DAI with the support of the European Union, through the European Union Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) programme on Wednesday in Abuja presented a handbook designed to provide insight into the electoral offences and penalties in the Nigerian electoral process. The handbook a guidance document for all stakeholder involved in the electoral process, especially as Nigeria prepares for the 2023 General Elections.
Speaking on electoral offences, the former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega said awareness of the offences and the penalties may serve as a deterrent, however, best approach is to look at means of ensuring that there is successful prosecution where offences are committed, because ‘the major problem with electoral offences in Nigeria is that they are committed with impunity and that is because to a large extent people know they can do it and get away with it’.
Speaking further, Jega stated that the passing of the bill on Electoral Offences Commission by both houses of the National Assembly was a welcomed development, although it will be too optimistic to think it will be signed into law and come into effect before the #2023 elections. He also pointed out that while progress had been made, the challenge of ensuring significant prosecution of electoral offences committed during the 2023 election season had not been adequately addressed.
Speaking at the event also, a former Director of INEC on Voter Education and Publicity, Oluwole Osaze Uzzi, said there were so many electoral laws and offences and they keep being amended over time but yet not enforced. He however urged that enforcement should be prioritized in order to serve as a deterrent to those who have and are planning to commit electoral offences, especially in the coming 2023 Presidential elections in February.
Mr. Okechukwu Ndeche, the lead presenter at the event stated that ‘looking at the penalty provision in the handbook, there are quite a number of offences that do not have penalty provisions, hence they should be taken into consideration to provide the adequate penalties’.
A closer look into the handbook, Section A on offences relating to the voting process, conduct of polls and on the election day states that failure by the presiding officer to count the votes, announce the result and enter scores in the prescribed form after close of poll attracts a penalty of not more than N500,000 fine or imprisonment for a term of at least nine months. More so, failure by the electoral officer to use the mandatory Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) may lead to prosecution for dereliction of duty.
Ndeche highlighted these as a few of the offences and penalties listed in the handbook which should be given a close look especially by stakeholders.
On the role of the Court of Appeal on electoral matters, Kabiru Eniola Akanbi, the Deputy Chief Registrar of the Court of Appeal, said, 90% of cases in the court of appeal were mostly post-election matters (election result appeals) and not electoral offences or penalties; which showed that many of the offences before, during and after elections go unpunished. He also said that electoral offence cases were supposed to be on the top chart of the court of appeal cases and not just election result appeal, hence more work needs to be done.
While highlighting some of the challenges faced by INEC, the Director of Litigations INEC, Nasara H. Auta stated that one among the challenges they face is that they do not have the power to arrest offenders, and that violations by political parties are numerous and are hardly penalized. He added that there were too many offences that do not provide penalties, even though some of them can be prosecuted under the penial code. He therefore advised that the offences be revisited and provided with penalties so offenders are effectively prosecuted.
The event had in attendance many stakeholders including the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), DAI, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), the Nigeria Police, and the Ministry of Women Affairs.