A bill for the establishment of a National Electoral Offences Commission passed second reading on the floor of the Senate yesterday.
The bill, sponsored by Senator Abubakar Kyari (APC, Borno), proposes a jail term of 20 years or fine of N40m for any candidate, person or agent who destroyed electoral materials during election.
It also seeks to prohibit hate speech or words that incite violence during elections and proposes 10 years or a fine of at least N40m or both for offenders.
The new bill is also proposing a term of 15 years on anyone found guilty of “destroying, snatching or opening a ballot box when you are not so authorised.”
If the proposed legislation is passed, a person shall be jailed for 15 years if, without due authority takes out at polling station any electoral document, or he is found in possession of any electoral document outside a polling station.
It also seeks an imprisonment of 20 years without an option of fine for a judicial officer or officer of a court or tribunal who is found guilty of corruptly preventing electoral justice, before, during and after election.
Senate President Ahmad Lawan and other lawmakers advocated punitive penalties for electoral offences.
The lawmakers, in their contributions, said the commission should exist along with a special tribunal to prosecute electoral offences.
They said establishing a tribunal would sanitise the electoral process, deepen Nigeria’s democracy and bring an end to impunity associated with elections.
Meanwhile, there was a protest when Senator Smart Adeyemi (APC Kogi) said the military era was better than democracy.
He said, “Mr. President, when people of questionable character become leaders, then what is the future of that country. In fact, I am compelled to say military era is better than Nigeria’s democracy currently.
“When you talk about maladministration and misappropriation of public funds, it emanates from people who have criminal records, people who have no background who were elected or forced themselves into power.”
James Manager (PDP, Delta South) quickly raised a point of order but the Senate President said Adeyemi’s position was personal to him and not the view of the Senate.
“The position of this chamber is that democracy is better than military era and Senator Adeyemi is entitled to his opinion,” Lawan said. Kyari, in his lead debate, said the bill would solve the problem associated with elections, if passed into law.
He said electoral crimes helped election riggers and offenders take control of government against the will of the people.
Senate Leader Yahaya Abdullahi described electoral offense as an existential threat to Nigeria’s democracy.
Senate Minority Leader Eyinnaya Abaribe said if electoral offenses are tried in normal courts, the delay in the judgement will still go on.
Senator Adamu Aliero (APC, Kebbi) and Rochas Okorocha (APC, Imo) advocated stiffer sanctions to deter electoral offenders.
While Aliero alleged that politicians employed all sorts of strategies to ensure that they won elections, while Okorocha said there should be more emphasis on those who conduct elections.
George Sekibo (PDP Rivers) urged the president to assent to the bill when it gets to him, saying anything contrary would mean that 2023 general elections will be worst.