The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is set to be unbundled if the bill seeking to create the Electoral Offences Commission (EOC) is signed into law by the president after the federal lawmakers passed it yesterday.
INEC is in charge of prosecuting electoral offenders but it has been overwhelmed with attending to so many other activities that it has not been able to prosecute even one percent of the 870,000 and over 900,000 alleged electoral offenders in the 2011 and 2015 general elections respectively.
The chairman, Senate Committee on INEC, Kabiru Gaya (Kano South), in his presentation, said the unbundling of INEC became imperative in view of its inability to prosecute electoral offenders in accordance with the provisions of sections 149 and 150(2) of the Electoral Act (as amended).
The functions of the Electoral Offences Commission (EOC) include investigating electoral offences created in any law relating to elections in Nigeria; prosecution of electoral offenders; and maintaining records of all persons investigated and prosecuted.
Others are to liaise with the attorney-general of the federation and government security and law enforcement bodies and agencies in the discharge of its duties; liaise with other bodies within and outside Nigeria involved in the investigation or prosecution of electoral offences; and adopting measures to prevent, minimise and eradicate electoral offences throughout the federation.
If the House of Representatives finishes its work and President Muhammadu Buhari signs the bill into law to create the EOC, violators of the electoral act and other guidelines in election conduct will be liable to a conviction of a term not more than 15 years or N30 million fine, or both, as the case may be.
If the EOC bill is passed, its officers are to arrest and prosecute electoral offenders at the local, state and federal levels.
Senator Gaya said the commission will help in tackling the issues of inconclusive elections as a result of violence, adding that the the commission will help Nigeria’s electoral process to conform to international best practices.
“It will also make Nigeria’s electoral process credible by ensuring that electoral offenders are prosecuted and convicted accordingly,” he said.
LEADERSHIP reports that offences ranging from ballot stuffing, voter register manipulation, declaration of false election results, and destruction or invalidation of valid ballots attract 15 years jail term or N30 million fine, or both.
Gaiya, who said the committee considered Justice Uwais Committee and Sheik Lemu Committee reports in the creation of the electoral offences commission, said it will be headed by a chairman with a secretary of the commission, adding that the officers will work like those of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) but on electoral matters.
A copy of the bill obtained by LEADERSHIP shows that no person, including election officials or security personnel engaged by INEC or State Electoral Commissions for the conduct of an election, shall in the course of performing his official duties perform or cause to be performed any act, except the act of giving his vote for any candidate according to law, with an intention of making any particular candidate successful or unsuccessful in the electoral. Any person who commits an act in contravention of sub-clause (1) of this clause shall be guilty of an offence of serious corrupt practice and liable, on conviction, to imprisonment for a term of at least 15 years, or a fine of at least N30 million.
Part IV (12) of the bill provides that any person who violates or acts in breach of the provisions of the Electoral Act No 6 2010 (as amended), or any other law on or regarding elections in the federation, or a part therefore, shall be guilty and sanctioned to the extent of such violation or breach as prescribed in the relevant sections.
The Senate in Clause 12 of the bill approved at least five years imprisonment or a fine of at least N10 million, or both, for any officer or executive of any association or political party that engages in electoral fraud that contravenes the provisions of clauses 221, 225(1)(2)(3) and (4) and 227 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
The upper chamber adopted the Committee’s recommendation of fifteen years imprisonment for any person involved in ballot box snatching, supplying voter cards to persons without due authority, unauthorised printing of voter register, illegal printing of ballot paper or electoral document, and importation of any device or mechanism by which ballot papers or results of elections may be extracted, affected or manipulated, and voting at an election when he is not entitled to vote.
It also approved ten years imprisonment for any person who sells a voter’s card, or is in possession of any voter’s card bearing the name of another person, or prepares and prints a document or paper purporting to be a register of voters or a voter’s card.”
The Senate also gave its nod to a term of at least ten years, upon conviction, for any election official who wilfully prevents any person from voting at the polling station, wilfully rejects or refuses to count any ballot paper validly cast, wilfully counts any ballot paper not validly cast, gives false evidence or withholds evidence, and announces or declares a false result at an election.
The upper chamber in Clause 20(2) approved at least fifteen years imprisonment for any judicial officer or officer of a court or tribunal who corruptly perverts electoral justice during or after an election.
In addition, any person found to disturb the public peace on Election Day by playing musical instruments, singing or holding an assembly where a polling station is located shall be guilty of breaching electoral peace and liable to six months imprisonment or a fine of at least N100,000, or both.
Also, any person acting for himself or on behalf of any organisation or political party or candidate or his agent with the intention of prejudicing the result of an election, damage or defame, in any manner, the character of any candidate in an election or his family member by making, saying, printing, airing or publishing in the print or electronic media false accusation on any matter shall be guilty of serious corrupt practice and liable on conviction to a term of at least ten years or a fine of N10 million, or both.
Any person soliciting or giving votes for or against any political party or candidate at an election, or found to affix campaign materials on any private house, public buildings or structures, or prints posters and banners without the name and address of the political party to which the candidate or person belongs contravenes sub-clause (1) to (5) and guilty of an offence and liable to at least five years or a fine of at least N10 million, or both.
The National Electoral Offences Commission Bill, 2021, prohibits any campaign against national interest. It provides a 20-year jail term without an option of fine for any person who propagates information that undermines the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, or unity of the federation.
Also, any candidate or agent who damages or snatches ballot boxes, ballot papers or election materials before, during and after an election without the permission of the election official in charge of the polling station attracts at least twenty years imprisonment or a fine of at least N40 million.
The Senate approved at least 15 years imprisonment for any person who conveys voters to and from the poll; and three years’ imprisonment for any employee who directly or indirectly exerts undue influence on a voter in his employ.
