New Telegraph

Why electoral offenders must be prosecuted, by Nwanguma

What is your take on the performance of law enforcement agencies in the last elections?

If you look at the report of some of the election observation groups that monitored the conduct of law enforcement agencies during the elections, you will see different reports, and by the way, there is a standard to access them if they develop what they call standard operational guidelines for law enforcement officers on election duty.

If you use that, they were supposed to be polite, impartial, responsive, among others, But what we found is that there were few cases where we saw people in police uniform committing electoral violence but it was so wide spread.

What was wide spread was the fact that in many cases where electoral violence and misconduct happened, they stood by and did nothing. Some of them said they were not carrying arms but I don’t think that is a good excuse because the arrangement is that those at the polling units are not supposed to carry arms but if a situation occurs that is beyond their capabilities, they have patrol teams they could call in, but they simply watch thugs carry out those crimes, So, for me, I think the performance isn’t satisfactory.

Can you explain the importance and significance of the Peace Accord signed by all the political parties before the elections? It was simply to get them to commit and get them comply with Electoral Act and play by the rules of the game but you find that in spite of signing the ac- cord about two or three times, they still behaved as if the accord never existed. So, it shows desperation. The greatest problem we have in elections are politicians because is desperation that drives them to do what they want to do. I’m sure you also know that the Inde- pendent National Electoral Commission (INEC) acted corruptly in this election and it was the politicians that got them corrupted in their desperation to win by all means.

For every measure taken to overcome the challenges, they tried to device new ways to counter them and come up with new strategies to tamper with the electoral processes and that was why I think that INEC and other stake holders should continuously stay ahead of these politicians. We talk about transparency at the polling unit but they find ways to circumvent it and tried to manipulate results. That was why in many cases, most of the results were not completed in time but I think basically, politicians are the ones constituting electoral obstacles we have in Nigeria. Do you think election violence affects women participation in politics?

Women are the most affected because ordinarily for being women, they are already marginalised, especially when there is violence. Look at the woman that was injured during election process. In conflict situations, women stand a chance of being raped simply because they are women.

They are seen as weaker vessels; women bear the greatest bond of every form of violence whether it is electoral violence or communal violence. So when some women start thinking about the violence they might not want to go for positions and they might not want to even vote. It actually closes the door for them and the political space shrinks for women.

In terms of the process involved, how many women are independent enough to afford the huge amount political parties require, even when they said they reduced the money for women, at the end of the day, it still remains the same.

There are other factors that make it difficult for women because they feel that it is a man’s world, so a lot of deliberate steps need to be taken to encourage them. That is why in many countries, they introduce measures to enhance the chances of women known as the affirmative action.

If you take a count of candidates that ran for elections in Nigeria and those that won election into different assemblies, how many women won as governors, deputy governors, House of Representatives or Senate?

There are lots of limitations for women and those limitations need to be removed both cultural and economically to enhance participation for women. What do you think is the solution to election violence?

Election violence is caused by the desperation of politicians, who want to win by all means and they do that over and over again because there is no consequence. So, if we increase the risk of involving in electoral malpractice by making it nearly 80 per cent that someone will incur consequences, it will reduce be- cause people will be deterred.

But we have continued to witness electoral violence because there are no effective measures to check the desperation of politicians and make sure that those who go outside the Electoral Act pay for it. Do you think political parties do not keep to the peace accord because they know there won’t be any punishment of flaunting it?

Yes, because one of the key issues in election is the need to set up panels like Electoral Offences Tribunal that will try electoral offenders. There has been reluctance to set up that tribunal because the regular courts don’t have the capacity to deal with such issues. Most of the judges would be focusing on election tribunal, so there is even no special body and judges to deal with electoral offenses.

So, electoral offenders go scot free because there is no accountability. So, I think it is key we punish those who are involved in electoral mis- conduct. Do you think we should start looking at how to establish a special commis- sion for electoral malpractices?

The panels that dealt comprehensively with electoral misconduct came up with reports and recommendations. Some of the reforms we see INEC today are from that Justice Electoral Reform Committee. It was late President Umaru Yar’Ydua, who set up that panel when he came to power and admitted that the process that brought him was deeply flawed.

That was how he set up the Uwais panel that looked into elections and came up with that report known as Uwais panel report. What we have is that even though election tribunals say that certain elections were marred by violence, they don’t go as far as recommending those responsible for prosecution. For me, we need a body like that, so that people cannot continue to violate the Electoral Act and get away with it. What are some of the reports on election violence that shocked you? We have cases of voters’ suppression in places like Lagos, where some thugs were seen on video threatening Igbo people not to vote if they are not voting for the All Progressives Congress (APC) and we also saw a woman who was injured.

I think she was stabbed and she went and got her self-treated and still came back to cast her vote, which made people shocked. Elec- tion could not hold in some places due to thuggery. In places like Rivers State, a youth corps members were assaulted, brutalized, ballot boxes where snatched, forceful thumb printing and forcing of INEC to declare manipulated results. The violence was so wide spread; voters’ oppression and intimidation, manipulation of results, among others. These were quite outrageous and we say the case in Abia State, where they tried to inflate results and we had a Returning Officer who was determined not to allow it happened. In other places, when the presidential election was been collated, we say the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) representatives telling the INEC chairman to halt the process and look at the complaints coming from everywhere but he went ahead and announced the results.

But during the governorship election we saw how the Returning Officer had to stop the process to find out that there were errors and corrected them. What do you make of the appointment of a former Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase as chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC), and will it stop the feud between the commission and police?

Arase is one man, who has made a lot of impact in the Nigerian Police. I know Arase 20 years ago right from when he was a principal staff officer; he was officer to many Inspectors General of Police and he had a lot of experience. He is also one man, who had taken time to develop himself intellectually. It was when he was principal staff officer that we could write a petition to the police and he would reply you.

These days, they don’t even bother to reply anyone. And when he was Inspector General of Police, he came with a lot of new ideas but of course, once he left as IGP, subsequent IGPs did not give the needed support. What kind of reforms do you want Arase to carry out as the chairman of the PSC?

He should look at the mandate of the PSC and readdress and strengthen it to carry out its mandate and the mandate of the PSC is to investigate complaints against the police, discipline, recruitment and promotion. What are the problems around this mandate?

For example, we talk about paying bribe for pro- motions, abuse of the idea of special promotion which should not come all the time. There is a proposed bill to amend certain provisions for the Police Establishment Act; he should facilitate the consideration of the bill to ensure that those challenges are addressed.

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