Chairman of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu says the establishment of Electoral Offences Commission was necessary to effectively prosecute violators of the country’s electoral laws.
Professor Yakubu stated this on Monday during a public hearing on a Bill to establish the National Electoral Offences Commission, organised in Abuja by the Senate Committees on INEC and Judiciary.
The Chief electoral umpire said that creating the commission to arrest, investigate and prosecute all violators of electoral laws would go a long way in ensuring that offenders were punished.
He believes that the failure to enforce sanctions encouraged impunity and violence in the country’s electoral process, thereby subverting the will of the people and undermining democracy.
According to him: “While the INEC was saddled with the responsibility to prosecute electoral offences, the process is severely hampered. More so, that some of the offenders may be staff of INEC itself; how do we prosecute ourselves so, the solution will be to have a commission to prosecute violators of Electoral Act. INEC cannot effectively prosecute electoral offenders and at the same time focus on our extensive responsibilities under the constitution and the Electoral Act.”
Professor Yakubu however, said that INEC had successfully prosecuted some electoral offenders in spite of the constraints.
“Arising from the 2015 general election and subsequent bye elections, we received 124 case files from the Nigeria Police but so far we have only succeeded in prosecuting a few of these cases.”
He said there were several factors responsible for the inadequate success ranging from the huge prosecutorial task, dependence on other agencies for arrest and investigation, time and resources.
The INEC Boss confirmed that relieving the Commission of the responsibility of prosecuting electoral offences would enable it focus and prioritise on its primary and other core responsibilities.
“Currently the commission is facing over 1,000 lawsuits arising from the 2015 general election. And shortly after the elections, INEC was dragged to court 680 times. Also from January 2016 to December 2017, we have been dragged to court over 400 times making a total of over 1000 litigations since the 2015 elections and the number keeps increasing.
“In fact, before we closed on Friday, we were slammed another court order from Enugu on another matter and each time anybody goes to court INEC is joined and joining INEC means we have to get lawyers to represent us,’’ he lamented.
He said that the bill would bring diverse electoral offences, some of which existed in the statute books into a coherent legislation.
Speaking on the content of the Bill, Professor Yakubu urged the senate to look at the composition of the board of the commission and ensure the representation of special action groups that observed elections over the years.
He also suggested that the appointment of the secretary of the commission be made by the commission itself and not by the President.
“Although section 8(2) subject the secretary to the commission to the supervision and control of the chairman, experience has shown there is always a difficulty in managing relationship in reality especially since both of them are appointees of the President. If the commission is truly independent, it should appoint its secretary.’’
The Bill when passed into law will not only ensure effective prosecution of offenders, it will also help to enhance sanity in the entire electoral process.