• Sunday, July 14, 2024
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Proposed electoral offences commission gets mixed reactions

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Political stakeholders have expressed divergent views on the proposed electoral offences commission, which would be charged with the responsibility of, among others, investigating all offences created in any law relating to elections in Nigeria and prosecute offenders.

Although some stakeholders said the move to create the commission was long overdue because it would substantially help in cleaning up the country’s electoral system, others described it as a duplication of responsibilities because existing prosecutorial agencies have the capacity to play the role and have been doing so effectively.

Some said the idea of the proposed commission was not totally out of place, but expressed worry over the government’s sincerity in prosecuting offenders that would be arrested.

They spoke in separate interviews with BusinessDay.

Titled ‘A Bill for an Act to Establish National Electoral Offences Commission and for Related Matters, 2022’, the proposed legislation has passed first and second readings and has been subjected to public hearing in the House of Representatives.

The bill is proposing, among others, a 15-year jail term for anyone convicted of vote buying in any election, 20 years or a fine of N40 million for persons convicted of ballot box snatching while anyone convicted of hate speech or action that incites violence shall be liable to a minimum of 10 years imprisonment or at least N40 million.

It also proposes at least six-months jail-term or a minimum of N100,000 for anyone convicted of disturbing public peace at the venue of an election while security personnel and staff of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) convicted of trying to influence an election in favour of a candidate in an election shall be liable to at least six-month imprisonment or a minimum of N500,000.

Clause 33 (1) of the bill proposed that the Federal High Court, High Court of a State or the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja shall have the jurisdiction to try alleged offenders under the planned legislation.

Read also: Special Electoral Offences Commission splits Nigerians

INEC, currently saddled with the role of handling such offences, recommended that provisions be made in the bill to establish Electoral Offences Tribunal with exclusive jurisdiction to try electoral offenders as those courts are already over-burdened.

Mark Adebayo, spokesperson of Coalition of United Political Parties, said such a commission had become necessary to restore sanity to elections and discourage electoral fraud.

He said: “Foremost, it’s long overdue. It helps in checking the notorious scam of vote buying that produces results antithetical to democratic norms and compromises the true reflection of the voters’ choices at the election.

“Because poverty has been so weaponised in Nigeria, the people have become vulnerable to being manipulated by unscrupulous politicians who take advantage of the voters to buy them over with paltry sums that end up impoverishing them more. Vote buying has to be criminalised and prosecuted at the election offences tribunal inter alia.”

Adebayo, however, added that such a commission must be absolute without executive control and political influences.

“Its independence must be totally guaranteed by law.” he added.

But Martin Onovo, former presidential candidate, dismissed the proposed commission, saying that it was unnecessary because it creates inter-agency overlaps; increases the federal bureaucracy and cost of governance.

Onovo said: “Existing prosecutorial agencies have the capacity to play the role and have been doing so effectively.

“INEC said that 60 convictions of electoral offenders have already been achieved. What we should do is to strengthen the agencies to do more and do better. An electoral offences commission will be wasteful and inefficient.”

Debo Ajayi, candidate of the Young Progressives Party in the recent Ekiti State governorship election, applauded the idea, but expressed fears that such a commission may not succeed because of government insincerity and interference.

“Good idea, but like everything in Nigeria, the best of ideas fail because of the Nigerian human factor. We are prone to self-sabotage. Would they allow it to work? What of EFCC and ICPC?”

Experts say if established, the commission would further strengthen and deepen democracy in Nigeria.

They noted that election manipulation is a serious crime in a democracy that had aided incompetent and corrupt governments and politicians who weaponise poverty to maintain themselves in power.