Former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, has called for the constitution of an inter-agency team with the sole responsibility of arresting electoral offenders.
He made the call at the European Union Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EUSDGN) project’s inaugural/dissemination seminar in Abuja. The event witnessed a panel discussion on “Offences and penalties in the Nigerian electoral process a guidance document for stakeholders” by DAI-EUSDGN. Jega commended the production of the booklet, saying it should be given wider circulation. He said awareness of electoral offences and penalties could serve as a deterrent. He was, however, of the opinion that the best panacea was to look at ways and means of successfully prosecuting those caught breaching electoral laws. He said the major problem with electoral offences in Nigeria was that they were committed with impunity, saying the impunity, to a large extent, was as a result of people knowing they could do it and get away with it.“What can we do to ensure significant prosecution of electoral offences committed during this election season in spite of the limitations of INEC, and of course, the police?” I think the limitations of INEC are not just having a small legal unit that is very, very busy with other matters, but also the challenge of not being able to investigate. You have to rely on the police.“In fact, the whole reason why the law makes INEC be in charge of the prosecution of electoral offenders is because of the recommendation that the police have failed in the past in that regard. I think it is a serious dilemma, but it is possible for INEC to enter into some serious discussion with the police to develop a framework where at least, let us make a very, very clear point during this election season that as many as it is possible, electoral offences will actually be prosecuted.“The use of money, for example, has become prevalent, politicians recognising that the use of technology is limiting their traditional ways of undermining the integrity of the elections, are now trying to buy the voters directly so that the voters themselves will be the ones who will go and cast the vote for them, having sold their conscience clear. Maybe some of those specific offences can be targeted. Particularly, there are good positive signals that since 2019, INEC has been working together, partnering with both the EFCC and ICPC on this issue of apprehension of those who on election day, they buy vote.“So, maybe if that collaboration can be strengthened, bringing the police into it, just like we have the inter-agency consultative committee on election security, maybe we should bring those other agencies, particularly on the issue of apprehension of vote-buying – police, EFCC, ICPC so that there can be successful apprehension and immediate prosecution.“I think for me, the more successful prosecutions we have, and possibly of high-profile offenders, the more we can gain traction in terms of minimising this issue of impunity in the perpetuation of election offences,” Jega said. Team Leader, DAI-EUSDGN, Rudolph Elbling, said, unfortunately, a lot of electoral offences are committed all over the world, but in Nigeria, they are quite intimidating.