Angwe: Only prosecution of offenders can curb electoral violence
The report of an independent review of evidences of gross violations of electoral laws in 2007 and 2011 general elections, was recently submitted to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) by its Technical Working Committee headed by Professor Nsongurua J. Udombana. Executive Secretary, NHRC, Professor Bem Angwe told BRIDGET CHIEDU ONOCHIE that in as much he will transmit the final recommendations to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, for necessary actions, there will be no end to electoral violence until government exhibits political will to punish offenders.
Causes of electoral violence
The major factor that contributes to the persistent electoral violence or electoral offences in this country is lack of political will on the path of government, particularly past administrations. Yes, there have been suggestions and recommendations for the establishment of a special tribunal to try all electoral offenders as a way of putting to an end to impunity in our electoral process; while that is desirable, I want to say emphatically that even before the establishment of that special tribunal, efforts should be seen to have been made in curtailing future occurrences. If we say that of course, we are overwhelmed with the multiplicity of the cases emanating from electoral process, at least, government would have demonstrated a commitment by commencing the trial of some persons in this regard. I want to say clearly that the issue of malpractices during elections have been considered by government as soft issue, but to us in Human Rights Commission, we consider it very fundamental because good governance largely depends on the right of the electorates to exercise their right of franchise, their right to vote for persons of their own choice. It is indeed the starting point. When you elect good people, you are sure there will be good governance. When the electoral process itself is faulty, then, the product would be maladministration or misgovernance in the country. So, we feel strongly that while we await the decision of government or the parliament to establish special court for trial of electoral offenders, it should demonstrate a commitment or desire to end impunity in our electoral process. That was the reason the Commission decided to review the judgment and rulings of electoral tribunals for the past elections, to look at indictments that were recorded in those judgments and to recommend that government should take action with respect to bringing to an end, impunity in this regard.
Why only three percent of offenders in 2011 elections were prosecuted?
In a democratic setting, democracy can only thrive if the democratic institutions are strengthened and rise to their responsibilities. If you check well, many of our institutions that have the responsibility of checking electoral violence have not been carrying out their responsibilities. If you even look at the Electoral Act itself, it requires that where it is established that an electoral offence has been committed, or maybe, a tribunal in the exercise of its jurisdiction comes up with a verdict that an electoral offence has been committed, the tribunal is required to recommend to Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the prosecution of the alleged offenders. But in many of these cases, the electoral tribunal will even indict without necessarily recommending for the prosecution of the persons affected. For instance, many people in this country were alleged to have produced forged certificates and many of such elections have been nullified because the tribunals concluded or found as a matter of fact that those certificates were forged. But that was where the tribunals ended their judgment. They did not request or recommend that those people be prosecuted. Again, in most cases, you hear INEC officials say that in their establishment law, they do not have the power to prosecute.
Meanwhile, you will find that the Electoral Act also gives an obligation to INEC to ensure the prosecution of alleged electoral offenders. What is important here is that even where INEC does not specifically have the capacity or power to prosecute alleged offenders, it still has an obligation to make clear recommendations to institutions that have the power to prosecute to do so. If INEC for instance makes recommendations and submit same to the Police for them to investigate properly, alleged cases of electoral offences, then, the Police will go ahead to investigate. Recently, INEC conducted over 86 elections and many of them were inconclusive as a result of one electoral malpractice or violence. INEC also confirmed that many people where held to have committed electoral offences in the past elections. Now, what stops INEC from handing over those people to the Police or stops the Police from prosecuting those people in accordance with the general power of prosecution that the Police have? What even stops INEC from recommending such people to the various state Commissioners of Justice, Attorney General of the states or even the Attorney General of the Federation for prosecution of those offenders? The laws must not give every institution the power to prosecute before such institutions can carry out its constitutional function of ensuring that there is an end to impunity.
So, I can say that yes, many of the democratic institutions have not been rising up to the occasion of ensuring that they carry out the mandates to which they were established. In this regard, the National Human Rights Commission does not have the power to prosecute directly, but the law empowers us to recommend to the Attorney General of the Federation or the Attorney General of states concerned to prosecute. We are in our own opinion, in the course of investigating an alleged violation of rights, can discover that a crime has been committed. So, it is even in respect of this that in most cases where some violations of human rights that also amount to criminal offences are discovered, we recommend to the AGF or AG of states for prosecution. I believe that if every institution bears this in mind and every institution rises up to this, we will have an end to impunity in the country.
