SINCE President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Electoral Act 2010 Amendment Bill which enables the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, transmit results from the polling units to its national servers, he has consistently pledged to ensure that the 2023 elections will be free, fair and credible.
The logical thing should have been for him to take ownership of the push for the quick passage of the National Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal Bill, which has passed the second reading in the National Assembly. Doing so will instill a greater sense of mission and urgency on the lawmakers to expedite action on the Bill.
INEC is almost the proverbial lone voice in the wilderness calling for a quick action on the Bill. If passed into law, the Bill has the capacity to reduce electoral offences to a minimum. It will indeed take some burden off the INEC in ensuring that violators of the laws (Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 As Amended, the Electoral Act 2010 As Amended and INEC ’s Electoral Rules and Regulations, which define electoral offences and their punishments) will pay the price.
It is disappointing that our renascent democracy has run for 23 years (the longest uninterrupted run) without concrete legal framework to deal with election violators.
This is why our elections are bare- faced criminal enterprises where electoral officials, voters, party agents, political parties, candidates and
security agents freely help themselves to steal the vote with impunity. How can any election be declared “free, fair and credible” when law-breakers almost never get to pay for their bold efforts to sabotage the people’s mandate?
Nigeria has laws for every other activity under the sun except for, perhaps, the most important one: bringing electoral offenders to book. The importance of elections lies in the fact that this is the activity through which we choose our leaders.
If it is corrupt without mitigating mechanisms, its product will be no better. Corrupt election is the mother of all corruption. Anyone fighting corruption without cleaning out the electoral Augean stable is a pretender.
The Justice Muhammadu Uwais Electoral Reform Committee Report of 2008 had spelt out comprehensive reform of our elections.
It recommended the transfer of the power to appoint the INEC Chairman and Board to the National Judicial Commission since the President who is a party leader is a player in elections. It also called for the establishment of an electoral offences court.
We must return to this document if we must have a truly independent Electoral Umpire as in Ghana. The Electoral Offences Tribunal, an independent body, must be activated at all levels and mandated to investigate, prosecute and dispense justice as quickly as possible.
It is unrealistic to leave the pursuit of electoral offenders to INEC.