucky, in hospital wards.

No doubt, sponsorship of the acts of violence arises, mostly, from politicians, either with their parties’ subterranean support, or of their own individual motions, with its embers being fanned more in geo-political areas where performances of such parties and politicians are expected to be abysmally low.

Sadly, plethora of penal provisions in the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended, against perpetuation of electoral violence, though couched in fine platitudes, never frontally addressed direct remedial issues germane to violent afrontations, appurtenant to such victims, personally.

Such provisions as sections 94, 95, 96, 98, 126, 128 and 131 of the Act merely legislate against such highly reprehensible actions, as display or use of physical force, violence, coercion, incitement, disorderly conducts and manners, possession of offensive weapons, undue influence, infliction, or threat of infliction, of physical or spiritual injuries, abduction, duress and related criminalities, without converse provisions as to beneficial remedies such as restitution in integrum provisions, open and accruable to such victims. This is certainly, a sorry and regrettable lacuna in the Act.

With the unfortunate lacuna in the Electoral Act (supra), victims of such electoral violence have no choice than to have recourse to, and look upon, the provisions of both the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, (as amended); and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, (Ratification and Enforcement), as encapsulated in Volume 1, Cap.A9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, to which Nigeria is a leading signatory, in the comity of African nations.

In the case of constitutional remedies, provisions in Chapter 4 thereof provides clear legal roadmaps for victims’ enforcement of infringed fundamental rights, as may inure to them. Sections 33 (1), 35 (1), 41, 44 and 46 (1), among others, of the Constitution (supra) readily come in aid of such victims.

Similarly, African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights ( Ratification and Enforcement Procedure) Act (supra), also, provides the fulcrum and hub upon which the engine of remedies revolve in favour of victims. Parts of its relevant provisions in this respect include Articles 4, 5, 6, 12, 13 and14 thereof.
Also exist are remedies under the common law of torts, under which the victims can sue under a different and distinct procedure.

In view of the obvious lacuna in the Electoral Act, as shown above, legislative intervention, through urgent amendment of the Act, with a view to adequately not only providing much-needed protection for millions of Nigerians during elections, but also affording them, or their next-of-kin, in the event of death, commensurate restitutions.

Here, enactments by some states, led by Lagos State, which made adequate provisions in their Administration of Criminal Justice Laws for compensation of such victims of electoral violence, can provide proper template.

In this way, the ‘aladdin cave’ brazenness with which such violence is unleashed on the citizenry will be annihilated and made a relic of the ugly past, thus not only realising the loudable objectives and intendments of the Electoral Act.

Perpetrators of the heinous acts will also be punished for their evil behaviours, and made examples of, in the overall public interest. The victims or their relations, as the case may be, on their parts, will have the deep larceration of feelings inflicted on them assuaged.

 

Victims can approach courts for redress —-Ugwummadu

Certainly, the nation can neither afford nor be indifferent to the consequences of election-related violence and human rights abuses.

Under the Electoral Act 2010, a few election-related violent behaviours and abuses could be found in Sections 117(1)(a) dealing with acts of defacing, destroying &removing notices of documents required for registration; 128 relating to general disorderly conducts at election; 129(1)(f)(i)(j) dealing with offences on election day and in particular, being in possession of offensive and dangerous weapons, loitering without excuse, snatching and destroying electoral materials respectively and 131(1)(a)&(b) relating to the general behaviour of threat of use of force and inflicting injury.

The following remedies are available for victims of electoral violence and abuses.

(a)Criminal Prosecution:
Where the alleged violent act amounts to an outright crime so described and punishable under our criminal laws, then the State must find the will to condemn and show enough resentment by arresting, investigating and prosecuting the culprit at the behest of the victim who should be the complainant and a possible witness in the prosecution.

(b) Under S.150 of the same Electoral Act 2010, the Commission, INEC, is empowered to prosecute the culprit which could attract some remedial/restitutive reliefs in favour of the victim depending on the injury caused.

(c)Compensation and Restitution:
Depending on the scale of the violence and impact, the Government of the day may constitute a panel of inquiry whether judicial or administrative, with a view to ascertaining the actual degree of injury, abuse or deprivation and adequately compensate and rehabilitate the victims.

(d)Enforcement of Fundamental Human Rights:
Where the alleged violent behaviour and abuses complained of amounts to a breach of the fundamental rights of the victim, (s)he reserves the right under S.46 of the 1999 Constitution and Ord.2 of the Fundamental Rights(Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009 can approach either the State or Federal High Court of the State where it occurred to seek redress over the violation.

(e)Disciplinary action:
The victim can file a petition to the relevant higher authorities against identified individual(s) or state functional with a view to ensuring that disciplinary measures or possible criminal prosecution are initiated under the extant laws.

(e)Compensation:
The victim can institute an action for the enforcement of his fundamental right and claim adequate compensation against the individual and the institution that he represents if the violation is perpetrated by operators of the coercive institution.

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