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Electoral offenders must be punished, banned–INEC, stakeholders

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•Insists on the establishment of Electoral Offences Tribunal

Godsgift Onyedinefu and Nosa Enobhayisobo

Some key stakeholders in election matters on Wednesday called for tougher punishment on perpetrators of election violence and other electoral offences.

The stakeholders decried that several arrests have been made by security agencies but no meaningful prosecution has been recorded while stressing that Nigeria cannot tackle effectively the menace of election violence if perpetrators go Scot free without strong punishment.

The stakeholders made this call at the closing ceremony of a summit on “Terrorism, Insurgency and Incidence of Electoral Violence in Nigeria: Role of Security Agencies” organised by New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) in collaboration with Nigerian Army Resource Centre (NARC).

The stakeholders added that perpetrators should not just be punished but their punishment must be made public to serve as a deterrent to others. They advocated that perpetrators, especially public officials found guilty should be banned from electoral activities for at least a period of two circles after serving a jail term

The research Director, NARC CBN Ogbogbo said over time Nigerian elections has experienced election violence to the point that citizens can hardly differentiate elections from violence. This according to him has led to the disenfranchisement of a chunk of the population and loss of confidence in the process.

“We must go beyond prevention to total elimination of this. It is not an impossible task several countries have achieved it. To achieve this we must take a drastic step, we must prosecute, if we don’t, it will encourage others too perpetrate”, he said.

Ogbogbo also said the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must desist from being bias to restore confidence in their capacity.

The Chairman, INEC Mahmoud Yakubu explained that election offences has continued because the INEC lacks the capacity to prosecute offenders and the security agencies and election officials who are to enforce election rules are often overwhelmed during elections and perpetrators go unnoticed.

“To tackle vote buying, we reconfigured voting cubicles, banned use of smart phones, but the security agencies and election officials could not enforced because they were overwhelmed.”

Yakubu who was represented by the national commissioner for INEC, Barr. Festus Okoye reiterated the call for the establishment of an electoral offences commission and tribunal to handle the issues of arrest, investigation and prosecution of electoral offenders.

“As a commission, we lack the capacity and funding to prosecute electoral offenders. We have gone to the National Assembly to say state why it is imperative and fundamental and in the interest of the Nigerian people for us to have an electoral offences commission and tribunal.”

He said the reason for this is that some of the electoral offenders are our INEC officials and the difficulty encountered in getting security personnel to deliver reports on the electoral offenders they arrested during the elections.

Mahmoud also said the cycle of police or army arresting, investigating offenders before handing over to the commission is not a tidy process.

The Executive Director, Development Specs Academy, Dr. Okey Ikechukwu, on his part opined that the INEC does not need to acquire the power to prosecute. He said there are institutions already in place for the purpose

“Let’s take it off from our subconscious that INEC needs to be a prosecuting agency for offenders to be dealt with”, he said.

He said there is no act of misconduct within the electoral process that is not already being recovered by an existing laws. According to him, setting up a special commission will not help the nations jurisprudence and judiciary but will only multiply institutions and may not drive efficiency.

Ikechukwu while tackling the issue if cite buying which us an electoral offence that seems to have continued unabated called on the National Assembly to isolate and punish vote buying through a special enactment.

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