The Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have sharply disagreed on the proposed establishment of Electoral Offences Commission (EOC).
To INEC, EOC would not only help to take the campaign against electoral malpractices to “highly placed sponsors” but relieve it of the extra burden of prosecuting all electoral offenders.
But the EFCC argued that the EOC was unnecessary. The anti-graft agency explained that various laws already empowered it, the Police, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other-Related Offences Commission to arrest and prosecute electoral offenders.
INEC and the EFCC made their positions known during a one-day public hearing of a “Bill for an Act to Establish the National Electoral Offences Commission and Related Matters 2022” conducted by the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral Matters in Abuja on Tuesday.
It also provides for an imprisonment of up to 10 years or a fine of N40 million or both for hate campaign such as the use of threatening words/action or display of any written material that threaten or incite violence.
In his presentation before the committee, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu said that although the commission is opposed to some of the clauses in the bill, it believes that “the work of the proposed commission will help” in the prosecution of electoral offenders.
He said that since the perpetrators of electoral offences are often times not the beneficiaries of the crime, it was imperative for their sponsors to be fished out.
His words: “In addition to these responsibilities, the commission is required to prosecute electoral offenders. However, the commission’s incapacity to arrest offenders or conduct an investigation that leads to the successful prosecution of especially the high-profile offenders led to the suggestion to unbundle the commission and assign some of its extensive responsibilities to other agencies as recommended by the Uwais and Nnamani Committees.
“For those who argue that the solution does not lie in expanding the federal bureaucracy by creating a new commission, we believe that the National Electoral Offences Commission should be seen as an exception.
“While there are other security agencies that deal with economic and financial crimes, I am yet to hear anyone who, in good conscience, thinks that it is unnecessary to have established the anti-corruption agencies.
“However, these courts are already over-burdened. It is proposed that the Electoral Offences Tribunal be established with exclusive jurisdiction to try electoral offenders.
“It is clear that the reform of our electoral process cannot be complete without effective sanctions on violators of our laws. At present, INEC is saddled with the responsibility of prosecuting electoral offenders under the Electoral Act.
“This has been very challenging for the commission. For instance, since the 2015 General Election, 125 cases of electoral offences were filed in various courts out of which 60 convictions have been secured so far, including the most recent one in Akwa Ibom State.
“The commission would like to see more successful prosecution of offenders, not just ballot box snatchers, falsifiers of election results and vote buyers at polling units but most importantly, their sponsors.
“We look forward to the day when highly placed sponsors of thuggery, including high-profile figures that seek to benefit from these violations, are arrested and prosecuted. We believe the work of the proposed commission will help in this regard”.
Yakubu faulted some of the clauses in the bill which empower the Attorney-General of the Federation to make laws for the commission. He argued that allowing such provisions to sail through would erode INEC’s independence.
He said: “Clause 44 which empowers the Attorney-General of the Federation to make rules or regulations for the Commission. Conferring additional power to any other body may cause friction or conflict with the Commission which should be independent in the discharge of its functions even if doing so requires a consequential amendment to other laws of the Federation to empower the Commission and guarantee its independence.
“In any case, Clause 1(2) [c] of the Bill grants the Commission power to make its own rules and regulations. Thirdly, because work on the bill started before the passage of the current Electoral Act into law, all references to the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), for example, Clause 39(1), should be replaced with relevant provisions of the Electoral Act 2022″.
The INEC Chairman expressed the hope that the National Assembly would pass the bill so that it would not suffer the fate of previous ones.
But the EFCC said the offences contained in the bill are already covered by other laws in the country.
“Most of the speakers here have come out to support the establishment of the electoral offences commission. But we have a different position”, said an Assistant Commander with the anti-graft agency, Deborah Ademu-Eteh.
She added: “A holistic review of the contents of the proposed bill shows that the offences contained therein in Part IV (Sections 13-32) largely constitute offences that have already been criminalised by extant laws such as the Electoral Act, 2022 (See Sections 114-129), The Penal and Criminal Codes, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Act, 2000; The Economic and Financial Crimes (Establishment) Act, 2004.
“lf is apposite to state that these offences are offences that the Nigerian Police, the Federal Ministry of Justice, the Economic and Financial Crimes (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), and even the Independent National Electoral Commission (in Section 145 of the Electoral Act, 2022) are empowered under our extant laws to investigate and prosecute.
“There is, therefore, no need to create an agency solely for the purpose of investigating and prosecuting electoral offences most especially when our electoral process is seasonal in nature being that elections are held once in 4 years in the country.
“Furthermore, it is our suggestion that the existing law enforcement agencies should be strengthened to achieve maximum output instead of creating a new agency to investigate and prosecute electoral offenders”.“
Chairman of the House Committee on Electoral Matters, Hon. Aishatu Dukku warned that any delay in passing of the bill legislation could jeopardise the 2023 pools.
Dukku said: “Some may argue that the 2022 Electoral Act has vested INEC with the power of prosecution which the commission has been doing over the years. But the position of INEC has been that the enormity of the work is such that is beyond its capacity.
“Having the commission in place will enhance the credibility of the electoral process and contribute to the nation’s plan to have free, fair, and credible pools since there are provisions in the law to serve as disincentive to those interested in electoral offences”.