Perhaps worried by the widely reported violence that characterized the conduct of the November 16, 2019 governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states, a bill to set up an Electoral Offences Commission was introduced in the Senate on November 27.The bill, titled “Electoral Offences Commission (Establishment) Bill 2019”, which was sponsored by Senator Abubakar Kyari [APC, Borno] passed second reading at Wednesday’s plenary.
The bill came a day after the senators lamented the violence and irregularities that have continued to mar elections in the country. Infact, the reported widespread violence that characterized the conduct of election in Kogi and Bayelsa states was so much that many civil society organisations and election observers declared the elections as not free and fair. In Kogi, the situation was compounded a day after the election when suspected political thugs went and set fire to the house of Mrs Salome Abu, Women Leader of the Peoples Democratic Party in Ofu Local Government Area. The thugs kept watch until the inferno consumed her and they prevented attempts by friends and neighbours to rescue her.
Incidents of election violence did not start with these elections. Nigeria has been experiencing this even before the current Fourth Republic. Our elections have been replete with violence and intimidation of opposing political camps before, during and after the exercise. The Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] had on many occasions expressed worries at the high level of violence that greeted most elections. INEC’s chairman, Professor Mahmud Yakub, was reported to have raised alarm at the possibility of violence during the elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states.
But the worrying aspect of the issue is that there has never been any serious effort to round up and prosecute the perpetrators of these heinous acts. This has further emboldened them and encouraged others to join them to continue to subject innocent Nigerians to further difficulties, which often their actions cause. This is also not the first time an attempt was made to stem the tide of election violence that characterized elections in Nigeria. The Electoral Reform Committee chaired by a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Lawal Uwais, in its report, recommended the setting up of a similar commission.
The committee recommended that the commission should be empowered to, among others, investigate electoral fraud, coordinate, enforce and prosecute persons who committed electoral offences and adopt measures to eradicate the commission of electoral offences. Unfortunately this and many other recommendations of the committee are yet to be implemented eventhough they were accepted by the government. It is, however, our stand that much as there is the need to stem the tide of violence during elections, setting up a commission for that purpose is not the best way to go. It is time for our leaders to stop thinking that every problem of the country can easily be solved with the setting up of a new bureaucracy. Quite possibly, this could compound the problem.
We have adequate laws in our statue books to address all these issues but, unfortunately, our law enforcement agencies often choose to look the other way while hoodlums take charge. Reports and clips that went viral on the social media during the Kogi and Bayelsa election showed how thugs shot their way to polling units and carted away election materials while the police watched. It was surprising that despite an earlier assessment of the security situation in both states and the deployment of more than 60,000 policemen, in addition to other deployments by other security agencies, hoodlums had a field day on November 16. Uptill this moment, there is no report of arrests made from the violence on election day in both states.
We strongly believe that what is required is not another commission but for all actors that have responsibility to ensure violence-free election to take full responsibility and ensure that Nigeria is rid of such shameful acts.