To ensure successful prosecution of high-profile criminals during elections around the nation, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has emphasized the need for the unbundling of the Commission.
On Tuesday, during a public hearing on a bill to create the National Electoral Offenses Commission, held at the request of the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral Matters, INEC National Chairman Prof. Mahmood Yakubu stated the organization’s viewpoint. The Honorable Aisha Dukku presided over the public hearing.
With the “nationwide continuous registration and the upkeep of the voters’ registration, INEC has the largest database of citizens in Nigeria and Africa, with 84 million projected to surpass 90 million by the 2023 general elections,” he said.
Yakubu stated that the measure, which calls for a range of penalties, including jail terms of 6 months to 20 years and fines of N100,000 to N50 million, would aid in the successful prosecution of high-profile election violators in the nation.
The INEC Chief acknowledged that the Commission has significant obligations but also revealed that 60 convictions had been obtained thus far since the 2015 General Election, including the most recent one in Akwa Ibom State, out of the 125 cases of electoral offenses brought in various Courts.
“The Commission would like to see more successful prosecution of offenders, not just ballot box snatchers, falsifiers of election results and vote buyers at polling units, but most importantly, their sponsors.
“We look forward to the day when highly placed sponsors of thuggery, including high-profile figures that seek to benefit from these violations, are arrested and prosecuted. We believe the work of the proposed Commission will help in this regard.
“In addition to these responsibilities, the Commission is required to prosecute electoral offenders. However, the Commission’s incapacity to arrest offenders or conduct an investigation that leads to the successful prosecution of especially the high-profile offenders led to the suggestion to unbundle the Commission and assign some of its extensive responsibilities to other agencies as recommended by the Uwais and Nnamani Committees.
“For those who argue that the solution does not lie in expanding the federal bureaucracy by creating a new Commission, we believe that the National Electoral Offences Commission should be seen as an exception.
“While there are other security agencies that deal with economic and financial crimes, I am yet to hear anyone who, in good conscience, thinks that it is unnecessary to have established anti-corruption agencies.
“We have studied the 46 Clauses of the Bill under consideration and made 16 comments.
“I would like to touch on two Clauses and make a general observation while submitting our detailed comments to the Committee.
“First is Clause 33(1) of the Bill which confers jurisdiction on Federal, State and FCT High Courts to try offenders under the Bill. However, these Courts are already over-burdened. It is proposed that the Electoral Offences Tribunal be established with exclusive jurisdiction to try electoral offenders.”
The planned Electoral Offences Commission would require the Attorney-General of the Federation to “confer greater power,” which the Commission further opposed.
The second is Clause 44, which gives the Attorney-General of the Federation the authority to create rules or regulations for the Commission, according to Prof. Yakubu. T
The Commission should be independent in the performance of its duties even if doing so necessitates a consequential amendment to other laws of the Federation in order to empower the Commission and ensure its independence. Giving additional authority to any other body could lead to friction or conflict with the Commission.
“In any case, Clause 1(2)(c) of the Bill grants the Commission power to make its own rules and regulations.
“Thirdly, because work on the Bill started before the passage of the current Electoral Act into law, all references to the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), for example, Clause 39(1), should be replaced with relevant provisions of the Electoral Act 2022.”
For his side, Clement Nwankwo, Executive Director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center (PLAC), argued that the proposed N40 million penalties for electoral offenders should be scaled back to reflect the reality of the day.
He pointed out that prior to the subsequent amendment to the 2010 Constitution, which gave INEC the authority to create those rules and regulations, the president had the authority to do so.
In addition, he suggested that the Electoral Offenses Commission be independent and free from politics and partisanship. He also suggested that the National Electoral Commission’s constitution be modified and that INEC be used to model the appointment of the commission’s members. However, he warned that the proposed clause “will subject the Commission to possible partisanship and ileus in hunting down political opponents.”