We lack capacity to prosecute electoral offenders — INEC

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said it has challenges prosecuting electoral offenders.

INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, listed the challenges in his remark at the commission regular meeting with Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) on Tuesday in Abuja.

Mr Yakubu said while INEC was at the moment saddled with the responsibility of prosecuting electoral offenders, it had no capacity to arrest offenders and conduct investigation “without which successful prosecution is impossible.”

“Over the years, we have worked closely with the Nigeria Police. Since 2015 we have received a total of 149 case files, including 16 cases arising from the 2019 general election,” he said.

“The cases are prosecuted in the states where the alleged offences were committed.

“Unlike pre-election and post-election cases, there is no timeframe for the prosecution of electoral offenders. A case may go on for several years.

“Some of the cases were dismissed for want of diligent prosecution while in some states, the attorneys-general entered nolle prosequi to get the alleged offenders off the hook.

“Even where the commission recorded the most successful prosecution of electoral offenders following the violence witnessed in a bye-election in Kano State in 2016, it is unclear how many of the 40 offenders sentenced to prison with the option of fine actually spent time in jail.

“The fine was paid presumably by their sponsors.

“That is why we believe that the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal will dispense justice dispassionately and speedily in the same way that the Electoral Court deals with violators in other countries such as South Africa.”

He expressed hope that the security agencies would get to the roots of all violations and support the commission to prosecute electoral offenders who terrorise voters and INEC officials, and their sponsors as well.

He said the commission would continue to work with the National Assembly and all stakeholders for the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal as recommended by different committees.

He expressed concern that elections in Nigeria, especially for executive positions, were increasingly characterised by brazen acts of impunity.

Mr Yakubu said that impunity had become the bane of Nigeria elections, and the best antidote to impunity was the enforcement of sanctions under the laws without fear and favour.

He said INEC plans was for all elections to be successfully concluded and for the will of the people to prevail.

He said that the meeting was important to undertake the commission’s internal appraisal of recent elections, beginning with briefings by the RECs responsible for the States where elections were held.

“Lessons learnt from these elections are important in fine-tuning our processes, especially in view of the impending review of the electoral legal framework for which the commission would vigorously engage the National Assembly and stakeholders.

“It is for this reason that this meeting will discuss the bill recently referred to the committee on INEC by the Senate. Copies of the bill have been made available to the RECs for critical evaluation and input.

“One critical area that the Commission will engage the National Assembly is the status of the Smart Card Reader (SCR).

“Let me reiterate that the SCR has come to stay. It cannot be jettisoned or abandoned,” he said.

Mr Yakubu said that INEC would rather seek ways by which SCR utility in elections could be enhanced for the triple objectives of verification of Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs), confirmation of ownership and fingerprint authentication of voters.
“The status of the SCR must be provided for and protected by law. Similarly, accreditation data from the SCR should be used to determine over-voting and the margin of lead principle.

“The judgment of the Supreme Court on the primacy of the voters’ register as the determinant of over-voting in law merely draws attention to the lacuna in the electoral legal framework.

“This must be addressed through immediate and appropriate amendment to the Electoral Act.

“The commission will present a proposal to the National Assembly on this matter as well as other areas in which further deployment of technology will deepen the integrity of our electoral process,” he said.(NAN)