Is it end of era for impunity after electoral fraud?
One of our electoral legacies has been that for incumbents who abuse their power to rig themselves to continue in office, the reward is they continue their incumbency. When found guilty by an electoral tribunal, new elections are usually called for. The incumbent stays on their seats, use state resources to recruit top SANs to fight their case in court and when re-elections are called for, use State resources to contest and win again. It was to counter this terrible legacy that the Uwais Electoral Reform Committee proposed that electoral fraud should be clearly criminalised and those found guilty of involvement in electoral fraud should be banned from politics for at least a decade. Must of the excellent recommendations from the Uwais Committee were never implemented and I believe that with a Change Agenda Government in power today and the likely emergence of a new INEC after Senate clearing this week, the time has come to return to the agenda of comprehensive electoral reform.
Over the past three weeks, many election tribunal judgements have emerged and they remind us that even if the 2015 general elections were a great improvement on previous elections, the fact of the matter was that electoral fraud was massive in many parts of the country. Last week, the Rivers State Election Petition Tribunal sacked Nyesom Wike as governor of Rivers State and ordered for new elections. The tribunal, headed by Suleiman Ambursa, faulted Wike’s counsel’s argument that the non-usage of card readers could not be grounds for nullifying the election. The APC candidate had argued in line with numerous observer reports that intimidation of voters, non-availability of result sheets, snatching of electoral materials, noncollation of results at ward and local government levels marred the election. In other words, it was a classic case of massive electoral fraud.
Also in the same week, the election tribunal for Akwa Ibom State has invalidated the gubernatorial election results in 18 out of 31 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the State. The ruling means that the Governor no longer has 25 percent of the vote in 21 local governments and was therefore not duly elected. In Taraba State, the National Assembly Elections Petitions Tribunal nullified the election of Bashir Marafa of the Peoples Democratic Party to Senate and ordered that INEC issues the Certificate of Return to All Progressives Congress, candidate, Yusuf Abubakar, who was the one who scored the majority of lawful votes during the polls. Other Senators elected such as Gilbert Nnaji of Enugu State, Buriji Kashamu of Ogun State, Murtala Badaru of Niger State and Abariba of Abia State also lost their seats at the various election tribunals.
The problem with rigging in Nigeria is that it is usually done with the connivance of state agencies. We first learnt this fact on the basis of judicial authority when the Babalakin Commission of inquiry into the Ondo State 1983 Gubernatorial election revealed that the rigging was done by Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO), the Nigerian Police Force and the then National Security Organisation (NSO). When State organs are used to falsify outcomes of elections, it is a serious crime against all that the State stands for. Justice Babalakin had declared at that time that if the State does not learn to punish its officers who break the electoral law, the content of democracy would continue to be compromised in the country. In the various tribunal judgements that overthrew electoral outcomes over the past few weeks, the