Is it end of era for im­punity af­ter elec­toral fraud?

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

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

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