By Ignatius Okorocha
Disturbed by the reported cases of electoral violence that bedevil the nation’s electoral processes, the Senate on Wednesday, set in motion legislation to establish a National Electoral Offenses Commission to try offenders.
This was even as lawmakers recalled their ordeals at the 2019 and subsequent elections in the country, noting that election in Nigeria could better be described as war situation.
Deliberating on a Bill to establish National Electoral Offence Commission and for related matters sponsored by Senator Abubakar Kyari, the lawmakers cautioned that unless concrete action is taken to save the country from the violence that are associated with the nation’s elections, the masses of this country would continue to have wrong people in government.
In his lead debate, Kyari said establishing the commission to complement role of Election Tribunal will solve the problem of electoral violence and guarantee free and fair electoral process.
He said Electoral crimes help election riggers and offenders take control of government against the will of the people.
According to him, the bill has seven parts and 35 clauses.
Senator Sarajudeen Ajibola Basiru (Osun Central ) who seconded the bill said it is part of the legislative agenda of the 9 Senate.
He noted election must be free, fair and credible devoid of interference and rigging.
He urged his colleagues to read the Uwais committee with recommendations on electoral matters in the country, noting that election rigging causes apathy, adding that in other to have a proper bite, the bill should add criminal adjudication for prosecution to be within a period of time.
Contributing to the debate, Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe(Abia South) said the Uwais report did not suggest a commission but a tribunal dealing with Electoral offences.
He said ones those issues go to the normal court; the delay in the judgement will still go on.
He called for a clearer distinction between the commission and the trabunal which is aim at cleaning up the system.
Sen. Sam Egwu (Ebonyi North)said that what is happening in Nigeria if described as violence would be a mere attribution but war situation.
He said what Nigeria have as an election is war, noting that people are being killed during election which is unacceptable.
Former Deputy president of Senate, IKE Ekwerenmadu, said that the commission makes sense to punish offenders.
He said as former chairman of INEC committee, that in the last 10 years, they’ve tried to establish that body but there had always been a setback.
Explaining the role of a tribunal or commission, Ekweremadu noted that tribunal will have the powers of a magistrate court while in the case of a commission; government in power may compromise the commission.
The Bill, he said, should look at the possibility of tribunal but they must ensure its independent and impartiality.
According to the lawmaker, the law will be able punish offenders because if it does not punish offenders, the crime will continue. He urged his colleagues to address the grey areas in the bill in a way that Nigerians will be satisfied.
He said at the committee level, Nigerians should contribute during the public hearing and ensure that the institution is aligning with best practices.
Adamau Aliero (Kebbi Central), said if the law did not take drastic action electoral malpractices Nigeria’s election will not go to the promise land.
He said in other countries, losers congratulate the winners but in Nigeria, impunity keeps striving.
Leader of the Senate Yahaya Abdullahi,said there was an existential threat to Nigeria Democracy whole advocating for a commission and tribunal.
On his part, Sen.Rochas Okorocha (Imo West) said the only way a leader can be produced is through election.
He noted that the issue of election rigging is serious. He said if a politician becomes a criminal, he will be his Excellency, the Executive Criminal of the state.
He said his attention has been on those who snatch ballot boxes, but the people who conduct the election and others take election results and write. He said there should be serious punishment.
He said if democracy is practiced the way it should be, many holding electoral offices won’t be there.
Smart Adeyemi (Kogi West), said there couldn’t be democracy where free and fair election was not there.
He said the shirt coming over the years was because of people of questionable character finding their ways to elective position. He said military government is better than democracy, adding that there must be a special court for electoral offences.
Sen. James Manager ( Delta South), who rose on a point of order and called it a “popular point”.
The Senate president Ahmad Lawan interjected by saying “what Adeyemi raised were personal to him and not the view of the chamber.”
Sen.George Thomson Sekibo (Rivers East), said if they achieve the establishment of the commission, they will deepen Nigeria democracy.
He challenged his colleagues to own up that they have offended the electorate, saying, “We must forgive ourselves and ask Nigerian’s to forgive us.”
He said it was not true that military government was better than democracy.
The lawmaker said the Electoral act is not followed with people donating to politicians beyond the stipulated amount. He said there should be both the tribunal and the commission.
According him, if the commission was on ground, INEC officials won’t still be serving including security officers and politicians.
He called on the leadership of the National Assembly to impress on President Muhammadu Buhari to assent to the Bill after passage, adding that if not, 2023 general elections will be worse than 2019.
The billed scaled seconding reading having passed through voice vote.
President of the Senate mandated committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to carry out further legislative work on the bill and return it in four weeks.