On allegations of bias in the recently released report
First, let me say that we did not carry out investigation in respect of the report that was released. I also want to say that the commission did not indict those persons. They were indicted by various tribunals. We reviewed the cases of tribunals with respect to 2007 and 2011 elections. So, it was not for us to indict. Everyone that was indicted by those tribunals was named in that report. The issue of whether the report was selective or the issue of whether it took a long time to investigate does not arise. It was the tribunal that came up with those indictments. The judgments of the tribunals are there in the public domain and if anybody has any information or evidence that some other persons were also indicted, but were not included in our report, let them come up with it because the report is there and the judgments are there for every Nigerian to look at it and to study.
Secondly, time does not run against the state. At any point in time, the state can still prosecute an alleged offender and the evidences required are already documented by the courts. It is left for the Attorney General to cross check those evidences that were already recorded in the judgments of the courts and for him to act as appropriate. Also, whether the AGF will do what is right or wrong is not for us to judge.
First, as far as we are concerned today, the office of the AGF or the office of the Attorney General in any given state is a constitutional office that was created and it is expected that those people who hold those offices take oath, and they will act in line with the oath they have taken. We believe that the AGF will act in line with the oath so taken and then, it is for every Nigerian to ask for accountability. If they believe that the AGF is not acting, they have the right to even go to court and seek for an order demanding that he does what is expected of him. But I believe that the AGF having taken the oath of office as a responsible Nigerian, he is not going to be carried away by any political affiliation. The report also does not relate to political affiliations of persons so mentioned, but I also want to say that this report has been brought to me and the recommendations are there. I will have to go through the recommendations before acting or even taking the recommendations to the AGF for prosecution.
The report has just been brought to me; I am going to make recommendations. I have not even sent any letter to the AGF as far as the submission of this final report is concerned. I have to do that first. So, I want people to be patient; let them watch and see what the Commission will do. They should also watch and see what the AGF will do. I am acting on the report and any moment from now, I will come out with what I am expected to do. But I want to say that a lot of recommendations were made in that report, some were made to the Presidency, some were made to the National Assembly while some were made to various government institutions, including INEC and the Police. So, it is for us to go through all these recommendations and draw the attention of the various institutions and authorities to the recommendations that were made. I also want to say that although there were recommendations, it is our recommendations that will be binding on institutions. This is because our law tells states that recommendations from NHRC do have a binding effect of law on institutions of government. But for now, what we have here are recommendations of the committee in the report submitted to me. However, I still want to establish that these indictments were not made by NHRC, but by the various tribunals and courts in their rulings, while they adjudicated over electoral issues that were brought before them.
Why prosecution of electoral offenders is not receiving equal attention as that of alleged corrupt public office holders and politicians?
That is the reason we are drawing the attention of this administration to the importance that needs to be attached to bringing to an end the impunity in the electoral process. As I said earlier, it is the faulty electoral process that produces corrupt leaders. When corrupt people find their way to power, the product will be faulty. So, the product is determined by the process itself. I want to say that in the next few days, we are going to commence full investigative hearing on cases of hate speeches and electoral violence that took place during the 2015 general elections. At the end of the day when we get our findings and facts, we will also submit to this administration, the list of persons that our investigation will indict for prosecution. This is the only way we can bring impunity to an end in our electoral system in this country.
Compensation for victims of electoral violence across the country
For us in NHRC, where there is a right, there is always a remedy. First, government has responsibility and obligations, a primary duty in the constitution to protect lives and property. So, where the rights are infringed upon or violated, the victims must be compensated. And it is our determination to ensure that Nigerians and victims begin to receive compensation, where their rights are violated in this country, and we intend to drive that home. Everybody must get to know his or her rights and must be empowered to rise up and to claim those rights.
Addressing issues of electoral violence in future elections
First, we have requested that government provides funds for the commission, not only for going to monitor elections but also to monitor the activities of security agencies. This is to ensure that the votes are protected, that the people are also protected against all forms of violence. We also intend to go round and sensitize the people not to be violent but to go and exercise their civic responsibilities. We are equally calling upon the government to ensure that security agencies are deployed to the states where election would be conducted soon, to ensure that votes count. But again, we are working with INEC to ensure that the officials are diligent and do not compromise. Above all, we are calling on all Nigerians in those states to be vigilant and the politicians to talk to their people not to involve in electoral violence. We want Nigerians to know that we cannot go back to our past days and as such, anybody who is involved in electoral violence would be brought to book, prosecuted and punished in accordance with the law.