By Haruna Salami, Abuja
The Electoral Offences Commission Bill, passed second reading at the Senate on Wednesday, a pointer that tough time awaits election riggers and other electoral offenders.
The bill, sponsored by Senator Kyari Abubakar Shaib (APC, Borno North), titled: “a Bill to establish the National Electoral Offences Commission and for Related Matters, 2020 (SB. 220)”, received overwhelming support from Senators.
In his lead debate, Senator Kyari said that the commission was very imperative to divest the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of the “burden” of prosecuting electoral offenders in Nigeria, so that the commission would focus on its core constitutional mandate of conducting elections.
Kyari enumerated the various problems and debilitating outcomes of electoral malpractices to include “low quality leadership, citizens political apathy, instability, national insecurity and disintegration of national cohesion”, among many other ills.
He called on his colleagues to support the bill and write the name of the 9th National Assembly with gold on Nigeria’s history.
“Electoral crimes lead to low quality, corrupt and violent political leadership,” he said, adding that “electoral crimes help election riggers and offenders take control of government against the democratic will of the electorate”.
The Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdulahi (APC, Kebbi) said electoral offenders were “existential threat to our democracy” and must be punished to save the nation.
He therefore called on his colleagues to support the bill.
Meanwhile, the Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia South), while supporting the bill, called on the sponsor of the bill to clearly differentiate the specific goal of the bill, in order to determine either a “commission or tribunal” was being sought.
This according to him was necessary based on the recommendations of Justice Uwais led electoral reform committee, which was cited as one of the sources of the bill.
In the same vein, the Minority Leader, former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, cautioned the Senate on the establishment of a commission noting that “the tendency for the government in power to weaponize” such a commission, cannot be waved off easily in a country like Nigeria, where politicians in power do everything to sustain their hold on power.
Ekweremadu, therefore recommended that in line with the Justice Uwais committee report, the bill should rather seek to establish an “electoral offences tribunal” that could be empowered to give commensurate punishment for offenders.
Senator George Thomson Sekibo, in his contribution, harped on the need for the bill to be assented to when it is eventually passed into law by the National Assembly.
Ruling on the bill, President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan described democracy as “still the best” and most preferred system of governance and therefore should be supported by ensuring that the bill was passed to further strengthen the democratic culture and governance in Nigeria.
The bill was unanimously passed and subsequently referred to the Senate Committee on INEC, which was mandated to report back to the Senate within four weeks for further legislative action.