As the 2019 general election draws near, the Senate’s Joint Committee on INEC and Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters has urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to exercise its powers and sanction persons or parties acting against the electoral laws.
This call was made by the Senate President Bukola Saraki, while speaking at a public hearing on the bill seeking to establish the National Electoral Offences Commission, in Abuja, on Monday.
Mr. Saraki, who was represented by the Deputy Majority Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah, lamented that some political aspirants and parties were already campaigning when INEC had yet to declare electioneering open.
Urging INEC not to condone such actions, he said, “The Senate in particular would be very worried, if INEC begins to condone the actions of some political parties. You have not declared campaigns open, and some are already campaigning.”
The reordering of the 2019 election sequence by members of the National Assembly did not only cause stir among the lawmakers but Nigerians as well and INEC had expressed its intention to challenge the amendment in court.
Mr. Na’Allah further warned the Commission against being misguided on the extent of the powers of the National Assembly in the amendment to the Electoral Act 2010, adding that the National Assembly had powers to legislate over the electoral body and other agencies of government.
He also assured that the lawmakers could not be involved in any legislation that would violate the constitution.
“INEC should be cautious of who it is listening to. We would not sit anywhere this constitution will be violated. It is necessary we caution ourselves. We need this country, we love this country”, he said.
The Chairman of INEC, Mahmoud Yakubu, called on the National Assembly and other stakeholders to expedite action on the bill to establish the National Electoral Offences Commission/Tribunal ahead of the 2019 general elections.
He disclosed that the electoral umpire currently had about 1,080 cases in courts relating to the 2015 general elections, adding that the commission had received 124 case files of electoral offenders from the police, out of which 60 had been prosecuted.
Mr. Yakubu, who expressed support for the establishment of the National Electoral Offences Commission stated that INEC could not effectively prosecute electoral offenders and focus on its enormous responsibilities simultaneously.
He also explained that reports of the Electoral Reform Committee (the Uwais Report) 2008, and the Post-election Violence (Lemu Report) 2011 have been left to gather dust on the shelves.
According to him, the two reports had recommended the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission/Tribunal to address all forms of electoral violence and impunity that have continued to undermine the stability of the nation’s electoral democracy.
He further said though it has the powers to prosecute, INEC lacked the powers to effect the arrest of electoral offenders, a situation he said, has continued to hamper effective prosecution of offenders.
“While the Uwais Report was transmitted by the executive to the National Assembly in 2010, the White Paper on recommendations of the Lemu Report directed the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minster of Justice to take steps towards the establishment of the Electoral Offences Tribunal.
“Nearly a decade later, there has been no legislative action on these aspects of the recommendations of the Uwais and Lemu reports, making the present effort by the Senate and the concurrent effort by the House of Representatives a welcome development.
“The failure to systematically and consistently enforce sanctions has encouraged impunity and the violence that often characterised electoral contest in Nigeria, thereby subverting the will of the people and undermining the nation’s electoral democracy.
“At present, INEC is saddled with the responsibility of prosecuting electoral offender. Section 150(1) and (2) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) empowered INEC prosecute electoral offenders through its legal officers or any legal practitioner appointed by it without the powers to arrest and investigate thus depending on the police for this purpose.
“Without the capacity to make arrest and investigate violations, the prosecutorial role is severely hampered. INEC cannot effectively focus on this role given its other variegated responsibilities under the Constitution and the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended)”, he said.
The electoral body’s tasks, he said, included registration and regulation of political parties as well as monitoring of parties’ congresses and finances, noting that the Secretary of the electoral offences commission should be appointed by the commission and not by the President as being proposed.
He also warned against appointment of ex-officio members, while calling for a proper definition of “electoral offences.”
Chairman of the Senate committee on INEC, Suleiman Nazif, stated that over the years, statistics showed that the various electoral offences and crimes orchestrated by politicians have cast shadows over the nation’s electoral process.
“Subsequently, due to human dynamics, crimes and offences of election tend to evolve. Therefore, we must look beyond the usual offences and into new trends of wider social electoral offences and crimes that have evaded justice for too long’’, he said.