Checking electoral impunity

By IAfrica
In Nigeria
Mar 6th, 2014
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•The NHRC indictment of three key institutions suggests another urgent need for electoral reform

The damning 146-page report by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), following an investigation of the 2007 and 2011 general elections is an eye-opener on how the electoral process is subverted by institutions saddled with conducting and ensuring that all goes well during electioneering and polling.

The NHRC, a federal institution identified 84 different crimes committed during the elections it investigated and submitted that the judiciary, police and the electoral commission collude in assaulting the sanctity of elections in the country.

At a point when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is promising that all would be well at the elections coming up this year as well as those to be conducted in 2015, the NHRC report is a wake-up call to all Nigerians to rise up to monitoring the performance of the three key agencies indicted for committing crimes during previous polls.

We find it unacceptable that officials found to have abused their positions in previous polls have not been sanctioned. In one case, the NHRC reported that an Assistant Superintendent of Police was identified before an electoral petition tribunal to have signed results as an agent of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Yet, the Police Force did nothing to sanction the officer. This suggests that he was acting under instruction or did nothing outside the norm. Others would therefore be encouraged to follow in his footsteps.

In a ward in Anambra State in the 2007 election, while 2,089 names were on the voters’ register, more than 7,000 were returned to have voted. The electoral officials knew this was contrary to the law but allowed the result to stand until it was challenged in court.

When institutions like the Police saddled primarily with enforcement of the law, INEC whose members pledged and swore to conduct free and fair elections and, the judiciary, the last hope of the people in ensuring justice prevails in all circumstances flagrantly flout the law, the society is doomed.

It would be interesting to hear Professor Attahiru Jega’s response to this. As always, he has promised to conduct credible polls henceforth. But, logistics have remained a nightmare as if what is required is rocket science, his officials are found culpable and left in the system and members of the commission at the highest level found to have participated in partisan politics as members of the ruling party are still left to handle sensitive assignments.

Nigerians stridently called for financial independence for the commission and only relented when Professor Jega was appointed its chairman, given his antecedents. There is little to suggest that much has changed since his appointment in 2010. The little gain made in 2011 seems to have been eroded in the Delta Central Senatorial and Anambra governorship elections, last year.

As the various institutions prepare for the Ekiti and Osun states’ elections, we call for utmost transparency on the part of the electoral commission. The secret to building up confidence is to carry all stakeholders, especially the media along. The media are to serve as the watchdog of the process, the eyes of the public. It is also expected that all officials against whom there have been allegations and petitions suggesting that they might not be neutral should not be assigned sensitive assignments. The Operations and Logistics Departments of INEC’s national headquarters should be revamped. The two key departments have consistently failed Nigerians and cannot be trusted to do a good job. While Professor Jega could be excused for tolerating them on the commission’s board because he lacks power to appoint or sack, he has no justification for refusing to shake up the departments.

Corruption, recklessness and impunity are largely responsible for the retrogression of the Nigerian system. The worst crime against the state and Nigerian people is political corruption exemplified by unpunished electoral crimes that subvert the will of the people.

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