The move to establish the Electoral Offences Commission is one of the redeeming features of the ongoing attempt to reform elections in Nigeria. On Tuesday, July 13, 2021, the Senate passed the “National Electoral Offences Bill 2021”. Our bicameral parliament is expected to agree on the relevant provisions of the Bill and forward it to President Muhammadu Buhari for possible approval.
We join millions of well-meaning Nigerians to eagerly await the signing into law of this legislation. For too long, electoral criminals have gotten away with their crimes against our democracy. Because the politicians are the biggest beneficiaries of electoral malfeasance, efforts to put a check on it have been half-hearted at best.
The 1999 Constitution (as Amended) vests both regulatory and operational electoral powers on INEC. Time and experience, especially in the past 22 years, have proved that INEC is simply not in a position to pursue and prosecute electoral criminals. According to the Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission, Kabiru Gaya, the Commission was not even able to prosecute one per cent of the 870,000 and 900,000 electoral offenders apprehended after the 2015 and 2019 general elections respectively. Because there was no deterrence in 2015, the number of offenders jumped further up in 2019. It will be worse going forward if nothing is done now.
We have been strong advocates for the unbundling of INEC and the establishment of a special mechanism outside the routine functions of the Commission to pursue and bring offenders to book. Elections, being the means by which the citizenry hands over the state mandates to politicians, should not be left without punishment for those who seek to tamper with the people’s sacred power to choose through ballot snatching, figures falsification, armed violence, ballot box stuffing, vote buying and the harassment of poll workers and the electorate.
The Commission should be to electoral fraud what the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is to corruption. It should arrest and prosecute electoral offenders and their sponsors, investigate electoral fraud, and ensure that those who obtain our mandate through false pretences or violence are made pay.
With such a Commission in place, the number of electoral offences will automatically plummet, especially if its operatives are allowed by politicians to do their jobs. Our democracy will be the better for it, and good quality leadership materials who currently think politics is “too dirty” will be encouraged to vie and serve.
In addition to the Commission, we also advocate for a special court for electoral offenders. This will help in speeding up trials and giving justice to those who deserve it. The creation of a special court is the necessary next step.
This is an unfinished business.