Yiaga Africa Position Paper on the Bill to Establish National Electoral Offences Commission 2022
Since the advent of democracy in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic in 1999, there is hardly any election that has not been characterized by electoral offences in various forms. Successive elections at the national, state and local government levels have been marred by irregularities with political players resorting to violence in order to outsmart each other to clinch electoral victory. No doubt, electoral offences remain a major threat to credible, free and fair elections in Nigeria, as they often heighten political tension and trigger violence.
Since 1999 to date most elections have been characterized by electoral offences such as the inclusion of fictitious names in the register of voters, an 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 against 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 144 of the Electoral Act, 2022 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 145(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.”
With INEC conducting a series of elections, including off-cycle elections and bye-elections every year, it is unrealistic for the commission to prosecute offenders while discharging its numerous responsibilities effectively. It has been argued that INEC’s capacity to prosecute electoral offenses across the 176,846 polling units, 8809 wards in the 774 Local Governments Areas is limited. This accounts for the poor records of prosecution of electoral offenders and few convictions secured against electoral offenses making it possible for a culture of impunity to thrive in Nigeria’s electoral process.
The proposal for the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission dates back to 2008 when the Justice Uwais Committee report proposed the immediate establishment of an autonomous and constitutionally recognized Electoral Offences Commission. Accordingly, this Bill is 14 years late and must be accorded utmost priority and urgency.
The establishment of an Electoral Offences Commission is particularly important to complement the effective implementation of the new Electoral Act 2022, which the 9th Assembly celebrates as one of its successes. Also, with the commencement of the activities for the 2023 elections and the plan to conduct election in 176, 846 polling units, the election management body will be totally burdened and unable to truly prosecute electoral offenders to curb electoral impunity and inspire citizens confidence on the electoral process.
As a civic organization dedicated to promoting electoral integrity through consistent, evidence-based, and citizen-led observation of the electoral process, Yiaga Africa has observed a trend of electoral malpractices occasioned by the lack of a legal framework for the effective prosecution of offenders. The necessity of an active justice system for prosecuting electoral offenders remains critical in ensuring a decline in electoral offences and reversal in the culture of electoral impunity.