Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Imperative of electoral offences commission

On September 21, I attended a memorial lecture organised by a coalition of youth groups in honour of 10 National Youth Service Corps members killed in Bauchi State in the wake of the post-elections crisis that greeted the April 16 presidential election. The lecture with the theme ‘Youth and Election Security’ was put together by Youth Action Initiative Africa, Centre for Public Policy and Research, CAFA Foundation, Nigerian Youth Manifesto Project, Network of Civil Society Organisations on Voter & Civic Education, Digital Peers International and Y-Count Campaign. The guest speaker at the event was a renowned Professor of Criminology from the University of Jos, Etennibi Alemika.

The ten martyrs of Nigerian democracy were Adewumi Seun (Ekiti); Teidi Olawale Tosin (Kogi); Adowei Elliot (Bayelsa); Okpokiri Obinna (Abia); Gbenjo Ebenezer Ayotunde (Osun); Ukeoma Ikechuwku Chibuzor (Imo); Nkwazema Anslem Chukwuonyerem (Imo); Adeniji Kehinde Jehleel (Osun); Akonyi Ibrahim Sule (Kogi) and the only female among them, Agnes Ezennadozie (Anambra), who was pregnant at the time of her death.

Other speakers at the symposium were the Chief Technical Adviser to the Independent National Electoral Commission Chairman, Prof. Okey Ibeanu, and Dr. Chidi Anslem Odinkalu of the Open Society Justice Initiative as well as representative of the Minister for Youth Development. They all condemned the murder of the young Nigerians who were on national service and expressed regret that more than five months after the premeditated murder, the perpetrators were yet to be prosecuted. It was identified at the forum that two major malaise of our electoral system in Nigeria is the growing culture of violence and that of impunity, as perpetrators of electoral violence, more often than not, get away with their heinous crime. They therefore called for the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission.

The clamour for the establishment of the EOC was first mooted by the Justice Muhammadu Uwais led electoral reform committee which submitted its report on how to overcome the country’s electoral debacle in December 2008 after 16 months of collating and analysing the views of Nigerians. This recommendation was accepted by the government of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua as a Bill for an Act to Establish the Electoral Offences Commission and for other Matters Connected Therewith was sent to the National Assembly on April 30, 2009. Well, the federal lawmakers preferred to first deal with constitutional amendment before taking a look at the EOC and other ancillary bills such as the proposed Political Party Registration and Regulatory Commission and that of the Centre for Democratic Studies.

Ordinarily, we do not need an electoral offences commission as the current federal electoral law has vested the power for the prosecution of electoral offenders in the INEC. Sections 149 and 150 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended are very explicit on this. In fact, S. 150 (2) emphatically says, “A prosecution under this Act shall be undertaken by the legal officers of the commission or any legal practitioner appointed by it.” The Chairman of the INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, who incidentally was a member of the ERC, however, has openly solicited the establishment of the EOC as he admitted that his commission does not have the capacity (manpower and financial resources) to embark on a comprehensive prosecution of electoral offenders.

Jega made one of such calls on July 7, 2011 while delivering a public lecture on the theme, ‘2011 General Elections and the Consolidation of the Democratic Process in Nigeria’ organised by the Centre for Social Research and Advocacy, University of Lagos. He said there was no way INEC could prosecute 870,000 multiple registrants detected after the January 2011 registration. I dare say that not even an EOC would have the capacity to prosecute such huge number of infractions. What I think the INEC needs to do is to carry out selective prosecution of the persons with clout who might have been fingered among the perpetrators as such will send a warning signal to anyone who may wish to do such in future.

INEC said it has entered into agreement with the Nigerian Bar Association to assist the commission in the prosecution of electoral offenders. It is heart-warming to note that the electoral management body is gradually breaking the culture of impunity in Nigeria as it claimed to have secured 24 convictions out of the 321 cases of electoral malpractices it charged to court. Other cases are at different stages of prosecution. This was made public in a statement issued by the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC chairman, Mr. Kayode Idowu, on August 29.

Much as it is desirable to have the National Assembly expeditiously pass the electoral offences commission bill as it gives the commission power to investigate and prosecute electoral offences; however, I do not support its passage in the current shape and form. The EOC bill sent by President Jonathan to the parliament in 2009 arrogates a lot of powers to the President as against the prescription of the Uwais Committee. For instance, in Section 3 of the Electoral Offences Commission bill, 8 of the 10 member board (the other two being ex-officio members from Federal Ministry of Justice and Nigeria Police Force) are to be appointed directly by the president without recourse to Senate as prescribed by the ERC; Section 4 of the bill proposed that the president can unilaterally remove members of the board; while in section 5, the EOC may establish state offices including one for FCT. This is tantamount to creating another huge bureaucracy.

There is no funding from consolidated revenue fund for the proposed Commission while power of the president to give general directives which must be complied with can be found in section 25 of the EOC bill. The bill in its explanatory memorandum is concerned with electoral offences committed only during general elections. Who then prosecutes electoral malpractices and sharp-practices committed during party primaries, by-elections, re-run and supplementary elections?

Law alone is not the panacea for Nigeria’s growing culture of electoral malfeasance and hostility. The approach to the menace has to be multi-pronged. There is the need for adequate civic and voter education on the abhorrent behaviours. Security agents and INEC also have to take pre-emptive measures to forestall such untoward and unbecoming acts. Meanwhile, the souls of the Bauchi Ten and hundreds of others murdered in cold blood during the 2011 general elections cry for justice.