Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged Professor Mahmood Yakubu, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) “to promptly establish a joint, credible, transparent, effective, and broad-based investigation into allegations of electoral bribery and violence in the off-cycle governorship elections in Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa states.”
SERAP urged him to “identify, arrest, name and shame suspected perpetrators and their sponsors of these grave human rights crimes, and ensure their effective prosecution, regardless of their political status or affiliations.”
SERAP also urged him to “disclose the spending details on the governorship elections in Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa states, including the specific amount spent to conduct voter and civic education and activities carried out in these states.”
In the letter dated 11 November 2023 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “If INEC is to live up to its constitutional and statutory responsibilities, it must take bold and effective measures to combat the culture of impunity for electoral bribery and violence in the country.”
SERAP said, “The recurring cases of electoral bribery and violence make a mockery of Nigeria’s electoral process and participatory democracy.”
The letter read in part: “INEC must acknowledge its own limitations and now embrace a transparent, credible, inclusive and broad-based investigation into the allegations of grave electoral offences in Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa states.
“Electoral integrity is critical to a legitimate democracy. When the integrity of that process is compromised, the legitimacy of our government and the public confidence in our public institutions is seriously undermined.
“Reports of grave electoral offences in Bayelsa, Kogi and Imo states have shown that INEC and politicians have learnt little or nothing from the well-documented problems during the 2023 general elections.
“We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within seven days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel INEC to comply with our request in the public interest.
“The right to vote is fundamental and is the essence of a democratic society, and any restrictions on that right strike at the heart of representative government. Nigerians should have the final say in the election of governmental officials.
“Persistent cases of bribery and violence in the country’s elections gravely violate Nigerians’ right to vote, which is central to the effective participation of every citizen.
“Unless there is a transparent, effective, credible, inclusive and broad-based investigation into these allegations, and perpetrators and their sponsors are named and shamed and brought to justice, impunity for these electoral crimes will continue. And citizens will continue to lose confidence in the electoral process.
“Nigerians have the right to know how INEC is spending public funds in the discharge of its constitutional and statutory responsibilities. It is in the public interest to publish the details of spending on governorship elections in the three states.
“According to our information, the governorship elections in Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa states witnessed cases of electoral offences including electoral violence, vote-buying, conspiracy, and undue influence.
“The proposed joint investigation should comprise of INEC, anticorruption and law enforcement agencies, the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, the National Human Rights Commission, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), and independent leaders and citizens’ groups from Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa states.
“Electoral bribery and violence and other electoral offences undermine the ability of INEC to discharge its responsibilities under Section 153 of the Nigerian Constitution and paragraph 15(a) of the third schedule of the Constitution, and the Electoral Act.
“Electoral bribery and violence and other electoral offences reportedly committed during the off-cycle governorship elections in the three states are contrary to the Nigerian Constitution, the Electoral Act and international standards.
“The Nigerian Constitution provides in Section 14(1)(c) that, ‘the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.’
“Sections 121 and 127 of the Electoral Act prohibit electoral bribery and undue influence before, during and after any election. Section 145(2) provides that, ‘a prosecution under this Act shall be undertaken by legal officers of the Commission or any legal practitioner appointed by it.’
“Under section 2(a) and (b), the commission ‘shall have power to conduct voter and civic education and to promote knowledge of sound democratic election processes.’
“The crisis confronting the country’s elections and lack of public trust and confidence in the electoral process can be addressed if impunity for electoral bribery and violence is combated through a transparent, credible and effective investigation and prosecution of suspected perpetrators.”
“There are reports of specific cases of pre-completed result sheets including in five local government areas of Kogi State – Adavi, Ajaokuta, Ogori/Magongo, Okehi and Okene.
“Suspected political thugs reportedly harassed journalists covering the governorship election in Omuma Community in Oru East Local Government Area of Imo State. INEC official in the Oguta Local Government Area (LGA) of Imo State also alleged that some men invaded her polling unit and carted away result sheets.
“According to a report by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), there were several reports of electoral violence and vote buying across the three states. For example, there were reports of incidents in PU 1, Ward 8 and PU 11, Ward 1 in Sagbama LGA in Bayelsa West.
“In Bayelsa Central, vote trading was reported in PU 16, Ward 6 in Yenegoa LGA, PU 22, PU 30 and 31, Ward 13 in Southern Ijaw LGA with reports of voter inducements ranging from N5,000 – N22,000, and items such as wrappers and rice were also reportedly shared to buy votes.
“In Kogi, there were reports of vote buying in PUs 004, 038 and 039 in Ward A of Lokoja LGA, where party agents were allegedly sharing out money to voters upon confirmation that they voted for their party candidates.
“In Imo, the two major parties’ agents reportedly engaged in vote buying, sharing between N2000 to N3000. INEC officials were reportedly bribed. Electoral violence was reported in Dekini LGA, town where a thug was reportedly shot and killed by military officials while fleeing in an attempt to snatch a ballot box.
“INEC presiding officer was also reportedly abducted in Bayelsa while on his way to the Registration Area Centre – 06 (Ossioma) in Sagbama Local Government Area.” There are reports of thugs attacking several polling units in the three states.”