The Nigerian Senate has approved a jail term of 20 years for candidates in the country’s elections caught snatching ballot materials in sweeping reforms aimed at improving electoral laws in the West African country.
The candidates could also pay a fine of at least N40 million, some $97,205 if found guilty as indicated in the newly passed bill establishing the Electoral Offences Commission aimed at prosecuting electoral offenders.
The Commission’s membership consists of the Chairman, Secretary and representatives from the Justice, Interior, Defence, and Information Ministries.
The function of the Commission includes investigating electoral offences created in any law relating to elections in Nigeria; prosecution of electoral offenders; and maintaining records of all persons investigated and prosecuted.
Lawmakers said the passage of the bill had become imperative in view of the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) inability to prosecute electoral offenders.
“By the foregoing statistics, it is unrealistic to expect INEC to conduct free, fair and credible election and simultaneously prosecute offences arising from the same elections,” Chairman Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Kabiru Gaya said in his presentation.
“Indeed, INEC has at several occasions admitted that it lacks the wherewithal to cleanse the system.
“Its failure to prosecute even one per cent 870,000 and over 900,000 alleged electoral Offences in 2011 and 2015 general elections respectively is an affirmation of the necessity for a paradigm shift on how we deal with electoral offences,” the lawmaker said.
Media aide to the president of the senate, Ezrel Tabiowo in a statement on Tuesday said, “The Senate in Clause 12 of the bill approved at least five years imprisonment or a fine of at least N10 million Naira or both, for any officer or executives of any association or political party that engages in electoral fraud that contravenes the provisions of clauses 221, 225(1)(2)(3) and (4) and 227 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
“The parliament also adopted the Committee’s recommendation of fifteen years imprisonment for any person involved in ballot box snatching, supplying voter’s cards to persons without due authority, unauthorized printing of voters’ register, illegal printing of ballot paper or electoral document, and importation of any device or mechanism by which ballot paper or results of elections may be extracted, affected or manipulated, and voting at an election when he is not entitled to vote.
“It also approved ten years imprisonment for any person who sells voter’s card, or in possession of any voter’s card bearing the name of another person, or prepares and prints a document or paper purporting to be a register of voters or a voter’s card.
“The Senate also gave its nod to a term of at least ten years upon conviction for any election official who willfully prevents any person from voting at the polling station, willfully rejects or refuses to count any ballot paper validly cast, willfully counts any ballot paper not validly cast, gives false evidence or withholds evidence, and announces or declares a false result at an election.
“The upper chamber in Clause 20(2) approved at least fifteen years imprisonment for any judicial officer or officer of a court or tribunal who corruptly perverts electoral justice, during or after an election.
“It also gave at least fifteen years jail term or N30 million naira fine for any security personnel or election official engaged by the Independent National Electoral Commission or State Electoral Commission who attempts to influence the outcome of an election.
“In addition, any person found to disturb the public peace on Election Day by playing musical instruments, singing or holding an assembly where a polling station is located shall be guilty of breaching electoral peace and liable to six months imprisonment or a fine of at least N100,000 or both.
“Also, any person acting for himself or on behalf of any organization or political party or candidate or his agent with the intention of prejudicing the result of an election, damage or defame, in any manner, the character of any candidate in an election or his family member by making, saying, printing, airing or publishing in the print or electronic media false accusation on any matter shall be guilty of serious corrupt practice and liable on conviction to a term of at least ten years or a fine of ten million Naira or both.
“Any person soliciting or giving votes for or against any political party or candidate at an election, or found to affix campaign materials on any private house, public buildings or structures, or prints posters and banners without the name and address of the political party to which the candidate or person belongs contravenes sub-clause (1) to (5) and guilty of an offence and liable to at least five years or a fine of at least ten million Naira, or both.”
The National Electoral Offences Commission Bill, 2021, prohibits any campaign against national interest.
“It provides a twenty years jail term without the option of a fine for any person who propagates information that undermines the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, or unity of the federation,” Mr Tabiowo said in the statement.
“The Senate approved at least fifteen years imprisonment for any person who conveys voters to and from the poll; and three years imprisonment for any employee who directly or indirectly exerts undue influence on a voter in his employ.
“The upper chamber approved three years and not more than five years imprisonment for any person who provides false information in any material particular to a public officer.
“It also gave the nod for at least ten years imprisonment or at least twenty million naira fine or both for any person who uses hate speech to stir up ethnic, religious or racial hatred, social or political insecurity or violence against anyone or group of persons.”
By Abel Ejikeme