CHAPTER ONE GENERAL INTRODUCTION
- Background to the Study
Towards the end of 1990, international dynamics, pressures and persuasions combined to push Nigeria towards the embrace of a political system that is based on the global principles of democracy. Nigeria like other African countries is a signatory to International Conventions on Democracy and Elections in the 1990s1. The decade was significant not only to countries of West Africa (Nigeria inclusive), but the entire continent of Africa in general because it was during this period that many African countries returned to democratic governance. From the 1990s, West Africa paraded an array of emerging democracies such that at the close of that decade, Benin, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone among other African countries were included in the list of states with ―minimal democracies‖2
Nigeria returned to civil rule on May 29, 1999. The 1999 elections marked the beginning of a transition from military to civil rule. The country held three elections, including the April 2007 elections that brought President Umaru Yar‘Adua to power following the victory of his party, the People‘s Democratic Party (PDP). Political transition advanced from 1999 to the next phase with conduct of the 2003 elections. In the lead-up to the 2007 elections, Nigerians were considerably hopeful that the elections would be free and fair. But there were concerns in many circles about the poor state of readiness of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and law enforcement agencies. The outcome of the April 2007 polls further betrayed peoples‘confidence in the electoral system3 by a massive electoral fraud financed through money politics.
Firstly there has been concerns with regards to the management of the 2011 and 2015 General Elections by the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) Despite amendments both in the Constitution of the federal Republic of Nigeria 1999(CFRN‘99) and the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) to strengthen the capacity of INEC to deliver free, fair and credible elections, yet the INEC is constrained by certain structural and legal issues that require further amendments as discussed in this thesis.
There has been considerable debate as to whether the existing legal framework for the prosecution of electoral offenders as encapsulated in the Electoral Act, 2010(as amended) is appropriate and adequate for the arrest, investigation and prosecution of electoral offenders. There has also been considerable debate as to the capacity and willingness of the Independent National Electoral Commission to prosecute electoral offenders in a professional and ethical manner. Debates are also ongoing as to the willingness of some elements within the political parties to act within the compass of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999(as amended) and the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) for winning elections and abandon fraudulent means and ways of doing the same.
These debates are hinged on the fact that the refusal, inability or incapacity of the Independent National Electoral Commission to prosecute electoral offenders encourages electoral impunity, voter apathy and the gradual disengagement of the Nigerian people from the electoral process as some of them believe that electoral fraud and malpractices renders their votes meaningless and even if they vote, their votes may not count. The Debates are also hinged on the fact that if nobody is prosecuted successfully, it may then be more profitable to engage in electoral fraud and malpractices.
By section 150(1) & (2) of the Electoral Act, 2010(as amended) an offence committed under the Act shall be triable in a Magistrate Court or High Court of the State in which the offence is committed, or the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. A prosecution under the Act shall be undertaken by Legal Officers of the Commission or any legal practitioner appointed by it.
However, the arrest and prosecution of electoral offenders have been fraught with a lot of challenges. The Police with the responsibility for the arrest, investigation and giving evidence in Court on electoral matters are sometimes posted out of their State Commands and moved to contiguous states on Election Day. This is done to ensure their neutrality on Election Day. Unfortunately, some of the officers on duty on Election Day are posted back to their State Commands after elections making documentation of electoral offences difficult and also making it difficult for credible evidence to be gathered and serious prosecution to be carried out.