Chuks Okocha and Deji Elumoye in Abuja
The Senate wednesday moved to curb electoral offences and create a special court with the passage of the second reading of the bill to establish an electoral offenders’ commission.
The bill proposes severely jail terms for election offences and violence.
The bill sponsored by Senator Abubakar Kyari from Borno State is seeking to establish National Electoral Offences Commission and Other Related Matters.
Most of senators supported the bill, arguing that the 2023 general elections would be a total war, if there’s no offences commission and special courts to sanitise the already violent electoral system.
The new bill is also proposing a term of 15 years when found guilty of destroying, snatching or illegally opening a ballot box when you are not so authorised.
If the proposed amendment scales through, any person who votes when he or she is not entitled to vote is also liable to an imprisonment of 15 years, just as this applies to any one who attempts to stuff any ballot box approved by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) or a State Electoral Commission other than a ballot paper which is authorised by law.
In the proposed amendment, a person shall also be jailed for 15 years if without due authority takes over a polling station or he is found in possession of any electoral document outside a polling station.
The bill, which has already passed second reading, also seeks an imprisonment of 20 years without an option of a fine for a judicial officer or officer of a court or tribunal who is found guilty of corruptly perverting electoral justice, before, during and after election, and if he directly or indirectly receives or accepts for himself or for any other person or on behalf of other persons, any money, gift, loan, property, valuable consideration, office, place, employment or appointment, or promise of personal enrichment for the purpose of giving, rendering, procuring or directing a judicial decision in favour of or against a particular person or party in an election petition or any matter relating to an election conducted pursuit to the provision of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The bill also states that “all national officers of any association or political party, as the case may, that contravene the provision of Clauses 222, 225(1), (2), (3) and (4) and 227 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable, on conviction to imprisonment for a term of at least five years or to a fine of at least Ten Million Naira (N10,000,000) or both.”
The bill has also pegged 15-year imprisonment for any person, “acting for himself or on behalf of any organisation or political party or candidate or his agent or other person, shall, with an intention of prejudicing the result of any election, damage or defame, in any manner, the character of any candidate in an election or his family member by making, saying, printing, publishing, distributing, posting, airing, or televising, or cause to be made, said, printed, published, distributed, posted, aired or televised, before or during any election, any matter in the print or electronic media including radio, television, the internet, online or social media, which he knows or believes to be false in relation to the personal character or conduct of the candidate or his family member or by making false accusation on any matter in a manner likely to make others believe such matter to be true.
If the bill scales through and a new commission is established, it would now be made compulsory for candidates at an election to submit a statement of expenses to the commission at most six months after the election and the statement shall be in form to be prescribed by the commission from time to time.
Kyari said when the commission is established, it shall have the power to appoint and maintain, as its officers, employers, investigators, prosecutors, experts and other persons with qualifications, experience and skills in fields that are relevant to the commission’s functions, to perform such duties as may be necessary from time to time.
He added that electoral crimes help election riggers and offenders take control of government against the will of the people, noting that the bill is aimed to tackle challenges plaguing electoral process in Nigeria. He warned that electoral process is turning out to become a warfare, saying the associated violence should be stopped.
The lawmaker also warned that electoral offences if not controlled could result to political apathy and waste of public funds.
Kyari said INEC does not have the human capacity to prosecute electoral offenders and the failure of INEC to prosecute election offences has increased the process of electoral violence.
He added that putting duties of conducting elections and prosecuting electoral offenders on INEC has become a burden to the commission.
Supporting the bill, Senator Ajibola Basiru, Osun Central, who seconded the bill, said it’s part of the legislative agenda of the 9th Senate to sanitise the electoral system in view of the violence witnessed in previous elections.
He added that elections must be free, fair and credible as well as devoid of interference and rigging, explaining that former President Umaru Yar’adua established the Justice Mohammed Uwais-led committee which recommended the establishment of election offences tribunal and commission to tackle electoral violence.
He said electoral rigging could cause apathy, adding that in other to have a proper effect the new commission should add criminal adjudication for prosecution to be within a period of time.
Senate Minority Leader, Eyinnaya Abaribe, in his contributions to the debate, said the Uwais report clearly called for establishment of a tribunal dealing with electoral offences and not a commission.
He lamented the delay over court’s prosecution of electoral offences, adding that a special court would be apt to tackle electoral offences, while asking the bill to clarify the duties between the commission and the tribunal which is aimed at cleaning up the system.
In his contribution, the former governor of Ebonyi State, Senator Sam Egwu, representing Ebonyi North, described elections in Nigeria as mere warfare, explaining that any measure to curb the violence during elections is a welcome development. He also said it’s unacceptable that people would be killed and maimed in the name of elections.
Former deputy senate president, Ike Ekwerenmadu, supported the bill because it does not make to kill people in the name of elections, stating that the bill’s provisions would punish those who go against the rules of the game to discourage election offences from becoming a way of life.
He said the commission is long overdue as it was proposed since 10 years ago, suggesting that tribunal or commission, the important thing is that it must have the powers of a magistrate court.
Eweremadu added that it’s better to have a tribunal rather than a commission that could easily be compromised by the government in power. He said lawmakers should look at the possibility of eatablishing a tribunal but they must ensure its independent and impartiality.
He said at the committee level, Nigerians should contribute during the public hearing and ensure the institution is aligned with best practices.
Senator Adamau Aliero, representing Kebbi Central, said politicains employ different tactics and manners to promote electoral violence, warning that if drastic action is not taken, Nigeria’s election would not take the country to the promised land.
He said in other countries, losers congratulate the winners but in Nigeria, impunity keep striving.
Leader of the Senate, Yahaya Abdullahi, in his contribution, said electoral violence is an existential threat to Nigeria’s democracy, advocating for the commission and tribunal.
Senator Sadique Suleiman (Kwara South), said democracy and good governance would continually be threatened by electoral violence. He said the commission must be established very fast, adding that as leaders, lawmakers must be elected on free and fair basis.
Senator Rochas Okorocha (Imo West) said the only way a leader could be produced is through election, explaining that issues of election rigging is seriously getting out of hand. He said if a criminal becomes a criminal, he would be His Excellency, the Executive Criminal of the state.
He blamed electoral violence on those who snatch ballot boxes, adding that attention should be focused on the people who conduct elections, recommending that they should equally be punished.
None of the senators opposed the bill. The bill has seven parts and 35 clauses.
In rounding debates on the bill, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, said a punitive law would be a veritable way to tackle electoral violence.