Electoral malpractice syndrome assumed a whole new dimension in Nigeria recently when Nigeria Police presented to the public a pile of 111.3 million naira notes that it said was recovered out of N360 million allegedly used to bribe INEC officials during the December 2016 Rivers State rerun elections. The police also paraded 23 INEC officials that it said were the beneficiaries of the bribe. According to the Police, the suspects admitted to receiving the bribe money.
An investigative report submitted to Inspector General of Police (IGP) Ibrahim Idris accused the governor of Rivers State Nyesom Wike of giving N360 million bribe to electoral officials to rig the December 10 2016 legislative election in the state. The report was presented to IGP Idris by the chairman of the 15-member Special Joint Investigative Panel, Deputy Commissioner of Police Damian Okoro. The panel was made up of officials from Nigeria Police and the Department of State Services (DSS). Three of the accused INEC officials who are Senior Electoral Officers admitted to receiving the money directly from Governor Wike. These three SEOs who were team leaders received N20 million each, according to the report, and shared the rest of the money to their subordinates each of whom collected N15 million.
Based on the evidence uncovered, the panel concluded that failure of leadership and followership rather than lapses in law enforcement was responsible for the upheaval and attendant violence that featured during the polls. The panel also said electoral violence was funded by desperate politician who sponsored assailants to attack their opponents as well as security agents. It is to be recalled that a police officer was beheaded in a most gory manner at Ogba/Egbema/ Ndoni (ONELGA) axis of the state during the election.
Rivers State Government however rejected the police report. Its Commissioner for Information Dr Tam George described the allegations as “shameful, defamatory and reckless in the extreme” and he challenged the Police to show evidence that Wike “financially induced any INEC official”. On its part INEC is yet to make any significant response to the issue, saying it would do so whenever it receives the details of the panel’s report.
This sordid finding by the police is yet to be tested in court and we urge the police to proceed immediately and charge the accused men to court. Even though the police finding has sent shock waves through the country and has added fuel to the public’s suspicion of politicians and their conduct, it is not yet final until the courts say so. The security agencies, including the police, have become masters of conviction by media trial. This is not good enough. Ideally the information unearthed by the police after such painstaking investigation as well as the exhibits gathered should have become public only after their presentation in court. This method gives the police a lot of public relations credit but it is not the ideal procedure under the law.
Some Nigerians asked questions as to why the police showed extraordinary interest in the Rivers State election and how it acted with unusual despatch in investigating it, arresting the alleged culprits and recovering the alleged bribe money. IG Idris provided a plausible justification when he said the Rivers election was accompanied by so much violence and involved the death of policemen, including a Divisional Police Officer. Certainly it deserved speedy investigation, although we urge the police to act with similar zeal and speed in other election cases as well.
For now the impression is created in the minds of some Nigerians that the police act with despatch only when the opposition party is the suspected culprit. Bribery of voters and election officials is a widespread practice in Nigeria and police ought to investigate it where the ruling party also wins the election. This is necessary in order to remove the element of selective justice, which is a grave injustice. But first, let us charge these accused persons to court immediately.
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