Violence, inconclusive elections and Uwais reforms
But while the Bayelsa governorship election has not been enmeshed in the constitutional crisis that may be resolved only by the Supreme Court, violence once again reared its ugly head prompting the INEC to cancel the poll in Southern Ijaw local government and rendering the election inconclusive.
Predictably, violence in elections, which is a major bane of politics in Nigeria, has become a basis for arriving at inconclusive results. This is in spite of promises by the government and the electoral body to curb the menace; it has refused to abate with consequences on the Nigerian polity.
Election-related casualties and communal violence in northern part of Nigeria sequel to the April 2011 presidential elections resulted in over 800 deaths, according to the Human Rights Watch even when the poll was adjudged as one of the freest and fairest in the country.
Soon after the presidential election, supposed supporters of president Mohammadu Buhari, then presidential candidate in the election, began demonstrations in most part of the north. This later twirled violent with mobs razing homes, vehicles, and properties allegedly of the ruling party stalwarts, most of whom were Muslim, and traditional leaders who were seen to have backed the ruling party. They were said to have targeted and killed Christians and persons of southern Nigerian stalk, who were perceived to be supportive of the ruling party.
“The April elections were heralded as among the fairest in Nigeria’s history, but they also were among the bloodiest,” a senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, Corinne Dufka stated.
In response, the then Federal Government and the electoral umpire pledged to improve on its performance as well as curtailed violence in the country’s body polity. In particular, the government vowed to henceforth bring to book anyone found perpetuating electoral violence. There has been virtually no known conclusively prosecuted case of perpetrators of electoral violence. In fact, such cases have remained inconclusive sine die.
The INEC on its part has been handicapped and could only manage to dismiss about 30 of its staff in connection with electoral malpractices. “INEC officials are not immune to prosecution. Since we came here, as a Commission we have prosecuted INEC officials, who have been clearly found guilty of breaching established laws, rules and regulations and we have also quietly shown people the way out”, the then chairman of the Commission, Prof Attahiru Jega stated before his exit.
But the circle of violence appears unabated. In the 2015 general elections, there were pockets of violence in the South east and the South south regions, among other parts of the country. It is claimed that more than 15,700 people have been killed in political-related, inter-communal, and sectarian violence since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999.
The question however is how can this circle of violence be constricted to avoid not just the fatalities to human life, destruction of property and general damages, but to circumvent the now trending inconclusiveness of elections conducted in the country and the attendant constitutional challenges such as we have now in Kogi state.
Two issues come to the fore here, the laws governing peoples conduct during elections and the enforcement of such laws in the event of infraction. The 2010 Electoral Act as amended is sated with penalties for election offenses.
Section 128 of the Act states concerning disorderly conduct at elections, that “Any person who at an election acts or incites others to act in a disorderly manner commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N500,000 or imprisonment for a term of 12 months or both.”
As aptly observed by Rev Atavware Akpodiete no one has been convicted and imprisoned in the last sixteen years for disorderly conduct at elections in the country. Besides, he noted interestingly that one gets a stiffer penalty for snatching a ballot box than for possessing a weapon.
Compare the following subsections of Section 128: “(3) A person who contravenes any of the provisions of this section commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of N100,000 or imprisonment for 6 months for every such offence. (4) Any person who snatches or destroys any election material shall be liable on conviction to 24 months imprisonment.” Subsection (3) includes penalty for “ (1) No person shall on the date on which an election is held do any of the following acts or things in a polling unit or within a distance of 300 metres of a polling unit … (f) be in possession of any offensive weapon or wear any dress or have any facial or other decoration which in any event is calculated to intimidate voters;”
“We are not deceived. There has been no high profile prosecution and conviction for election violence or malpractices since the return to democracy in 1999. In other words, we are indirectly encouraging election violence and rigging by failing to prosecute and punish violators”, Akpodiete stated.
Apart from the provisions of the law, Dr. Remi E. Aiyede of the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, agreed that there were issues of enforcement of the laws stressing that those involved in electoral violence always get away with their negative and criminal acts because they were never punished.
“The lack of punishment for electoral offenders is a major factor in this problem; those involved in electoral violence are never punished. You hardly get to a point where you find these offenders punished and this does not augur well for the growth of a democratic culture”, he told The Guardian.
The university don who lamented the growing culture of violence and the attendant impunity, said that there was need to implement the Uwais Panel on Electoral Reforms’ recommendation for the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission.
In addition, he said that the problem was compounded by the fact that the security agencies charged with providing security for the elections oftentimes, were overwhelmed by the hoodlums and miscreants. He stressed the need for the security agencies to be adequately equipped and positioned to tackle the challenge.
Besides, Aiyede said: “there is too much emphasis placed on winning elections in Nigeria” and that it was high time the country adopted the recommendation of the Uwais Panel for the “proportional representation” in government as against the current “simple majority” that makes political parties and politicians to want to win at all cost.
Similarly, The Nigerian civil society situation room that monitored the Bayelsa State polls blamed politicians majorly for the violence that erupted from the election. It said that the violence was a consequence of the delay in grappling with the problems associated with the prosecution of electoral offences and was responsible for the perceived indifference on the part of the appropriate authority in prosecuting electoral violence arising from the 2011 elections.
The group noted that despite Government’s commitment to prosecute all those involved in electoral violence, the mileage gained from the last election might diminish in the foreseeable future, if steps were not taken to prosecute electoral offences. Hence it advocated that the country should have “a rethink and revisit the proposal to establish the Electoral Offences Commission” as recommended by the Uwais Panel. Also speaking with The Guardian on the Issue of violence, the vice chairman, South South, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Cairo Ojougboh blamed the problem on the alleged partisanship of security agencies as well as the desire by some political parties to win even against the wish of the electorate.
He said that the government should be courageous enough to address the problem squarely and punished those involved in electoral violence in accordance with the laws.
To avoid the political quagmire occasioned by violence, cancellation and the growing trend of inconclusive elections, the federal government and the electoral umpire must as a necessity and urgently act now.
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