• Thursday, July 18, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Crimes during 2023 general elections in Nigeria

The 2023 general elections may have just earned the title of the most controversial yet in the history of elections in Nigeria. While the elections are finally over and citizens begin to ease into the realisation that they now have new leaders, some aggrieved contenders have brought petitions before the appropriate election tribunals.

Some of the grounds or reasons for the petitions include non-compliance with the Constitution and the Electoral Act 2022; corrupt practices, and that the election was characterised by violence, voter profiling and intimidation. These are significant grounds to approach the court with.

For things such as election violence, voter profiling and intimidation, there are grave consequences and not only for the individuals that carry out such acts but for Nigeria’s democratic system. During the 2023 general elections, here are a few acts that are electoral offences.

Voter influence and non-compliance to the secret ballot system
The Nigeria electoral law recognises the importance of the voter’s role in the electoral process. It grants eligible voters the right to participate in the selection of their representatives and mandates that the electoral process be free, fair, and credible. One of the principles to ensure a credible election is the secret ballot system which allows voters to vote without fear. The secrecy of the ballot is an essential principle of democratic elections, which is designed to protect the voter’s privacy and prevent any form of coercion or intimidation.

Section 50 (1) of the Electoral Act provides that voting at an election under this Act shall be by open secret ballot. This means that while voting or elections are to be held in public, voters cast their votes, that is, thumbprint on their preferred choice in private. After this, a voter is expected to properly fold the ballot paper into the ballot box. Therefore, to reveal who one voted for is a violation of the principle of the secrecy of the ballot.

Read also: 2023 flawed general election(s): Missed opportunity for nation-building

The requirement of secret voting during elections is an important principle and the law imposes liability upon violation. Section 122 of the Electoral Act states that “every person in attendance at a polling unit including every officer charged with the conduct of an election and his or her assistants and every polling agent and candidate in attendance at a polling station or at the collation centre, as the case may be, shall maintain and aid in maintaining the secrecy of the voting.

The law further provides that “any person acting contrary to the provisions of this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N100,000 or imprisonment for a term of three months or both. It is an offence for any person to prevent the maintenance of the secret ballot system, reveal or attempt to reveal the identity of a voter and how he or she voted during an election. Therefore, voters are expected to keep their voting choices private and not reveal them to others.

President Muhammadu Buhari and Samuel Ortom, governor of Benue state, were reported to have revealed the parties they voted for during the election. While the immunity against court actions provision under section 308 of the 1999 Constitution may have saved them, such an act is a violation of the law.

Apart from not maintaining the secret ballot system, a person is guilty of an additional offence where he tries to influence others with the revelation of votes. Voter influencing is an offence under the electoral laws in Nigeria and is punishable under the law. Revealing the votes cast by a person to influence the votes of others in an election is unlawful.

Every officer charged with the conduct of an election and his or her assistants and candidate in attendance at a polling station or at the collation centre shall aid in maintaining the secrecy of the voting.

Voter Intimidation, threats and violence
There were reports of voter intimidation and harassment during the 2023 general elections. Like the story of the election heroine who has now become famous, Jennifer Efidi who was injured in the face and still went back to her polling unit to cast her vote, there are many more stories of voters who were harassed and injured during the election process. Strictly prohibited by the law, voter intimidation is when an individual or group use force or threats to prevent voters from exercising their right to vote. It is a criminal offence under the Electoral Act and is punishable by imprisonment for up to two years or a fine of up to 500,000 Naira.

According to section 128 of the Electoral Act “a person who directly or indirectly, by his or herself or by another person on his or her behalf, makes use of or threatens to make use of any force, violence or restrain; inflicts or threatens to inflict by his or herself or by any other person, any minor or serious injury, damage, harm or loss on/against a person in order to induce or compel that person to vote or refrain from voting, or on account of such person having voted or refrained from voting; by abduction, duress, or a fraudulent device or contrivance, impedes or prevents the free use of the vote by a voter or thereby compels, induces, or prevails on a voter to give or refrain from giving his vote, is guilty of the offence.

There were instances of voter profiling especially during the gubernatorial and houses of assembly elections in various states with voters being prevented from voting because they look like a certain tribe.
Inducement, Bribery and corruption
Cases of inducement and bribery were also recorded as voters where induced (given money or gifts) to ensure that any person who after the election directly, or indirectly, by his or herself, or by they voted or refrained from voting for a particular candidate and vote for another.

The law is that any person who after election directly, or indirectly, by his or herself, or by any other person on his or her behalf receives any money or valuable consideration on account of any person having voted or refrained from voting, or having induced any other person to vote or refrain from voting or having induced any candidate to refrain from canvassing for votes for his or herself at any such election, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N500,000 or imprisonment for a term of 12 months or both.

On bribery, Section 121 of the Electoral Act is to the effect that a person who pays or causes to be paid any money to or for the use of any other person, with the intent that such money or any part of it shall be used in bribery at any election commits an offence.

A voter commits an offence of bribery where before or during an election directly or indirectly by his or herself or by any other person on his or her behalf, receives, agrees or contracts for any money, gift, loan, or valuable consideration, office, place or employment, for his or herself, or for any other person, for voting or agreeing to vote or for refraining or agreeing to refrain from voting at any such election.

According to section 127 of the Electoral Act a person who corruptly pays money to or for any person for the purpose of corruptly influencing that person or any other person to vote or refrain from voting at such election, or on account of such person or any other person having voted or refrained from voting at such election; or (b) being a voter, corruptly accepts or takes money or any other inducement during any of the period stated in paragraph (a), commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N100,000 or imprisonment for a term of 12 months or both. Records of voters queuing up to receive money from party agents and candidates were also recorded during the elections.

Elections will continually be a source of learning for improvement in Nigerian democracy. While offenders should be made to face the consequences of their actions in order to ensure that the justice system is not undermined, it is important that other mechanisms to ensure that these offences are reduced to the bares minimum are put in place. Security operatives and INEC officers must uphold integrity and credibility in the system and should not act complacently with the people who undermine the process.