Prosecute election offenders to save democracy – CSO

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By Angela Atabo

The Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), a Civil Society Organisation (CSO) has called for the establishment of an electoral tribunal empowered to prosecute offenders.

Executive Director of PLAC, Mr Clement Nwankwo, made the call at a public presentation of “Study on Nature of Electoral Offences in Nigeria’’.

He said that the existence of the tribunal would curb impunity of some politicians in elections and reduce electoral petitions and tribunals.

He said that inability of election tribunal to prosecute offenders indirectly encourages electoral offences which posed a threat to the democracy of Nigeria.

Nwankwo said if this was done, the challenges posed by section 150 of the Electoral Act would be surmounted because the tribunal would be vested with the powers to try offenders.

He called for the repeal of the Act and replaced with a better one that would include stringent punishments for electoral offenders.

Nwankwo said the Act had been amended three times and was currently undergoing the fourth amendment.

He said over the years, electoral offences had posed a challenge to Nigeria’s elections without any serious prosecution to deter culprits.

He warned that electoral offences threatened the growth and development of Nigeria’s democracy and could endanger its electoral process.

According to Nwankwo, failure to apprehend and prosecute offenders has remained the biggest challenge of achieving violence-free elections in Nigeria.

He said that the nature of offences reviewed by PLAC identified politicians, political parties, agents and security agencies as the major perpetuators of electoral offences in Nigeria.

“Blatant disregard of election laws and regulations coupled with failure to prosecute offenders, including officials of INEC have led to the emergence of electoral impunity.

“Existing tribunals have in some cases cancelled election results or ordered re-runs on account of violence and other electoral offences.

“The 2015 elections although highly contested was adjudged to be credible. However, subsequent occurrences showed that there were still irregularities, pockets of violence and need for improvement in the electoral environment.

“Several discussions around the adequacy of the existing legal framework to prosecute electoral offenders and even, the capacity of INEC to punish its officials for offences have continued to trail post-elections in Nigeria.’’

Nwankwo said it was against “this backdrop that PLAC with support from the MacArthur Foundation carried out the study to evaluate the nature of offence prevalent in Nigeria’’.

Prof. Paul Idornigie, Head, Department of Commercial Law, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, who reviewed the report, said that since 1962 there had been electoral offences with no one ever punished.

He said that some people had become political entrepreneurs, who saw politics as business so they would continue to go to any length to win elections, thereby continued to jeopardise the electoral system.

Idornigie supported the need to review the sanctions for electoral offenders because some of the existing ones were “too light hence the high level of impunity’’.

He advocated that any party found guilty of breaching electoral lawsb should, along with its officers, be liable “and not just the party’’.