Memo Submitted to the Senate Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission and other Related Matters for the Establishment of the National Electoral Offences Commission (NEOC) 2021

Since the return to democratic governance in Nigeria in 1999, there is hardly any election that has not been characterised by electoral offences in their various forms. Successive elections at the national, states and local government levels have been marred by irregularities with political players resorting to violence in order to outsmart each other for victory. No doubt, electoral offences remain a major threat to credible, free and fair elections in Nigeria, where elections tend to heighten political tension and trigger violence. Elections in Nigeria from 1999-date have been characterised by electoral offences such as the inclusion of fictitious names in the register of voters, illegal compilation of voters’ lists, illegal printing of voters’ cards, illegal possession of ballot boxes, multiple voting, underage voting, ballot box snatching, etc.[1] No doubt, electoral offences breed poor quality, corrupt and violent political leadership. Where electoral offences thrive, election riggers take control of governments contrary to the will of the electorate, and this progressively leads to political apathy that ultimately disengages the electorate from the political process.

The current justice system for electoral offences is weak in view of the fact that INEC, which is saddled with the responsibility of overseeing the electoral process, is the same body to prosecute electoral offenders. However, the power of INEC to prosecute electoral offenders is activated by a recommendation by a tribunal handling an election petition. Specifically, section 149 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) provides that “The Commission shall consider any recommendation made to it by a tribunal with respect to the prosecution by it of any person for an offence disclosed in any election petition.” Furthermore, section 150(2) of the Act provides that “A prosecution under this Act shall be undertaken by legal Officers of the Commission or any Legal Practitioner appointed by it.” This makes it obvious that INEC that has less than 100 Legal Officers does not possess the capacity to cope with the prosecution of electoral offences committed at various levels of elections conducted across the 119, 973 polling units, 8, 809 wards, 774 local governments, 109 senatorial districts, and 360 federal constituencies, in addition to the various governorship and House of Assembly elections.  The challenges facing INEC in the electoral process do not permit it to face another battle of prosecution of electoral offenders. This accounts for just a few convictions for electoral offences in the realm of criminal litigation in Nigeria.

The above underscores the necessity of an active justice system for the prosecution of electoral offenders, which remains critical in ensuring a decrease in the level of electoral impunity and a reversal in the persistent trend of electoral offences. The above background necessitates the establishment of a Commission to be charged with the responsibility of investigating electoral offences and prosecution of electoral offenders in Nigeria. This is to strengthen Nigeria’s electoral process and ensure credible elections.