As the 2019 general elections approach, the National Human Rights Commission has reiterated calls for the prosecution of alleged offenders of the Electoral Act, writes TERVER JIME
In a country where election periods have witnessed the most horrendous violence leading to gruesome deaths and wanton destruction of property, it is perhaps a misnomer that no individual has been successful brought to justice, despite reports by the National Human Rights Commission, urging the Attorney General of the Federation to press charges against persons and institutions who have been indicted by tribunals and courts to have violated the provisions of the electoral act and the Nigerian constitution.
The NHRC on March 28, at a public presentation of phase two of the “End Electoral Impunity” project report in Abuja, recommended to the AGF, Abubakar Malami (SAN), the prosecution and sanction of officials of the Independent Independent National Electoral Commission, police personnel, some private individuals and some staff of local government areas for their alleged ignoble roles in electoral transgression in the conduct of the 2015 general elections.
While presenting the project report which was supported by the Ford Foundation, Prof. Nsongurua Udombana, the Project Chairman, emphasised the need for the courts to stand up to their constitutional responsibilities of swiftly determining cases of fraud that are brought before them, especially electoral fraud.
“In the majority of the cases reviewed, the election petition tribunals fail to exercise the powers given them in the electoral act, which is to direct the appropriate authorities to investigate and prosecute alleged electoral infractions,” Udombana noted.
The report recalled a recent study by the NHRC which said: “Elections (in Nigeria) have historically been akin to organised crime. This is because during Nigerian elections, multiple actors pursue pre-determined outcomes through common enterprise rather than allowing the people’s vote to determine the country’s political leadership. This behaviour is unlawful, criminal and unconstitutional.”
Earlier in her welcome remarks, the Acting Executive Secretary of the commission, Mrs. Oti Ovrawah, expressed the NHRC’s gratitude to the project team for its thorough and meticulous work in completing the exercise.
“I am glad to inform you of completion of the project having considered the 2015 election cycle in Nigeria. In the first phase of the project, 2007 and 2011 election cycles were considered.”
She noted that there were several misconceptions about the project, as reflected in litigations against the commission arising from the report of the first phase, which covered the 2007 and 2011 elections
Ovrawah used the occasion to clear the air on the misconceptions, saying, “we will clarify the methodology and essence of this intervention by the commission as this is necessary in view of the wrong perception that the commission reviewed judgments of court in the project.
“The commission does not have such powers neither has it exercised such.
“What the commission has done in this study is to extract verbatim, statements used by either the Election Petition Tribunal or the Court of Appeal in relation to the election petitions before them.
“These statements by the courts, where they indicted either persons or institutions, were put together by the commission for onward transmission to the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) as well as the Attorneys-General of respective states.
The NHRC boss noted that with the completion of the report in the second phase, a follow up list of indicted persons or institutions would be transmitted to the AGF and the respective state Attorneys-General for further necessary action.
In the 1st phase of the project which covered the 2007 and 2011 polls, there were 118 indictments including Maurice Iwu, a former INEC chairman, the immediate past governor of Delta, Emmanuel Uduaghan along with electoral commissioners as well as members of the Election Petition Tribunals in Ekiti, Sokoto State and Ebonyi in the 2007 polls.
In a goodwill message, the Acting Chief Judge o the federal High Court, Justice Abdul Kafarati, represented by Justice John Tsoho, averred that electoral impunity was against the tenets of democracy.
Kafarati who was represented by Justice John Tsoho said that since elections were a key component of a democracy, all must be done to eschew electoral impunity in order to enjoy a thriving democracy.
He assured that the Federal High Court would play its role sufficiently to ensure that justice was served in electoral disputes and other cases brought before the court for adjudication.
Justice Kafarati and Prof. Udombana’s views were corroborated by the immediat past Chairman of INEC, Prof Attahiru Jega at an event organised by the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in Abuja, recently, where he intoned: “In Nigeria, lack of effective legal sanctions and penalties have helped to nurture and expand the scope as well as the magnitude of electoral fraud commuted with impunity. If crime is not punished effectively, and if some feel they are more equal than others before the law, then criminals get emboldened and commit crimes with brazenness and impunity. Unfortunately and regrettably, that is what has been happening in Nigeria with regards to electoral fraud and violence in elections.”
True to Jega’s assertion, Mr. Ibrahim Mantu, former Deputy Senate President, last month, confessed to rigging elections in favour of the Peoples Democratic Party in the country.
Following Senator Mantu’s public confession, a human rights group, “Our Mumu Don Do Movement”, has called for Senator Mantu’s arrest and prosecution.
The group’s leader, Mr. Charles Oputa, popularly called Chaleyboy, urged the Inspector-General of Police and the AGF to quickly apprehend and charge Mantu to court so as to deter people with such criminal tendencies, especially as the general elections beckon.
According to the report, the alleged indictments bordered on criminal, criminal/administrative, profession/judicial, professional/judicial and criminal/administrative infractions.
In her forward to the report, the NHRC acting ES, admonished all stakeholders to work towards ending electoral impunity in the nation.
“It is hoped that all stakeholders – INEC and other government agencies, human rights practitioners, professional bodies and others – will deploy this and the earlier report to confront electoral impunity and strengthen democracy in Nigeria!”
Jime is a Ph.D student of the Department of Mass Communication, Nasarawa State University, Keffi.