President of the Nigerian Senate, Ahmad Lawan, on Wednesday advocated stiff penalties for electoral offences such as election rigging and ballot snatching.
Lawan made this known in his concluding remarks after the Senate considered a bill that seeks to establish the Electoral Offences Commission.
According to the Senate President, the move to establish the Commission was in line with the legislative agenda of the Ninth National Assembly at sanitising Nigeria’s electoral process.
He said, “It is in pursuit of our legislative agenda at ensuring that we sanitise the electoral environment in the right direction.
“So, this bill is one of many that requires we amend the Electoral Act. Even Constitutional amendments and alterations will be made to that effect to ensure that the electoral processes and procedures are very well protected, that we stop people from abusing the process because they are in power, or because they have money.”
“I agree that the penalties must be punitive enough to make people not to indulge in electoral offenses,” Lawan added.
Earlier, sponsor of the Electoral Offences Commission Bill, Senator Abubakar Shaib Kyari (APC – Borno North), in his lead debate, expressed concern that “Electoral crimes lead to low quality, corrupt and violent political leadership.
“Electoral crimes help election riggers and offenders take control of governments against the democratic will of the electorates.”
According to the lawmaker, electoral offences give birth to political apathy that forces the electorates to shun political processes.
Kyari warned, “Political violence precipitates vicious cycles of political instability and national insecurity.
“Election corruption leads to avoidable waste of public resources and threaten National development in social-political and economic contexts.”
He added, “Civil disturbances and violence resulting from manipulated elections strain otherwise harmonious communal relationships with adverse effects on national cohesion, peace and security; because rigged elections throw up political schemes that are not conducive for businesses, the national economy decays from declining Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), declining Gross Domestic Product (GDP), increasing unemployment, and General fall in the volumes of both local and global commerce.”
Lending his voice to the debate, Senator Rochas Okorocha (APC – Imo West) advocated stiffer penalties and sanctions to serve as checks against electoral offenses such as rigging by officials of the electoral body.
Another lawmaker, Smart Adeyemi (APC – Kogi West) called for the establishment of a special court for electoral offences, saying, “I think we must look at the possibility of having a special court for electoral offences.”
Senator George Thompson Sekibo (PDP – Rivers East) said the establishment of an Electoral Offences Commission was long overdue.
According to the lawmaker, the 2023 General Elections will be marred with electoral violence like never witnessed before, should the National Assembly fail to pass the bill into law.
He, therefore, threw his weight behind the establishment of a tribunal alongside the proposed Commission.
“This request is long overdue. If we achieve this, we will be able to deepen our democracy. If we don’t achieve this, then 2023 will be worse.
“Electoral Act has many of this provisions, but the problem is who will implement it?
“We need the Commission, we also need the tribunal. Let it be surplus than having none.
“When it is passed, it should be assented to. If they don’t assent to it, then 2023 will be more than war,” Sekibo warned.
Senator Matthew Urhoghide (PDP – Edo South) said, “There is no amount of amendment to our electoral act devoid of the establishment of an institution for the purpose of punishing electoral offenses that will achieve any result.
“Anybody who commits, including political parties who commits electoral corruption, must be dealt with ruthlessly.”
Senator Francis Fadahunsi (PDP – Osun East), in his contribution said the responsibility of realizing a credible electoral system is one that begins with politicians.
He said unless politicians agree to have a sanitized electoral process in Nigeria, no amount of commission established will change the frequency of electoral offenses in the country.
Senator Adamu Bulkachuwa (APC – Bauchi North), while speaking in support of the establishment of the commission, said there is need to establish a special court so as to reduce congestion that may arise as a result of the number of petitions and electoral offenses that would go before the commission.
Senator Uche Ekwunife (PDP – Anambra Central) said, “For this act to work, it behoves on us the politicians.
“We are still the people that will make the environment conducive. If we follow the way we are doing elections in this country, there will be no democracy.”
The Electoral Offences Commission Bill, which scaled second reading debate on the floor, was referred by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, to the Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for further legislative work.
The Committee which is Chaired by Senator Kabiru Gaya (APC – Kano South) is expected to submit its report on the bill in four weeks.