Tuesday, January 31, 2012

EKSIEC’s Fight against Political Corruption

Unknown to many, there are two constitutionally recognized electoral management bodies in Nigeria. The most widely known is the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC which conducts general elections into the positions of President, National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives), Governor, State House of Assembly and the six Area Councils of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The other election management body is the State Independent Electoral Commission which conducts election into the Local Government Area Councils. There are thirty-six (36) of them. While the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) established INEC in section 153 (f), the grundnorm gives birth to SIEC in section 197 (1) (b).

Ekiti State Independent Electoral Commission is responsible for the conduct of election into the chairmanship and councillorship of the sixteen (16) LGAs of the state. EKSIEC is at present earnestly preparing to hold local council election on February 4, 2012. The earlier scheduled date of January 21 had to be shifted due to the strikes, rallies and protests that greeted Nigeria aftermath of the sharp increase (N65 to N141) in the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit (Petrol). Mercifully, with the strikes called off and normalcy restored, EKSIEC now has a clear coast to conduct the much awaited election.

As part of the preparation for the council polls, Ekiti State House of Assembly passed a new State Electoral Law titled “A Law to provide for the conduct of elections into all the elective offices provided for in the local government laws and for other matters incidental thereto. Number 17 of 2011 Ekiti State of Nigeria.” The new electoral law signed into law on September 30, 2011 by Dr Kayode Fayemi, the Executive Governor of the State, effectively repealed the Ekiti State Electoral Laws No. 5 of 2001 and all subsequent amendment thereto.

A derivative of the state electoral law is the Ekiti State Independent Electoral Commission Guideline for Local Government General Election also published by the Commission. The guideline amplified some of the provisions of the electoral law as well as contained the timetable for the council elections. Of greater interest to me are the provisions of the state electoral law on campaign finance. It is very interesting to note that unlike many other SIECs, EKSIEC is not charging administrative fees on the candidates. This is much in line with INEC which also does not charge administrative fee on candidates contesting elections under it.

Under the Ekiti State Electoral Law, a possible ground for disqualification of a candidate is if such has no evidence of tax payments as at when due for a period of three years immediately preceding the year of the election. (See section 6 (b) of the law). A very weighty anti-corruption provision in the new statute is contained in section 15 under the sub head of Campaign Offence. It states “A candidate or an agent who offers bribe to the voters directly or indirectly either by paying money to them or providing inducement, unsolicited services or treating them to parties, commits an offence under this Law and shall be punished as provided under subsection 3 of this Section. A candidate or an agent who commits an offence under subsection (3) of this Section is liable on conviction in a Magistrate Court to a fine of N500, 000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or both such fine and imprisonment.” This is a strong message even though there was no subsection 3 under the section.

Section 18 of the Ekiti State Electoral Law defines what constitute corrupt practices. These include undue influence and bribery. Section 20 (1) interpret undue influence as “ A person who corruptly, by himself or by any other person either before, during or after an election, directly or indirectly gives or provides money, or pays wholly or in part the expense of giving or providing food, drinks, entertainment or provisions to or for any person: a) for the purpose of corruptly influencing that person, or any other person to vote or refrain from voting; or (b) on account of that person or any other person , having voted or refrained from voting.”

Subsection 2 says “A voter who corruptly accepts or takes any food, drinks, entertainment or provisions to which subsection (1) of this section relates at an election is guilty of undue influence.” Furthermore, section 22 of the law has a copious meaning of bribery and in section 23 stipulated punishments for undue influence, bribery and related offences as N200, 000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or to both such fine and imprisonment. In addition, anyone convicted of undue influence, bribery and similar infractions shall not be eligible to be elected into the local government council for a period of five years and if elected before his or her conviction shall not retain his or her seat. He or she shall also not be eligible to vote in the council election for same period of time.

These are very strong provisions aimed at creating a level playing field for all contestants at the polls as well as engendering free, fair and credible local government election in Ekiti State. Noble intentions, I dare say, but the big question is, does EKSIEC have the political will, technical know-how and financial resources to enforce these provisions?