Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, Chairman, Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), has advocated collaborative efforts in prosecuting electoral offenders.
He made the call at the 1st Series of National Policy Dialogue on Eradicating Electoral Corruption with focus on vote-buying held in Keffi, Nasarawa State, on Tuesday.
Owasanoye said that the Electoral Act empowered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to prosecute electoral offenders, but pointed out that “realistically we know that INEC does not have that power’’.
“Sometimes, anti-corruption agencies are available to support INEC. If we are going to deal with this issue, the prosecution of offenders has to be a collaborative effort that INEC, working with law enforcement agencies, have to deal with together.
“But, it is clear to me that something needs to change in the legal framework that says that INEC is the only one that is able to prosecute electoral offenders.
“Indeed, there are situations in which elections are challenged; obviously, INEC cannot be blamed for this situation.
“We need a framework that improves the credibility of the process,” he said.
While emphasising vote-buying, the ICPC chairman said that it was not a new phenomenon, and not peculiar to Nigeria.
“Vote-buying and selling have assumed alarming proportion in Nigeria and political larceny continues to challenge the integrity of the electoral process.
“It delegitimises the outcome of elections, breeds corruption and creates a sense in political office holders that they purchased power and are, therefore, not accountable to the people.”
Owasanoye further said that the sooner stakeholders interrogated political corruption and removed all shades of corruptive influence from our electioneering process, the better it would be for our democracy.
On his part, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, recommended the creation of electoral offences commission and tribunal with exclusive power and jurisdiction to process, arrest, investigate and prosecute electoral offenders.
He said “it is our firm believe that Section 150 of the Electoral Act which gives INEC the power to prosecute electoral offenders cannot break the cycle of impunity that exists within the electoral process.
“So, we need a separate agency to do all these,’’ he said.
Yakubu was represented by Mr Festus Okoye, National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee.
He said that the various election petitions tribunals should utilise the provisions of the law in making recommendations to INEC who should be prosecuted and who should not.
“Those who are found culpable of electoral corruption must not be allowed to benefit from the proceeds of their crime,” he said.
Director, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Ms Idayat Hassan, in the lead presentation on “Eradicating Electoral Corruption” described vote-buying as “a very huge and sad story’’.
“This means that the dividend of democracy may be difficult to get to the people if vote-buying continues to prevail.”
Hassan said that security votes were votes that were unaccounted for and monies that could be used freely.
“You find out that officials filter away such monies without having to account for them. This is especially looking at incumbency and the way vote-buying works.
“Vote-buying comes in two ways – the social network and the vote brokers.
“It is something we have to deal with because giving monies that are not accounted for is not aiding democracy, it is infringing on the nature of democracy in the country,” she said.
Hassan said that security vote was a phenomenon that should be cancelled and if it was not cancelled, it should be budgeted for.
Acting Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr Ibrahim Magu, said that electoral corruption was the worst form of corruption as it undermined the will of the people and invested power in illegitimate hands.
Magu, who was represented by Secretary of the Commission, Mr Olanipekun Olukoyede, said that a government that paid its way into power was hardly expected to be accountable.
He called for a proper definition of vote-buying and the itemization of actions that constituted vote-buying.
“Again, we need to take a closer look at the law against vote buying and the prosecution architecture,” Magu said.