‘Tribunals not solution to electoral malpractices’
• Urges preventing electoral offences, not prosecuting offenders
One challenge that elections have suffered in Nigeria since the return of civil rule in 1999 is the credibility of the process that produced the supposed winners of elections.
Such allegations like snatching and snuffing of ballot boxes, multiple voting, outright disenfranchisements of certain electorate, intimidation, and collusion with officials of the electoral commission among others have become common in the country’s electoral processes.
Politicians on the other hand, have kept the courts busy with evidences that a supposed winner never emerged in accordance with the rules and regulations and in the process heated the polity the more.
It could be recalled that to check the ugly trend, successive administrations have embarked upon electoral reforms, which included setting time frame for conclusion of election matters as well as the extent to which certain courts and individuals could go in pursuing matters relating to the outcome of elections.
However, while the courts have continually adjudicated on contentions arising from conduct of elections as well as stripping ‘victories’ secured illegitimately, the implementation of approved sanctions for those who fouled the process seems to be the missing link.
The development is the cause of current debate for the setting up of election offenses tribunal to try cases of Nigerians who have manipulated the process to gain undue advantage over their opponents.
A former Resident Electoral Commission (REC) for Anambra and Enugu states, Prof Chukwuemeka Onukogu canvassed that setting up electoral offences tribunal to try electoral offenders would not discourage the trend.
Onukogu, who argued that such tribunals would not deter electoral offenders, likened it to duplicity of functions. Instead of setting up electoral malpractices tribunal, he suggested the strengthening of existing institutions in line with constitutional provisions to enable them deliver on their electoral mandates and on the long run impact effectively on the fledgling democracy.
However, the former Director-General of the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Prof Elo Amucheazi, maintained that talking about such issue when the country was faced with several other challenges was diversionary and uncalled for.
Speaking with The Guardian, the former Resident Electoral Commissioner said the country should set up more High Courts across the federation with each state having a minimum of ten High Courts.
He contended that if there are many High Courts where all kind of offences are tried, then there would be a quicker and faster dispensation of criminal justice, saying “In this way it will be relatively much faster and easier to try electoral offenders in our High Courts. By implication we should have more courts of appeal that can try cases that come from the high courts.”
“Secondly, there is the need to increase our Police manpower so that we can have more police officers to investigate electoral and other offences. Since our Police Force does not have enough personnel to investigate cases brought to it; many cases that should be speedily charged to court are not. In some cases because of shoddy and even no investigation at all, many cases are not prosecuted. They lie fallow untreated in Police case files. Even if we set up Electoral Offences Tribunal such cases can never be prosecuted if they are not investigated.
Besides, he urged that the legal departments of INEC at the National and State offices take over the responsibility of prosecuting electoral offences as soon as the police complete its investigation.
“We should at all levels of school system especially from secondary include the electoral process in our school curriculum. At the Junior and Senior Secondary School levels, the electoral process should be embedded in the curriculum and its role for the enhancement of good governance in the land vis-a-vis overall well being. If they know the horrible consequences of committing electoral offences, they will not want to commit such offences. Let the emphasis be on preventing the electoral offences than in preparing to prosecute them. My primary school teacher thought me in 1953 that prevention is better than cure. Let us through sound education prevent electoral offences,” he added.
Also, Onukogu want students in the country to understand the electoral process as a catalyst to the promotion of good governance and as a tool for the attainment of sustainable development.
“Let each student passing through our tertiary institutions know the pain and agony that are bound to affect our country if our electoral process is short-circuited and sabotaged by electoral offenders. Let us put in place a dynamic curriculum that will enthuse them to shun electoral offences in all their ramifications and strive to promote the electoral process. When such products of our tertiary institutions leave school they will resist the temptations of politicians or anyone for that matter to recruit them to commit electoral offences. If there are no electoral offenders, there will be no need for Electoral Offences Tribunal. Let us, therefore, take proactive steps and measurement to prevent electoral offences and not to anticipate them,” the former REC stated.
But Amucheazi, who believed that the issue was distractive said rather than talk of election tribunals, the discourse should be on restructuring Nigeria.
This he noted would enthrone real democracy, which in turn would bring about peace, good governance and growth in the country.
“What we should dissipate energy discussing is the restructuring of the country in line with tenets of true democracy so as to deepen our democratic practice to benefit the ordinary people. Whether they are talking about fighting corruption, to me it is a distraction, whether they are talking about policies to cushion the hunger in the land is also a distraction. What is important is to go to the basics, restructuring the country and entrench the real basics for democracy”.
A lawyer and President General of a Pan Igbo Organization, the Aka-Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, however, disagreed with him insisting that the idea and suggestion of setting up electoral offences tribunal was part of restructuring, having featured and adopted as one of the resolutions of the 2014 National Conference.
He said: “The setting up of electoral offences tribunal was one of the issues considered at the National Conference in 2014. It was agreed that the Federal High Court should have a division to handle constitutional matters. Other divisions will handle criminal, commercial and civil matters. It is important to stress that nobody has been tried conclusively for electoral offences. Police and INEC are always passing the responsibility to each other.
“The court will deepen our democracy in the sense that people will be held accountable for their actions. Today, the norm is to win election first and worry about the mortality later. The federal government is in the best position or even the National Assembly to initiate this. But the Chief Judge of Federal High Court can create the divisions silently even today as one of his directives.
“Electoral malpractice is carried out by the perpetrators in the full view of the electorate and with impunity too. Any action to bring them to book will be welcome to the electorate provided we have a truly independent electoral commission. This is also one of the reasons why we need an Attorney General who is answerable to the people only”.
At a political forum held recently in Enugu, a Professor of Law, James Afolabi stated that such courts have become necessary following the deceit and lies trailing elections in the Nigeria, stressing that the electorate would continue to waste their time, unless sanctions began to be meted on those who contravened the electoral rules.
Recalling the elections of 2007 conducted under Prof Maurice Iwu and how he (Iwu) was praising the outcome as ‘credible’ “even when the beneficiary, late Yar’Adua disagreed and with three judges of the Supreme Court disagreeing on the outcome against four”, he stated that such offences tribunal would have taken up the matter from there, “if they are in existence and will now ask the then chairman some questions about his claims”.
He said that it was part of the “robbery against innocent Nigerians for the National Assembly not to have approved such courts when they moved and adopted certain changes in the Electoral Act. What it means is that, they knew they are culpable and want to continue to benefit from the wrong thing. We must be seen as working towards sustaining values if this country must continue to survive”.
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