A bill that seeks to establish an Electoral Offences Commission scaled second reading at the Senate on Wednesday. It was first read in November 2019.
The bill, sponsored by Borno senator, Abubakar Kyari, proposes deterrence and sanctions for anti-democratic acts in the electoral environment.
The second reading of the bill comes two days after the chairman of Nigeria’s electoral commission, Mahmood Yakubu, said the commission will propose 34 amendments to the Electoral Act 2010 Amendment Bill that will include punishments for electoral offenders.
This, he said, will increase transparency and credibility of the electoral process, and the reduction of electoral banditry.
Leading the debate, Mr Kyari said electoral crimes lead to low quality, corrupt, and violent political leadership.
Electoral crimes help electoral riggers and offenders take control of government against the democratic will of their electorate and gives birth to electoral apathy and national insecurity, he said.
He explained that Sections 149 and 150 (2) of the Electoral Act, 2010 as amended respectively vests the INEC with the discretion and powers to prosecute electoral offenders.
Section 149 states that the Commission shall consider any recommendation made to it by the tribunal with respect to the prosecution by it of any persons for an offence disclosed in any petition.
While Section 150(2) says the prosecution under this Act shall be undertaken by legal officers of the commission or any legal practitioner appointed by it.
By the provisions of the sections 149 of the Electoral Act, 2010 as amended, INEC is not clearly enabled to prosecute offenders unless otherwise determined by a tribunal.
Mr Kyari explained that with less than 100 legal officers, and other operational deficiencies, INEC clearly does not have the capacity to prosecute electoral offences committed across Nigeria’s 119,973 polling units, 809 wards, 360 federal constituencies, 109 senatorial districts and 774 local government areas.
“By the foregoing statistics, it is unrealistic to expect INEC to conduct free, fair and credible elections and simultaneously prosecute offences arising from the same elections. INEC has itself admitted that it lacks the wherewithal to prosecute even 1% of 870,000 alleged electoral offences in the 2011 general elections. It is an affirmation of the necessity of a paradigm shift on how we deal with electoral offences.
“It is widely agreed that this duty is an undue burden on INEC. It distracts INEC from its core constitutional mandate of conducting elections and the answer is in the establishment of a commission charged with this important duty.
“The electoral offences commission should cooperate closely with security agencies to prosecute persons committing such offences.”
Many lawmakers took turns to support the passage of the bill.
George Sekibo (PDP, Rivers) said had the commission been established, people the wronged people will not be in power.
“I also pray that after it has gone through the third hearing, when we send out for assent, they should assent to it. If they don’t assent to it, then 2023 elections will be worse than what we have seen before.”
Matthew Urhoghide said the integrity of elections has been compromised and elections in Nigeria “is the worst conduct of man’s inhumanity to man.”
This is even as he also supported the bill.
On his part, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, said the bill is one of many that will amend the Electoral Act.
“Every constitutional amendments and alterations we made were to ensure that the electoral procedures are very well protected.
“That will stop people who abuse the process, whether they are in power or they have money. The penalties must be such punitive enough that people will not like to indulge in this,” he said.
The bill was, thereafter, read for the second time after a voice vote and referred to the Senate Committee on INEC for further legislative.
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