{VOX POP} Is The Proposed 10-Year Jail Term For Electoral Offenders feasible?

I do not see any feasibility there. My problem is that the Nigerian state is not ready to genuinely conduct free and credible elections in accordance with the recommendation of the Justice Mohammed Uwais Electoral Reform Panel.

What the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reforms had advocated since 2008 is that the recommendation of the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Panel is to be preferred to this kind of uncoordinated activity towards electoral reform. That panel had the best of resources to make the kind of significant recommendations they made. But the Nigerian state is not ready to utilise those genuine recommendations. So, this kind of fire brigade approach will not solve the matter at hand.

For example, that committee recommended the establishment of an Electoral Offences Commission and that commission will consist of – apart from statutory officers like the attorney-general or his agent, Inspector-General of Police or his agent– independent people that are supposed to be nominees of the Nigerian Bar Association, Nigeria Labour Congress, women and the likes, to make INEC independent of the sitting government. The panel recommended that the Electoral Offences Commission should have independent prosecutorial powers, so that it would be the one to initiate investigation and prosecution of offenders.

So, I am for a genuine, total adoption of this critical recommendation of the Justice Uwais panel. The elements in the National Assembly are partisan; they are sponsored into office by different political parties, so when you see them make recommendations, you should watch out. But the Justice Uwais panel was an independent body of serious minded Nigerians from various walks of life and they had the support of national and international development partners, who provided funds, logistics and personnel of the highest repute, in order for Nigeria to have a truly free, fair and credible electoral reform. That is what I will prefer. •Mr. Ayo Opadokun (Convener, Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reforms)

The proposed fines, as well as the 10 year jail term for electoral offenders, are a welcome development. They will help to sanitise our electoral system and I believe they will force sanity into the heads of politicians and whoever will have anything to do with politics.

Politics should not be a do-or-die affair as we take it to be in this part of the world. Politics is like a game of Chess; if you win, you win, if you lose, you also take it that way. But that is not the case here. Everybody wants to win, even if such persons cannot win any election within their nuclear family. If a politician contests and wins, he should serve and he should go back to his job if he loses; but it is not so here. Our people want to always bend the rules of the game to favour themselves at all times.

However, the feasibility of it depends on the human factor. It is good that the House of Representatives proposed this piece of legislation and it should be supported by decent people. Arrests of electoral offenders will be done by security agencies and there is nothing anyone can do if the law enforcement agents refuse to arrest and prosecute offenders. Those behind the bill have proposed that different courts, apart from our regular courts, should try electoral offenders. That is good because it will help to ensure speedy trials, but let us not forget that those who would be in charge are human beings as well. •Mr. Ade Adetimehin (Chairman, All Progressives Congress, Ondo State chapter)

The law will be of no effect, because you are dealing with people who can always fight the system. You will only get the prisons congested because the people that will end up being apprehended will be the people at the lower level of the political echelon– the foot soldiers. You can’t get the people who are actually responsible for the crime because for every political offence, there is a sponsor and that sponsor is usually difficult to reach.

I recall going for an election in the northern part of Oyo State and the real criminals were in their offices, but the people we saw on the ground were the thugs, people who didn’t care if they spent 10 years in prison. So, the prisons will just get unnecessarily congested. We should create an environment where you cannot even hire thugs for elections.

You can hardly reach the sponsors of electoral offenders. They are in the comfort of their homes, while the poor are the ones doing the dirty job. What do politicians mostly spend money on during elections if not guns and other arms? You arrest a small fry and send him to the slaughter slab, while the actual perpetrators remain untouchable.

What I think should be put in place simultaneously with the sanction is to deny their sponsors the opportunity of contesting elections. You get their names and once they have been convicted, you ban them from contesting.  I think that will be more effective.

Also, the political party system needs to be sanitised. At the same time, you should embark on aggressive voter and civic education to dissuade people from committing electoral offences. Again, you have to look at why people are desperate to occupy political offices. They are so juicy that you wouldn’t want to taste any other thing once you have held a political office unless you have the fear of God. Our political office holders are among the highest paid in the world. The Senate President of Nigeria earns more than the United States President. The best thing is to take away what makes political offices attractive. They don’t want to serve, but they just want to amass huge amount of wealth to themselves. •Prof. Lai Olurode (A former National Commissioner, Independent National Electoral Commission)

I support the proposed law. This is because anybody who commits an electoral offence is really undermining our democratic system. The person, in effect, is subverting it and making it ineffective so that we end up having people who are not elected occupying powerful positions. In other countries like the United States, the punishment is not that severe. But you hardly see any controversies in any of their elections from presidential to governorship and congressional. Look at Rivers State, for instance. There were no elections in Rivers. We heard of the huge sums of money made available by the oil minister, who was distributing to electoral officials just to ensure that they got to power. These are the things that undermine elections. So, any punishment of that sort is worth it.

The only difficulty in enforcing the proposed law will be in the area of prosecution, which we have had problems with. And I believe proving electoral fraud is easier than establishing looting because nobody is there when the looting is taking place. You just see a huge sum of money in a person’s account or in his house, while in electoral fraud, specific actions would have been taken, results would have been announced which are not consistent with the voting. Once there is evidence that money has exchanged hands, it becomes easier to prosecute. •Prof. Itse Sagay, SAN (Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption)

Everybody knows that we are not short of laws in this country. Before you, however, pronounce a man guilty of an electoral offence, you must first pass through the judicial system. How long do you think it takes for our courts to dispense with a single case? I don’t think the problem we have with the electoral system is the absence of sufficient punitive laws, but that of implementation. Until we are able to properly reform our system to a point where the average Nigerian will refuse to be used as thugs by politicians, I am afraid we will continue to catch and jail small fries, while their sponsors will continue to move around freely. •Senator Danladi Sankara (A former federal lawmaker)My position is that we should try as much as possible to upgrade our electoral system to both regional and international standards. Part of that upgrading must be to find a way to break the cycle of electoral impunity. We can’t make laws that are to a large extent un-implementable; laws that will make us a laughing stock in the comity of nations. I believe that we must sanction electoral offenders and people must pay for crimes they commit in the electoral process. A jail term of between two and five years, and a fine of not more than one million naira, is adequate. The challenge with electoral offences is that they are committed by foot soldiers; we hardly know their sponsors and those who are financing them. Our target should be finding and punishing these sponsors. •Festus Okoye (A Kaduna-based legal practitioner)

 

 

 

 

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