PoliticsOpinion

Halt official sabotage of 2023 general elections

Femi Falana SAN

In the last 4 years, the Independent National Electoral Commission has so far recorded 50 attacks on its facilities across 15 states. According to reliable data, Imo State had the highest number of attacks on INEC facilities with 11 incidents followed by Osun, Akwa-Ibom, Enugu, Ebonyi, Cross River, Abia, Anambra, Taraba, Borno, Ogun, Lagos, Bayelsa, Ondo and Kaduna States.

In spite of the fact that the facilities are said to be well guarded the criminal elements involved in the nefarious activities generally operate without any challenge from security forces. If the dangerous trend continues on a larger scale INEC will not be a position to conduct elections in the affected areas. It is therefore curious to note that the few suspected arsonists have not been charged before any court.

The state of insecurity in Nigeria has also constituted a serious threat to the conduct of credible elections. It has been confirmed that elections cannot take place in the over 40 local government areas in different parts of the country which are firmly in the control of various armed gangs, including bandits, terrorists, known and unknown gunmen. The territories seized by the criminal gangs are in Borno, Kaduna Katsina, Niger, Sokoto, Zamfara, Abia and Imo States.

As the security of electoral officials and election materials cannot be guaranteed in the seized territories the authorities of the armed forces should ensure that an enabling environment exists for the conduct of elections in all the states of the Federation. Otherwise, the elections may be postponed indefinitely in territories controlled by the armed gangs with serious implications for the 2023 General Elections

Last week, the INEC raised the alarm that some politicians have been buying up Permanent Voter Cards, PVCs, and financially inducing unsuspecting voters to harvest their Voter Identification Numbers (VIN) ahead of the 2023 general elections. Apart from the two suspects who were recently convicted for illegal possession of PVCs in Sokoto and Kano states the sponsors of the criminal enterprise have not been exposed by security forces.

While condemning the illegal purchase of PVCs the Director Publicity and Advocacy of NEF, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed has disclosed that “thousands, or possibly even millions of northern voters, particularly women, are being made to surrender their PVCs for a pittance, in most instances not more than N2000. In some instances, they are told their cards will be returned to them after they are processed for additional payments as poverty relief. No cards are returned. Our investigations suggest that this is an aggressive and blatant voter suppression attempt to reduce the voting power of the North.”

On June 8, 2022 the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, has approved the establishment of electoral offences desks at the Force Criminal Investigations Department, FCID, Force Headquarters, Abuja, with the Commissioner of Police, FCID, as the desk officer. The IGP also approved establishment of the desks at state commands across the country, with Assistant Commissioners of Police in charge of the Criminal Investigation Departments as state desk officers.

A statement by the Force Public Relations Officer, CSP Muyiwa Adejobi, said: “The mandate of the Electoral Offences Desk Officers includes the collation and investigation of all electoral offences/complaints from members of the public or any quarters, with a view to determining culpability in line with the amended Electoral Act 2022, and proffering charges before Courts of competent jurisdiction for necessary legal action.”

On November 18, 2022, the inspector-general of police (IGP), alleged that some governors were using armed thugs and state security outfits to disrupt campaigns and other political activities. Mr. Baba accused such governors show “traits of political intolerance” which create political tension in the country. On December 4, 2022 the Director General of the State Security Service, Mr. Bichi warned political leaders to do away with usage of thugs when carrying out their activities and urged the youth not to make themselves willing tools for politicians.

On December 11, 2022 the National Security Adviser, NSA, Major General Babagana Monguno (retd) warned state governors using thugs to prevent opposition parties from mounting campaign materials in their domains that security agencies would soon descend on them. Monguno said he was aware that in the last month, at least 52 cases of electoral violence across 22 states including politically motivated assassination of candidates had been reported.

The heads of the nation’s security agencies have been warning governors and other top officials of the political parties to desist from disrupting the democratic process. At the same time, they have been threatening to deal with armed thugs. Instead of issuing empty threats the security forces should proceed to arrest and prosecute the suspects electoral offenders.

Contrary to the general belief among security forces, executive immunity does not cover electoral offences. In Turaki v Dalhatu 2003) 38 WRN 54 at 188, the Court of Appeal held that “If a governor were to be considered immune from court proceedings, that would create the position where a sitting Governor would be able to flout election laws and regulations to the detriment of other persons contesting with him. This would make a nonsense of the election process and be against the spirit of our national Constitution which in its tenor provides for a free and fair election.”

A fortnight ago, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announced its plan to limit weekly cash withdrawals over the counter to N100,000 for individuals and N500,000 for organisations regardless of their size while withdrawal at POS terminals has also been limited to N20,000 per day. Since the policy was announced, politicians have engaged in mopping up dollars to induce voters during the forthcoming elections. But the CBN has deliberately refused to ban the reckless inducement voters with dollars.

Meanwhile, no step has been taken by the Federal Government to amend section 2 (1) of the Money Laundering Act, 2022 which provides that “No person or body corporate shall, except in a transaction through a financial institution, make or accept cash payment of a sum exceeding (a)5,000,000 or its equivalent, in the case of an individual ; or (b) N10,000,000 or its equivalent, in the case of a body corporate.”

During the last governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun States it was widely reported that scores of vote buyers were arrested by operatives of the EFCC and ICPC. The suspects have not been charged before any court. Similarly, the hundreds of armed thugs arrested during the last primary elections of some of the registered political parties have been let off the hook.

A fortnight ago, suspected political thugs attacked the home of Senator Lee Maeba,the Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Presidential Campaign Council, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Without conducting any investigation whatsoever the Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Okon Effiong said that the attack by the suspected thugs was stage-managed.

However, in view of the reluctance of the ruling parties to allow the police to arrest and prosecute armed thugs and other criminal elements who disrupt elections the Uwais Electoral Reform Panel had recommended the establishment of Electoral Offences Commission. In July 2021, the Senate eventually passed the Electoral Offences Commission Bill. But the Houses of Representatives has deliberately refused to pass the Bill. Therefore, Nigerians should mount pressure on the members of the House of Representatives to pass the Bill and forward same to President Buhari for his assent.

Unless the security forces are prepared to deal with the anti democratic forces that are currently disrupting the democratic process the 2023 General elections may be sabotaged to the detriment of democracy and political stability in the country.

Falana SAN is the Chair, Alliance on Surviving Covid 19 and Beyond (ASCAB)

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