Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999 brought with it the pleasant realization that for the first time in decades, Nigerians could genuinely go to the polls to choose those to govern them without the military, interlopers in the corridors of power, breathing down their necks.
This realisation was made even sweeter by the fact that pain was not far away in the build-up to 1999. In 1993, the Nigerian military had violated the sanctity of the electoral process after MKO Abiola swept to victory at the presidential polls. In annulling the elections, the military conspired to send the country into the clutches of a brutal military dictatorship that only expired when Sani Abacha breathed his last in 1998.
Nigerians were able to go to the polls in 1999 and it happened that a country newly restored to the path of democracy in 1999 took its first, unsure steps to elect Olusegun Obasanjo.
The reinvention of electoral manipulation
All over the world, those who subvert the will of people know how critical elections are in deciding whether a people remain themselves, or whether they remain docile under the often heavy hands of those imposed on them.
Because free and fair elections show off democracy`s unrivalled power, they are often the subject of the most attention from those whose motives are anything but noble.
In 1999, the antics of Nigeria`s electoral offenders were obviously lost in the euphoria generated by Nigeria`s return to democracy and elections.
Their activities were not so pronounced or highlighted, as Nigerians preferred to focus on the fact that for the first time in years, they could eat of the fruits of democracy and not be made to choke.
But, like every other human endeavour, time breeds change, and with its passage, democracy grows. By the time the country`s four-year electoral autocade came around in 2003, awareness had grown, spinning in the process a tight contest. The 2003 elections also witnessed the beginning of the PDP-led assault on the sanctity of elections in Nigeria. This went on for a while and needed a series of judicial interventions to stop.
It is not to say that elections in Nigeria have completely become free and fair. But what has always been a journey has continued and Nigeria has come a long way. Surely, an electoral offences commission can help Nigeria cover more distance on this journey.
It has always been mooted but it has never exactly been realized. Instead, what has been realized every other election year in Nigeria is the large number of people who would bend the rules of electoral propriety to suit themselves and those they work for.
Long canvassed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the body has been unwavering in its belief that without a proper agency to expeditiously deal with those who subvert the electoral process in Nigeria, the electoral process in Nigeria will never reach its full potential.
This much was revealed by Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC Chairman, at a public hearing on the “Bill for an Act to establish the National Electoral Offences Commission’ recently conducted by the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral matters.
Yakubu revealed that in many cases, electoral offenders are prosecuted while those who commission them go scot-free. He revealed that out of 125 cases filed in various courts since 2015, only about 60 had resulted in convictions.
The INEC chairman proposed that an Electoral Offences Tribunal be established with the exclusive jurisdiction to try electoral offenders. He cited the Commission`s current incapacity to arrest offenders and conduct investigations as well as the volume of cases before the courts currently saddled with the responsibility of trying electoral offenders.
There is no doubt that for Nigerians to access electoral justice, there is every need for an Electoral Offences Commission that will bring to book those who commit electoral offences in Nigeria. This will no doubt further sanitize Nigeria`s electoral process and prove salutary for the country`s democracy.
Obiezu, Twitter: @kenobiezu