Operate the Election Offenses Office
As the 2023 General Elections approach and the season for politics ripens, Nigerians are once again full of apprehensions as to how to achieve a free, fair and credible electoral process which would consequently lead to a peaceful change of baton. from one democratically elected president to another. These fears were allayed, however, by the Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba, when he recently announced the establishment of the Election Offenses Office (EOD) within the Force’s Criminal Investigations Department (FCID). The office will be overseen from the Force Headquarters in Abuja, with the Commissioner of Police, FCID, as the office officer.
According to the Force’s Public Relations Officer, Muyiwa Adejobi, IGP Baba has also endorsed the establishment of the unit within state commands nationwide. Deputy Commissioners of Police in charge of criminal investigation departments will serve as state desk officers. Adejobi said officers from the office of electoral infractions should collect and investigate all electoral infractions and complaints received from members of the public.
The unit of the respective State Commands will determine the strength of the cases in accordance with the Amended Election Act of 2022 and then bring charges to the competent courts for the necessary legal actions. The IGP instructed the unit to immediately begin its activities with cases that may have been registered during pre-election activities such as candidate selection, party conventions and primaries.
It should be recalled that in 2019, the National Assembly reintroduced the bill establishing the Commission of Electoral Offenses, which was adopted at first reading in the Senate on Wednesday, November 27, 2019. Previously, the electoral reform commission headed by Judge Mohammed Uwais had recommended the creation of an electoral offenses commission to deal with the prosecution and punishment of electoral offences. It should also be recalled that the same bill on the Commission of Electoral Offenses was adopted by the 8th Assembly but did not receive presidential assent for the sole reason that the adoption of the bill took place in the wake of the elections. General of 2019.
On July 13, 2021, the Senate, after due legislative procedures, again passed the bill establishing the Elections Crimes Commission under which anyone caught seizing voting materials during the election will be , if convicted, punishable by up to 20 years in prison without the option of a fine. Several other election offenses were included in the bill with appropriate penalties recommended for those found guilty. Unfortunately, 12 months after the bill was finally passed by the Senate, President Muhammadu Buhari has still not given his assent to it despite all the imperatives that make an electoral offenses commission a necessity. Further, INEC has over the years failed to prosecute election violators in accordance with the provisions of Sections 149 and 150(2) of the Elections Act (as amended). For example, no more than 1% of the 870,000 and over 900,000 alleged electoral offenses recorded in the 2011 and 2015 general elections respectively were prosecuted by the INEC.
If the Election Offenses Commission Bill is not signed or vetoed before the end of the current legislative session on May 29, 2023; it would, for the second time, lapse with the session again. Given the insinuation that the bill is unlikely to become law before the 2023 elections, even as the country desperately needs free and fair elections; The foresight of IGP Usman Baba to strategically position the police to fill the vacuum created by the lack of an electoral offenses commission is commendable. Without any prejudice, it is believed that the Election Violations Bureau would prevent or at least reduce the incidences of election-related violence that have characterized every round of general elections in Nigeria so far.
However, the track record of the role played by the police in previous elections has prompted some Nigerians to have reservations about the Election Offenses Office announced by IGP Baba. Politicians have always claimed that no rigging of the electoral process has ever succeeded without the connivance of the police. It is common knowledge in Nigeria that ballot box snatching and the mutilation of election results have always occurred under police surveillance. Nonetheless, Nigerians are prepared to give IGP Baba the benefit of the doubt and the necessary support to ensure that the Election Crimes Bureau serves the purpose for which it was established as long as the initiative is not denied the political will that would make it work. Since the devil is usually in the details, we expect IGP Baba to put in place all the operational and logistical guidelines necessary for the success of the office of electoral violations.
It’s time for the police to turn a new page in electoral matters and follow their rhetoric; up and down the scale. For the Election Offenses Bureau to be successful in its mandate, adequate orientation on the operations of the new unit should be provided to the police base. There should also be deliberate synergy between the police, INEC and other relevant stakeholders. We urge the electorate and politicians to also do their part to ensure free and fair elections. The fact that more than 800,000 and 900,000 cases of electoral offenses were registered in 2011 and 2015 respectively does not say much. Making the office of election offenses actually work is, indeed, a task that must be done under IGP Usman Baba.