Tuesday, August 16, 2016

NHRC report on electoral fraud: Another paper tiger?

Last Thursday, August 11, 2016, the National Human Rights Commission released a 284-page report indicting 66 individuals and organisations allegedly involved in electoral crimes in the 2007 and 2011 elections. They were said to have been involved in either criminal offences or administrative, judicial and professional misconduct. Among them are a former Independent National Electoral Commission chairman, Prof. Maurice Iwu; former governors Emmanuel Uduaghan (Delta); Oserheimen Osunbor (Edo); Clarence Olafemi (Kogi); former Anambra State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Prof. C. E. Onukogu; Senator Hosea Ehinlanwo (Ondo); Senator Ayo Arise (Ekiti); Mukhtari Shehu Shagari and Chief Adefemi Kila.
Others are the late Maj. Gen. Abubakar Tanko Ayuba (retd.), Aminu Sule Garo and Mr. Tarzoor Terhemen. In the list also are Patrick Ashagu Ebinny; Abubakar L. Abdullahi; Felix Osaigbovo (INEC Presiding Officer); and Umar Abdullahi. A police officer, ASP Christopher Oloyede, and two lawyers, G. A. Adetola Kazeem (SAN) and the late Mr. James Ocholi (SAN). Altogether, there were 118 indictments, categorised as criminal indictment (20 cases), criminal/administrative (49), administrative (38), administrative/ judicial (4), professional (3) and judicial (7). The NHRC’s Executive Secretary, Prof. Bem Angwe, while presenting the report said the exercise, which the commission undertook under Section 5 of the NHRC Act 2010, involved an independent review of evidences of gross violations of the rights to participate in government, to effective public service and to fair trial in the country. He stated that the “Electoral Accountability/End Electoral Impunity Project” was intended “to bring to account persons indicted by the election petitions tribunals and appellate judicial bodies for infracting electoral and related laws during Nigeria’s recent election cycles.”
Angwe commented further that a committee established by the commission for the project was mandated to “review available election petition cases, extract any evidence of criminal or administrative indictments, recommend immediate and long-term measures towards curbing impunity in our electoral process.” The Chairman of the committee, Prof. Nsongurua Udombana, observed that electoral malpractices persisted in the nation’s electoral process because the Judiciary, INEC and other agencies had failed to perform their roles. He noted that where infraction of electoral laws was reported to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice and INEC, they hardly acted, a development that continued to embolden politicians who see election as “a do-or-die-affair”. The NHRC therefore urged the AGF, Inspector-General of Police, INEC and other relevant institutions to punish those indicted.
On Monday, August 15, 2016, I was a guest on a morning show on Silverbird Television where a lawyer and I reviewed the NHRC report. As far as I am concerned, the report is yet another courageous attempt to deal a fatal blow to the recurring issue of electoral fraud which has been the bane of our elections from time immemorial. Lest we forget, in the aftermath of what international and local accredited election observer groups tagged the worst general election in Nigeria in 2007, President Umaru Yar’Adua set up a 22-member Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais-led Electoral Reform Committee which sat for 16 months and in December 2008 submitted a comprehensive report which would have completely sanitised our electoral process had it been faithfully implemented.
Unfortunately, a White Paper committee headed by the then Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice watered down considerably the critical provisions of the ERC report and at the end of the day many of the noble provisions were excised from the report. That was however not to say that nothing was achieved. Some of the Uwais committee recommendations reflected in the 2010 review of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as well as the Electoral Act 2010.   Some of those that readily comes to mind include the granting of financial and administrative autonomy to INEC by putting the commission on the first line charge of the Consolidated Revenue Fund; subjecting appointment of Resident Electoral Commissioners to Senate approval; time limit for election tribunals (180 days at the tribunals, 60 days at the Court of Appeal and 60 days at Supreme Court); reduction in the number of tribunal judges from five to three; filing of petitions within 21 days of the declaration of election result, etc.
On the flip side, recommendations on political party structure and management (establishment of the Political Party Registration and Regulatory Commission); independent candidacy; proportional representation; separation of office of Attorney General from that of Minister of Justice and democratisation of the appointment procedures for the Inspector-General of Police were all jettisoned. Most importantly, the ERC recommended the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission. Though this was accepted and the Federal Executive Council sometime in 2012 approved the establishment, it was not implemented. It is instructive to note that the Independent National Electoral Commission which by virtue of the 2010 Electoral Act amendment was given prosecutorial power, lacks power to arrest and investigate. The Commission has never minced words saying that it does not possess the personnel and financial resources to successfully prosecute electoral offenders. It has therefore thrown its weight behind the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission.
It is also noteworthy that after the pre-and post-2011 elections violence which claimed over a thousand lives,  President Goodluck Jonathan on May 11, 2011 inaugurated the Sheikh Ahmed Lemu-led 22-member presidential panel of inquiry to investigate the remote and immediate causes of the incidences of electoral violence during the 2011 polls. The panel submitted its findings to the President on October 10, 2011. Since then, beyond the compensation paid to some of the victims of the violence, nothing, to the best of my knowledge, has been done to the perpetrators of the violence in which property worth billions of naira were also lost.
With the benefits of hindsight, it is doubtful if the NHRC report will go beyond these indictments and naming and shaming. Already, many of those fingered in the electoral heist have come out vehemently to rubbish the report as lacking in merit since they were not given opportunity to defend themselves. What these people did not realise is that, the pronouncements of their indictment were made by election tribunals and appellate courts. The NHRC just went to distil court judgments to harvest names of those alleged to have committed electoral violence and fraud.
All hope is not yet lost since this is a government that came to power on the mantra of change. INEC, AGF, IGP and the judiciary may still pull a pleasant surprise on us by ensuring diligent prosecution of all electoral offences, especially those against the arrowheads and masterminds. This will send the right signal to purveyors of electoral malpractices who have been the brains behind the raft of inconclusive elections that is fast becoming the norms with INEC. To my own mind, punishments for electoral offences should be made more stringent to make those who came to power via electoral sharp practices to lose their seat and serve 10-year ban from public office in addition to jail term.
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