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Imperative to prosecute election offenders and violators

By Editorial Board
07 March 2023   |   5:41 am
Pockets of violence, threats and blatant malfeasances recorded at last week’s presidential election in Nigeria are not only condemnable, they show clearly that impunity against elections in the country cannot be wished away.

Fight broke out between voter and electoral official in Lugbe, Abuja

Pockets of violence, threats and blatant malfeasances recorded at last week’s presidential election in Nigeria are not only condemnable, they show clearly that impunity against elections in the country cannot be wished away.

The tendency for miscreants and political thugs to violate elections conduct appears to be fully ingrained in some politicians and their cohorts; that tendency can only be curtailed when the violators are apprehended and punished according to law in a way that will send appropriate signals to other potential offenders.

Indeed, it is sad that about 24 years into the Fourth Republic, Nigeria has largely contented itself with lip service and statements of intention regarding punishment of criminals who regularly violate elections and deprive them of the much-desired credibility, freeness and fairness.

The Federal Government should seize the momentum of the various arrests already made during and in the aftermath of the last election to do the needful, as stipulated in the 2022 Electoral Act and extant laws of the country.

On Wednesday, February 23, 2023, all 18 registered political parties in Nigeria signed a second peace pact organised and coordinated by the National Accord for Peace under the chairmanship of a former Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar. The pact entails, among others, that the political parties will not engage in any activity either before, during, or after the general elections capable of disrupting or undermining the entire process.

Even though their antecedents strongly suggest the possibility of not observing this solemn pledge, however, it was expected the political parties will demonstrate sportsmanship and keep the peace this time.

Sadly, the ugly incidents surrounding the first round of elections prove that the political class is yet to transcend beyond the sheer desperation of clinching power at all costs. The turbulence engulfing the just-concluded presidential election cast serious doubt as to whether the country can ever experience a peaceful power transition without undue interference by unscrupulous political elements.

Across the federation, there were pockets of disruption of the polling process, wanton destruction of electoral materials, snatching of ballot boxes, results manipulation, mutilation of results sheets, harassment and intimidation of voters and violence resulting death in some cases.

Not even the subsisting cash paucity could deter political desperadoes from large-scale votes-buying, financial inducement and distribution of food and clothing items, etc. to intending voters to influence their decision. This trend, sadly, cut across party and regional lines, as manifested in video clips making the rounds in the social media.

On the eve of the presidential election, a member of the House of Representatives, Dr. Chinyere Igwe, was apprehended by the Rivers State Police Command for being in possession of 498,100 USD along with a list of the intended beneficiaries. Also, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested the Director General of the Peoples Democratic Party Campaign Council in Benue State, Dr Cletus Tyokyar, on election day for having the sum of N100,000 when visiting a polling unit in Daudu.

Another suspect was apprehended in the Kano Municipal Local Government area carrying N194, 000, whilst a party agent was arrested in Abaji, FCT alongside two other suspects who were allegedly found in Calabar, Cross River State with $450 USD and N156, 800 respectively. A young woman was also arrested with 18 voter cards in the Badarwa area of Kaduna, Kaduna State.

A principal member of the House of Representatives, Alhassan Ado Doguwa, who is the Majority Leader of the House, was arrested and arraigned on a five-count charge bordering on criminal conspiracy, culpable homicide, unlawful possession of firearms, mischief, and incitement of public disturbance; he was remanded in prison by a Senior Magistrate Court.

It is disturbing that all the reported electoral infractions were orchestrated by members of the political class, either personally or through their agents. Indeed, it is of great concern that all the prominent political parties were involved in one form of electoral racketeering or the other. It is worrisome that political leanings or affiliations in the country are driven by selfish considerations rather than national interest.

No doubt, the Nigerian party system is inherently flawed and fundamentally defective; hence cannot produce the qualitative leadership the country deserves unless it is drastically reformed. Nigerian politicians have vehemently refused to rise above pettiness, desperation, rascality, and even criminality in pursuing their ambitions. The culture of ‘do or die’ is so firmly entrenched and can only be rooted out through proper activation of the law on electoral offences.

A political culture that encourages the use of force, violence, fear, and bloodletting in order to manipulate the outcome of elections is a threat to the peace, development, unity, stability and continued existence of any society.

Electoral malpractices not only suppress the will of the people but also pave way for charlatans to emerge as leaders. Nigerian electoral process has remained defective because investigating and prosecuting authorities have consistently treated electoral violations with levity.

The public space is often saturated with press releases on the arrests of suspects but beyond that violators are never punished for their wrongdoing. Not even a single offender has been convicted for committing any electoral offence, let alone powerful politicians believed to be behind the suspects.

As rightly remarked by the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, “the reform of our electoral process cannot be complete without effective sanctions against violators of our laws.” Therefore, it is about time electoral saboteurs are made to face the full wrath of the law to serve as a deterrent to others.

Since INEC had previously disclosed its inability to arrest, investigate and effectively prosecute electoral offenders given its statutory limitations and onerous responsibility, the National Assembly should complete urgently the process of passing appropriate legislation to set up Electoral Offences Commission, as recommended by the Electoral Reform Committee headed by former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mohammed Uwais, in 2007; or amend the extant laws clothing relevant enforcement agencies with the powers to prosecute electoral crimes.

In the interim, INEC should collaborate with the Nigeria Police Force and the EFCC, the Ministry of Justice and other relevant agencies in ensuring that allegations bordering on the commission of electoral crimes are thoroughly investigated and prosecuted to a logical conclusion. Drastic measures are necessary because when the legitimacy of elections is corrupted, the stability of the country is put at risk.

After years of military dictatorship, political gladiators should not be allowed to scuttle the little gains the country has achieved in this democratic dispensation without consequences.

Very importantly, whilst going after the ‘small fish,’ INEC and other relevant agencies should also extend the same courtesy to the elephant in the room, to wit, political parties, given that the prevailing corrupt party system is chiefly responsible for the nation’s perverse electoral process.

Consequently, the activities of political parties should be thoroughly investigated. For instance, any electoral infractions traced to a party’s principal officers should automatically indict the party itself because as an artificial entity, political parties can only act through their officers.

The INEC should not hesitate to wield the hammer on any political party that is found culpable. Ironically, INEC officers have also been roped in electoral fraud allegations. Such officers, if indicted, should not be spared! Electoral offenders are enemies of the Nigeria and should be treated as such!