Also approved was a three-year and not more than five-year imprisonment for any person who provides false information on any material particular to a public officer.
It also gave the nod for at least ten years imprisonment or at least N20 million fine or both for any person who uses hate speech to stir up ethnic, religious or racial hatred, social or political insecurity or violence against anyone or group of persons.
Citing Federal Character, Senate Rejects Onochie As Commissioner-nominee
Meanwhile, the Senate yesterday rejected the nomination of President Muhammadu Buhari’s senior special assistant on New Media, Lauretta Onochie, as a national commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Also, Sani Mohammed Adam’s nomination as INEC national commissioner representing North Central was rejected with the committee on INEC mandated to do further legislative action and report back in two weeks.
Against several petitions, Onochie’s nomination was rejected on the ground that there is already a national commissioner of INEC from Delta State, May Agbamuche – Mbu.
If Delta State had no representative, the Senate Committee would have recommended for her confirmation because there was no evidence to prove she was an APC member, Gaya told journalists after plenary.
He said the woman told them she resigned her membership of APC in 2019 and did not revalidate her membership, adding that all the petitioners failed to prove Lauretta Onochie was a card carrying member of the APC.
Presenting the report of the Senate Committee on INEC, Gaya who chaired the committee said they rejected Onochie in line with the federal character principles which are enshrined in section 14 (3) of the 1999 constitution, as amended, and not as a result of petitions filed against her for being an APC member.
“Her nomination violated the federal character principles and national unity. In 2016, we confirmed a national commissioner from Delta State, Mrs May Mbu, and confirming Lauretta from the same Delta State will violate federal character,” Gaiya said.
The Senate president, while making clarifications, said Prof Sani Muhammad Adam’s nomination needs more legislative action.
It was gathered that Adam was allegedly sacked from a university so he went to court and won.
But on Onochie, Lawan said the committee was unable to forward her name for confirmation, adding that her nomination is negative.
Onochie had during screening said she was no longer a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) since 2019.
The other nominees, whose appointment were approved as national commissioners of INEC, are: Professor Muhammad Sani Kallah (Katsina); Professor Kunle Cornelius Ajayi (Ekiti); Saidu Babura Ahmad (Jigawa) and Dr Baba Bila (Northeast).
Onochie’s Rejection Saved Nigeria’s Democracy For Collapse – PDP, Northern Youths
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had described the Senate’s rejection of Onochie as the triumph of Nigerian people over the barefaced attempt to corrupt and hijack the commission ahead of 2023 elections.
The PDP, in a statement, said Onochie’s rejection had saved the nation from a very serious crisis as well as salvaged INEC and the entire electoral process from a ruinous pollution that would have led to the collapse of democratic order.
The party’s national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said “Onochie’s vexatious nomination, in total affront to paragraph 14 of the 3rd schedule of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), was a very dangerous machination by the Buhari-led APC Presidency against our electoral process, in the attempt to subvert the will of the people in the 2023 elections.
“The APC, in spite of its shenanigans, is aware that it will have difficulties winning election at any level in a free, fair and credible election, and as such it is determined to rig every process ahead of the 2023 elections.
“Our party, therefore, commends Nigerians including civil society organisations, the media as well as other political parties for joining forces with the PDP in fighting for the sanctity of our electoral process by resisting Onochie’s nomination,” he said.
Also, the Northern Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) has welcomed the rejection of of Onochie as INEC national commissioner to represent Delta State by the Senate.
The Northern Youths described the action of the Senate as victory for democracy and a confirmation of the independence of the National Assembly.
In a statement issued by the president, Northern Youths Council of Nigeria, Comrade Isah Abubakar, the group cautioned those who badly counselled the President to make such a nomination that can best be described as a coup against the Nigeria Constitution to desist from misleading him or risk facing the anger of Northern youths.
The Council admonished the leaders of the National Assembly and the members to continue to put Nigeria’s democracy first above party/individual sentiments.
219,184 Students, Artisans, Farmers Enrol For CVR
Meanwhile the INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has disclosed that 156,446 registered voters in its ongoing Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) are students, 38,217 artisans while 24,421 are farmers and fishermen.
Addressing a meeting with the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) in Abuja yesterday, Yakubu also noted that 811 centres are set for the take-off of the physical registration.
He also noted that 321,781 registrants in its ongoing Continuous Voter Registration are male while 220,795 are female.
Yakubu also said that 150,145 businessmen and traders had registered.
He said 35,831 employees who are civil and public servants and 8,334 housewives also registered for the CVR while the remaining 129,182 registrants did not specify their occupations.
As part of efforts to serve Nigerians better, Yakubu said the commission had requested registrants to indicate their disability (if any).
He said this will enable the commission to optimally and efficiently deploy assistive voting devices such as Braille ballot guide and magnifying glasses for persons with special needs at polling units on election day.
Yakubu said the commission had data for 6,558 registrants who had clearly indicated their type of disability.
He said, “A total of 542,576 Nigerians have completed the online pre-registration. Out of this figure, 456,909 are fresh registrants while 85,667 have applied for voter transfer, replacement of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), update of voter information record, etc.
“The commission is also able to provide Nigerians with information on the distribution of registrants across the states of the federation and by age, occupation, gender, and disability. Out of 542,576 online registrants so far, 356,777 (or 66 per cent) are young people between the ages of 18 and 34 years.”
PMB Hosts NASS To Dinner, May Discuss Insecurity
President Muhammadu Buhari last night met with members of the two chambers of the National Assembly.
The meeting was expected to begin at 8pm at the presidential villa, Abuja.
The meeting was conveyed in a letter received from the State House and read during plenary on yesterday by president of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan.
The Senate had on April 27 reached a resolution for the leadership of the Senate to schedule a meeting with the president to meet with him to discuss the issue of insecurity in the country.