THE Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to urgently appoint an independent counsel to investigate allegations of electoral violence and bribery against state governors during the just concluded general elections.
The organisation, in a letter signed by its deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare on March 25, also urged the electoral body to “promptly and effectively investigate reports of electoral violence and other electoral offences committed during the general elections, and to identify suspected perpetrators and their sponsors, and ensure their effective prosecution, regardless of their political status or affiliations”.
Oluwadare said the perpetrators of election violence and their sponsors have clearly acted in violation of constitutional provisions, international standards and the Electoral Act.
“Section 52 of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, allows INEC to seek the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate allegations of electoral violence and other electoral offences such as bribery that may have been committed by any state governors and/or their deputies.”
SERAP further added that INEC should seek collaboration with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and other law enforcement agencies to identify any politicians and their sponsors suspected to be responsible for electoral violence and other electoral offences during the elections
Parts of the letter read: “Identifying, arresting, investigating and prosecuting those suspected of perpetrating electoral violence and other electoral offences during the 2023 general elections would act as a deterrent against electoral violence in future elections.
“We would be grateful if immediate steps are taken to implement the recommended measures within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall consider appropriate legal actions to compel INEC to comply with our request in the public interest.
“Acting swiftly to address the brazen impunity and reports of electoral violence and other electoral offences during the 2023 general elections would also send a strong message to politicians that the INEC under your leadership would not tolerate any infringement of the electoral process.
“Electoral violence is a threat to fair and representative elections. It is inconsistent and incompatible with the principles of democracy, the rule of law, transparency and accountability for politicians to allegedly use violence to disrupt the electoral process.
“When politicians and their sponsors decide to engage in electoral violence and other electoral offences rather than contest fairly for people’s votes, there are possibilities that such politicians will show a disregard for democratic rules and a disposition to adopt illegal means becomes inevitable.
“If voting is as important as INEC always claims it is, now is the time to take meaningful steps and action to end impunity for electoral violence and other electoral offences during elections.
“Ending impunity for electoral violence and other electoral offences promote accountability of suspected perpetrators and their sponsors, ensure justice for victims, and ultimately advance the people’s right to vote and to participate in their own government, as well as bolster voter confidence in the electoral process.
“Identifying, investigating, naming and shaming those suspected to be involved in electoral violence and other electoral offences during the 2023 general elections will also send a powerful message to politicians and their sponsors that they will not get away with their crime against the Nigerian people.
“Electoral violence and other electoral offences reportedly committed during the 2023 general elections are contrary to the express provisions of the Nigerian Constitution, the Electoral Act and international standards.
“Electoral violence and other electoral offences undermine the ability of INEC to discharge its responsibilities under Section 153 of the Nigerian Constitution and paragraph 15(a) of the third schedule of the Constitution, and the Electoral Act 2022.
“The Nigerian Constitution provides in Section 14(1)(c) that, ‘the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.’
“Sections 121 and 127 of the Electoral Act prohibit electoral bribery and undue influence before, during and after any election. Section 145(2) provides that, ‘a prosecution under this Act shall be undertaken by legal officers of the Commission or any legal practitioner appointed by it.’ Under section 2(b), the commission ‘shall have power to promote knowledge of sound democratic election processes.’
“According to our information, the just concluded presidential and national assembly elections and governorship elections in some states witnessed widespread reports of voter suppression, voter intimidation and the destruction or theft of election materials by political party agents and thugs across all six geopolitical zones.
“According to a report by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), several polling units recorded violence and/or fighting across the country.
“These violent incidents were often focused in political strongholds of opposition or perceived opponents which suggest that the use of BVAS – which limits overvoting when properly used – has resulted in a more concerted effort to stymie citizens casting their votes in opponent’s strongholds.
“Similar incidents of intimidation were reported in all geo-political zones.
“In several states, political thugs, apparently with the support of law enforcement officials, disrupted and sent back voters intending to vote for opposition parties. Party agents were reported to be directing people who to vote for while those unwilling to do as directed were denied ballot papers and forced to leave the polling units.
“There were reports of destruction of used ballot papers and vandalization of entire polling units in some states. Violence was also used to target BVAS machines in order to disrupt the process and ensure the cancellation of results.
“According to the CDD, there are reports of vote trading in zones across the country, with both cash and goods used by all political parties in an effort to entice voters to cast their ballots at their direction. The CDD noted vote buying at polling units during the elections across the country.”