…As bill to establish the national electoral offences commission scales second reading
By Henry Umoru
MOVES by the Senate to come up with a National Electoral Offences Commission that will sentence or convict a candidate, any person or agent who destroys a ballot Box or papers during election for a term of twenty years Imprisonment, got a boost as it scaled second reading yesterday at Plenary.
The Bill entitled, ” An Act to Establish the National Electoral Offences Commission and for Other Related Matters, 2019 is sponsored by
the Chairman, Senate Committee on FCT, Senator Abubakar Kyari, All Progressives Congress, APC, Borno North and Co- sponsored by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo- Agege, APC, Delta Central and the Chairman, Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Kabiru Gaya, APC, Kano South.
President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan later referred the Bill to the Senator Kabiru Gaya led Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC to revert back to plenary in four weeks.
According to the bill, no candidate or agent of his or any other person shall grab, loot, damage or destroy in any manner ballot boxes or ballot papers or any other electoral document or material, before, during and after an election, or take or attempt to take or cause to be taken ballot boxes or ballot papers or any other electoral document or material before, during and after an election without the permission of election official in charge of the election at a polling station.
There was however a fine of at least N40, 000,000 for such an offence, just as the Bill is prohibiting hate speech and any who in the course of politics or election, uses or directs the use of threatening words, behaviour or action, or display or directs the display of any written material which is threatening or incites violence is guilty of an offence that is liable, on conviction, to imprisonment for a term of at least Ten years or a fine of at least forty Million, or both.
The new bill is also proposing a term of fifteen years when found guilty of destroying, snatching or opening a ballot box when you are not so authorised.
If the proposed amendment scales through, any person who votes when he is not entitled to vote is also liable to an imprisonment of fifteen years, just as this applies to any one who puts into any ballot box approved by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC or a State Electoral Commission anything other than the ballot paper which he is authorised by law to put in.
In the proposed amendment, a person shall also be jailed for fifteen years if without due authority, takes out a polling station any electoral document or he is found in possession of any electoral document outside a polling station.
The Bill which has already passed first reading, also seeks an imprisonment of twenty years without an option of a fine for a Judicial officer or officer of a Court or Tribunal who is found guilty of corruptly preventing electoral justice, before, during and after election and if he directly or indirectly receives or accepts for himself or for any other person or on behalf of other persons, any money, gift, loan, property, valuable consideration, office, place, employment or appointment, or promise of personal enrichment for the purpose of giving, rendering, procuring or directing a Judicial decision in favour of or against a particular person or party in an election petition or any matter relating to an election conducted pursuit to the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The Bill also states that “all National officers of any associations or political party, as the case may, that contravene the provision of Clauses 222, 225(1), (2), (3) and (4) and 227 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999( as amended) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable, on conviction to imprisonment for a term of at least five(5)years or to a fine of at least Ten Million Naira( N10,000,000), or both.”
The Bill has also pegged fifteen years Imprisonment for any person, ” Acting for himself or on behalf of any organisation or political party or candidate or his agent or other person, shall, with an intention of prejudicibg the result of any election, damage or defame, in any manner, the Character of any candidate in an election or his family member by making, saying, printing, publishing, distributing, posting up, airing, or televising, or cause to be made, said, printed, published, distributed, posted up, aired or televised, before or during any election, any matter in the print or electronic media including radio, television, the internet, online or social media, which he knows or believes to be false in relation to the personal character or conduct of the candidate or his family member or by making false accusation on ant matter in a manner likely to make others believe such matter to be true.
If the Bill scales through and a new Commission is established, it will now be made compulsory for candidates at an election to submit a statement of expenses to the Commission at most Six months after the election and the statement shall be in form to be prescribed by the Commission from time to time.
The National Electoral Offences Commission when established, shall have the power to appoint and maintain, as its officers, employers, investigators, prosecutors, experts and other persons with qualifications, experience and skills in fields that are relevant to the Commission’s functions, to perform such duties as may be necessary from time to time.
Earlier in his lead, sponsor of the Bill, Senator Kyari said, “I stand to present this Lead Debate for the Second Reading of a Bill for an Act to establish the National Electoral Offences Commission (NEOC) and for Related Matters. You will recall that the Bill was read for the first time on the Wednesday, 27th November, 2019
“This 9th Senate has so far vested an unprecedented public goodwill from our appreciative nation With the introduction of the amendments to the Electoral Act No. 6, 2010. By that bold step, this Senate connected very well With our electorates and renewed itself as the bulwark of our democracy. This happened because of our extraordinary leadership and commitment to meet challenges plaguing our electoral processes with solutions that accord With global best practices. It is only wise to build on that achievement With this Bill that seeks adequate deterrence and sanctions for undemocratic forces in our electoral environment.
“Electoral crimes lead to low quality, corrupt and Violent political leadership. Electoral crimes help election riggers and offenders take control of governments against the democratic will of the electorate. Electoral offences give birth to political apathy that forces the electorates to political incrementally disengage from political process. Political violence precipitates Vicious cycles of political instability and national insecurity. Electoral corruption leads to avoidable waste of public resources and threaten national development in social-political and economic contexts. 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, the national economy decays from declining Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs), declining Gross Domestic Product (GDP), increasing unemployment, and general fall in the volumes of both local and global commerce. Electoral offences are self-inflicted injuries to be avoided at all cost
“Decisive deterrence through efficient criminal prosecutions is the most effective strategy for defeating electoral offenders. To this end, Section 149 and 150(2) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) respectively vests the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with the discretion and powers to prosecute alleged electoral of ( enders. For clarity, both sections provide as follows.
“Section 149 ”The Commission shall consider any recommendation made to it by a Tribunal with respect to the prosecution by i t of any person for an ojj‘ence disclosed in (my election petition.”
”150(2) A prosecution under this Act shall be undertaken by Legal Officers 0f the Commission (INEC) 01′ any Legal Practitioner appointed by it”
“By the wording of Section 149 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended), INEC is not clearly enabled to prosecute alleged offenders unless otherwise determined by a Tribunal. More significantly, with less than 100 Legal Officers and other operational deficiencies, INEC clearly does not have the needed human 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.”
According to him, “By the foregoing statistics, it is unrealistic to expect INEC to conduct free, fair and credible elections and simultaneously prosecute offences arising from the same elections. Indeed, INEC has itself, admitted that it lacks the wherewithal to cleanse the system. ‘Its failure to prosecute even one percent (1 per cent) of the 870,000 alleged electoral offences in the 2011 general elections is an affirmation of the necessity of a paradigm shift on how we deal with electoral offences. INEC’s open failure to prosecute electoral offenders has helped to sustain a reign of systemic election, rigging, electoral Violence and manipulation, disenfranchisement of voters, votes buying, disinformation, ballot stuffing, voters’ register manipulation, declaration of false election results, destruction or invalidation of valid ballots, tampering with election systems, and voter impersonation. This has itself fuelled patriotic calls for INEC to be divested of that statutory duty. It is Widely agreed that this duty is an undue burden on INEC. It distracts INEC from its core constitutional mandate of conducting elections. And the answer is in the establishment of a Commission charged with this important duty. Some human rights activists even argue that under our criminal jurisprudence, it is unsound for INEC to double as both the complainant and prosecutor in matters of alleged electoral offences.”