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Govt begins prosecution of INEC officials, others for electoral fraud

The Federal Government through the Nigerian Bar Association has commenced the prosecution of some staff members of the Independent National Electoral Commission and political party members indicted for various electoral offences during the 2023 general elections.

Electoral offences remain a major threat to credible, free and fair elections in Nigeria, as they often heighten political tension and trigger violence.

Following the February 25, 2023, presidential and National Assembly elections, the immediate past Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, said over 700 offenders were arrested by men of the Nigeria Police Force for violating electoral laws.

INEC had on May 2, 2023, said it would prosecute 215 handed over to it out of the 774 persons arrested for various electoral offences by the NPF during the polls.

The commission said it was partnering with the NBA, which offered pro bono legal services for the effective prosecution of the electoral offenders.

Out of the 215 case files received by the commission, 196 cases are electoral offences and are being handled by INEC and the NBA.

The National Publicity Secretary, NBA, Habeeb Lawal, told our correspondent on Friday that 196 suspects, including INEC officials and members of political parties, were being prosecuted for various electoral offences such as vote-buying, arms possession, and others committed during the 2023 poll.

Lawal noted that the prosecution was being carried out in magistrates’ courts and the high courts of the states and the Federal Capital Territory.

He explained, “A total of 196 suspects are being prosecuted for various offences by volunteering members of the Nigerian Bar Association, who are handling the cases pro bono.

 “The offences range from dereliction of duty, criminal conspiracy and disorderly conduct at election venues, unlawful possession of arms on election day, snatching and destroying of INEC materials, electoral malpractices, unlawful possession of election materials, voter inducement and vote-buying, malicious damage and assault, and electoral violence.

“Some of the suspects are INEC officials, while others are political party members and people without determinable political affiliations.

“The magistrates’ courts and the high courts of the states and the FCT have jurisdiction over electoral offences by virtue of the Electoral Act.

“Therefore, the offences are being prosecuted by our members in these different courts all over the country, as there is hardly anyone state of the federation that the prosecution is not ongoing.”

When asked what impact the prosecution would have on future elections, the publicity secretary noted, “We believe that successful prosecution of electoral offenders will deter people desperate to assume political offices.

“We are hopeful that this modest effort will positively impact and sanitise our electoral system and culture.”

The Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, stated that the commission would not condone bad behaviour, adding that future offenders would be held accountable for their actions.

Oyekanmi said, “By engaging in the commendable collaboration with the Nigerian Bar Association to jointly prosecute electoral offenders, the Independent National Electoral Commission is reinforcing its resolve not to condone bad behaviour.

“It is also our strong message to aspiring offenders that they will be held accountable for their actions.

“While we have achieved some measure of success in prosecuting electoral offenders in the past, the NBA’s offer to assist us pro bono will further widen the scope and serve as a deterrent to others.”

The Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Auwal Rafsanjani, stated that Nigeria would be free from election violence and corruption if electoral offenders were dealt with.

He stated, “As a way of sanitising the electoral process, there must be sanctions or penalties for people who break our law.

“Political parties will warn their members and supporters to stay off violence to avoid rubbishing the image of the parties once they are aware of the consequences of committing electoral offences.

“Nigeria will be free from manipulation, election violence, and corruption.”

A legal practitioner, Victor Giwa, said prosecuting electoral offenders would discourage election irregularities and produce credible leadership.

Giwa explained, “People prepare for rigging elections. They budget money for getting thugs, and bribing security agencies and INEC officials because these offenders are not prosecuted.

“But when Nigeria starts prosecuting electoral offenders, it will discourage election irregularities and reduce electoral offences. It will help to provide proper and credible leadership.

“When electoral offenders are not prosecuted, it reduces confidence in the electoral process.”

Reacting to the development, a rights activist and Chancellor, International Society for Social Justice and Human Rights, Jackson Omenazu, said since it had become the norm for electoral offenders to rob the citizens, deny them their rights as stated in the Electoral Act, and violate the electoral laws of the country, the arrested offenders should be severely punished irrespective of their personality.

According to him, electoral offenders have gone scot-free over the years, adding that their proper prosecution would deliver a balanced electoral process in the country.

He said, “No armed robber can rob 10,000 persons at a stretch. An INEC official with criminal intentions can rob one million people at a stretch and get away with it and one of the biggest problems we have in this country today is that electoral offenders have gone scot-free all these years.

“These things are criminal and honestly, until electoral offenders are punished severely, we will not get a balanced electoral process in this country no matter who is involved. My advice to the media is that they should escalate the matter so there won’t be any chance for them to sweep it under the carpet.”

Also commenting, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Afam Osigwe, explained that the most important thing was to show Nigerians that there were consequences for all actions, adding that for the electoral process to have integrity, the arrested electoral offenders should be properly prosecuted.

He added that actions must be matched with words by ensuring that those who adhered to the electoral law and process had their gains in court, while offenders found culpable should be made to face the full wrath of the law.

Osigwe said, “I do not know who is involved but the important thing for me is that Nigeria must show that actions must have consequences and that for our electoral process to have integrity, those who are apprehended for all manners of electoral malpractices or offences should be prosecuted. We should match action with words by ensuring that people who try to support the electoral process have their gain in court and that the full weight of the law is brought against those who are found culpable.

“We must show that we are a nation ruled by law and that the full weight of our law must be brought against those who breach them. For me, that is the important message that you will be passing if this prosecution is successfully carried out.”

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