Paschal Emeka, Abuja

The Speaker House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila has advised Nigerians to shun electoral offences saying that they are self-inflicted injuries that should be avoided by all so that the country can enjoy free and fair elections.

He handed down the advice to Nigerians at a one-day public hearing on A Bill for An Act to Establish the National Electoral Offences Commission and for Related Matters 2022.

He said that the gathering was aimed at getting the input and opinion of all stakeholders on the Bill for an Act to Establish the National Electoral Offences Commission and for Related Matters 2022.

“It is important to remind this August gathering that shortly after our inauguration as the 9th House of Representatives; a Committee saddled with the responsibility of drafting the Legislative Agenda of the 9th Assembly was inaugurated.

“Now it may interest you to know that in the Legislative Agenda, which was unanimously adopted by the House, we committed to carrying out amendments to our Electoral Legal Framework and the establishment of laws related to electoral reform that will enhance the conduct of elections in Nigeria.

“This Public Hearing is therefore organized in furtherance to this agenda. Therefore, in my capacity as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the said priority of reforming our electoral laws became my major objective so that the determination of the Nigerian people to build on the gains of our democratic achievements for an effective and efficient Electoral Legal Framework for a free, fair and credible elections will see the light of the day.

“While we acknowledge that even our recent governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun States signifies a milestone in Nigeria’s democratic evolution, there is no doubt that a lot of work still needs to be done to take the country to the point where elections are devoid of the usual challenges of violence, fraud and abuse of process.

“A review of our past elections indicates the need for the National Assembly to take necessary legislative steps to address identified challenges and plug the loopholes encountered with the conduct of elections in this Country,” Hon. Gbajabiamila said.

He noted that some of the challenges may require Constitutional amendments and that the National Assembly was working through the House Ad-hoc Committee on Constitution Review to make the necessary alterations to the Constitution that will fix the legal problems.

“As a step in the Legislative Process, this Public Hearing should bring forth new ideas on how to establish the National Electoral Offences Commission and, by extension, provide the means for free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria.

“It will be important for instance, for this Public Hearing to discuss some of the pending and unresolved issues on the increased phenomenon of vote buying and disruption of elections through the use of violence by politicians and their supporters, apprehension and prosecution of electoral offenders, improvements to INEC’s electoral processes to enable it further build its capacity and prepare for the next general elections in 2023, among others”. He said.

The Speaker added that in truth, electoral crimes led to low quality, corrupt and violent political leadership and it helps election riggers and offenders take control of governments against democratic will of the electorates.

“Civil disturbances and violence resulting from manipulated elections strain otherwise harmonious communal relationships with adverse effects on national cohesion, peace and security; because rigged elections throw up political schemes that are not conducive for businesses and the national economy” He said.

Hon Gbajabiamila therefore assured all Nigerians of the commitment of the House of Representatives and the National Assembly on the establishment of the National Electoral Offences Commission to take care of electoral violence, fraud and abuse of process

The Chairman, Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Senator Kabiru Gaya, appealed to President Buhari to sign the Bill when presented to him, to take immediate effect.

He said that the bill, which has been passed by the Senate, will curb electoral offences in Nigeria.

In his presentation, the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, said that this is the closest the nation has come to the passage of the long overdue National Electoral Offences Commission Bill into law.

He said that the Bill for an Act to establish the National Electoral Offences Commission is a critical legislation that has been part of all national conversations on constitutional and electoral reforms for the last 13 years.

“The Justice Mohammed Uwais Committee on electoral reforms recommended it in 2009, echoed by the Sheikh Ahmed Lemu Committee following the post-election violence of 2011 and, most recently, by the Senator Ken Nnamani Committee on Constitutional and Electoral Reform in 2017.

“Similar recommendations are contained in reports of police investigations, INEC administrative enquiries, court judgments, reports by the National Human Rights Commissionas well as several accredited election observers. It is clear that the reform of our electoral process cannot be complete without effective sanctions on violators of our laws.

“At present, INEC is saddled with the responsibility of prosecuting electoral offenders under the Electoral Act. This has been very challenging for the Commission. For instance, since the 2015 General Election, 125 cases of electoral offences were filed in various Courts out of which 60 convictions have been secured so far, including the most recent one in Akwa Ibom State”. Prof. Yakubu said.

He said that the Commission would like to see more successful prosecution of offenders, not just ballot box snatchers, falsifiers of election results and vote buyers at polling units but most importantly, their sponsors.

“We look forward to the day when highly placed sponsors of thuggery, including high-profile figures that seek to benefit from these violations, are arrested and prosecuted. We believe the work of the proposed Commission will help in this regard.

“However, much as the Commission would like to see more successful prosecution of offenders, our effort is hampered by obvious constraints.

“INEC is basically an electoral commission with extensive responsibilities which include the registration and regulation of political parties, the monitoring of party and campaign finance, their primaries, congresses, meetings and conventions; nationwide Continuous Voter registration (CVR) and the maintenance of the national register of voters; creation of polling units; delimitation of electoral constituencies; voter education and publicity; management of electoral logistics; recruitment, training and deployment of election duty officials.

“Other responsibilities include the conduct of numerous off-cycle and bye-elections; new innovations to promote inclusivity and electoral integrity; election security in consultation with the security agencies; strategic engagement with stakeholders; formulation of regulations, guidelines and manuals for the conduct of elections and electoral activities to give clarity to the provisions of the Constitution and Electoral Act; and maintenance of extensive physical assets (offices, residential accommodation and other facilities) nationwide. In many jurisdictions, some of these responsibilities are carried out by distinct and autonomous agencies,” he noted.

The Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral Matters, Hon. Aisha Dukku, said that the Bill was a Consolidation of four private member bills.

She said that the bill will help to meet challenges clocking Nigeria’s electoral process.

A representative of the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) of the British High Commission, Cambell McDede, pointed out that “Free and fair elections are the cornerstone to democracy.

He commended the National Assembly for taking steps to sanitize the electoral process in Nigeria

The Bill is being sponsored by the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), the Executive Director, Clement Nwankwo, who disclose that there is the need for appropriate punishment to accompany offenses.

He said that the bill stipulates various years and different fines for ballot box snatching, vote buying, disturbance of public peace, offenses by election officials, impersonation, bribery, amongst others.

The bill for an Act to establish the National Electoral Offences Commission and For Related matters, 2022, seeks to provide for the establishment of a National Electoral Offences Commission which will coordinate the investigation and prosecution of electoral offences.

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