*Judiciary creates the impression that there are separate sets laws for the poor on one hand and the rich on another
*Police perform role of party agents, thumb-prints and stuff ballot boxes
The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, has indicted the Nigerian Judiciary, the Nigerian Police Force, NPF, and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, for perpetrating electoral impunity in Nigeria.
The report is being released in Abuja Thursday morning but PREMIUM TIMES was able to scoop an advance copy for this story.
The report is titled, “An Independent Review of Evidence of Gross Violations of the Rights to Participate in Government to Public Service and to fair trial through the Election Petition Process in Nigeria — 2007 and 2011.”
The 146-page document was prepared by a seven-member expert Technical Working Group, TWG, constituted by the NHRC and chaired by Nsongurua Udombana. The other members are Mohammed Akanbi, Oluyemisi Bamgbose, Ifeoma Enemo, Muhammed Ladan and Solomon Ukhuegbe.
The report provides evidence of the extensive pattern of judicially sanctioned criminality in the election cycle as part of the continuing narrative of the long history of elections as organised crime in Nigeria.
The investigation covered the six geo-political zones, and considered 84 diverse crimes committed by individuals and institutions during the 2007 and 2011 general elections.
The common crimes identified by the researchers include cases of unlawful substitution of candidates by political parties and INEC, inflation of the numbers of ballots cast, forgery of election returns, and intimidation of voters and election officials at polling centres.
According to the report, the practice of falsifying election results is far from abating. It cited a 2007 case in Kano State where the tribunal there complained that INEC wanted it “to tacitly endorse abracadabra.”
It also referred to a case in a ward in Anambra State during the same 2007 elections where only 2,089 voters registered, but INEC declared 7,226 votes.
“In this case, the tribunal found that INEC had been involved in the “generating of results for an election that did not hold,” the report stated.
“In Ekiti State in south-west Nigeria, the Resident Electoral Commissioner announced as valid returns, results “which she declared as fake.”
“In another Anambra case, the tribunal accused named INEC officials of generating “results for an election that did not hold as proved by Chief Edith Mike Ejezie, which showed clearly that these results ranging from EC8A (II), EC8E (II) as tendered by the respondents were obviously fabricated.”
The NHRC report also noted that one way in which officials of the electoral body falsifies elections was by manufacturing results long after voting had ended. It said this occurred in units in which results had not yet been announced and no result forms completed or signed by party agents.
It gave an instance where in Katsina State, an Election Petition Tribunal found that although voting took place, “result (sic) in Form EC8A (I) was not collated and declared”, yet a result was filed from the Polling Unit.”
It further cited another case where the tribunal found that “the results of the election was (sic)declared before the completion of collation in Awka South.”
The document stated that there were other cases where supposedly neutral election INEC officials were criminally partisan.
For example, in Kaduna State, north-west Nigeria, the Election Petition Tribunal in 2008 registered its “dislike of the law on the practice of allowing party members of any one party to function as INEC Supervisor or Returning officer in the conduct of election(s).”
It also listed a case in Edo State where one official, Felix Osaigbovo, who was “INEC presiding officer for Unit 1 Ward 9” in the 2007 elections, signed the result sheets “as (a) PDP agent”.
The report quoted the election tribunal in Adamawa State where such routinely electoral crimes also took place as saying that:
“In more serious and accountable political climes, INEC should have evinced some remorse for the whole problem it has caused and the public money it wasted to organize an election it made inchoate even before it started.
“Its grandstanding is rather unfortunate. As a result of its ineptitude or mischief, a serious disruption will be caused to the governance of Adamawa State.”
The report also regretted the role of the Nigeria police in the elections, saying its officers also routinely commit electoral crimes.
It said that in one case, the Election Petition Tribunal lamented that the evidence on record as per exhibit E showed that a policeman, ASP Christopher Oloyede, signed an election result sheet as party agent on behalf of the PDP.
It quoted the tribunal as saying, “This is an illegality and violation of electoral rules both by INEC and the police. ASP Oloyede behaved disgracefully and abused his position. Neither INEC nor the police could defend the illegality that ought to have been sanctioned.”
The Commission’s report also cited a case in Edo State during the 2007 governorship election. It said the tribunal found that “the evidence of the witness is that police officers were in fact doing the shooting, the thumb-printing or the ballot-stuffing.”
It noted that violence, including the intimidation of voters, snatching and stuffing of ballot boxes was another mainstay of recent Nigerian elections.
According to the document, in one case arising from the contest over the 2007 Osun Central Senatorial seat, the Election Petition Tribunal said “the evidence of violence, voter intimidation, hijacking, illicit thumb-printing, ballot box stuffing is overwhelming and beyond reasonable doubt, conjecture or proposition or presumption.”
Also in Kogi State, it said a tribunal found that petitioners proved beyond reasonable doubt that the 1st Respondent, Clarence Olafemi, a former Speaker of the State House Assembly, led his agents and thugs and committed acts of corrupt practices and non-compliance with the Electoral Act by disrupting the conduct of election, harassing and intimidating eligible voters who were sent away from polling units without voting.
The report lamented the cases of forged credentials and eligibility documents, which were also established. For instance, in Nassarawa State, the tribunal ruled that it was “satisfied that [Umar Sani Ebini and another] have succeeded in proving the allegation of forgery and/or presenting a forged certificate to INEC against [Patrick Ashagu Ebinny] beyond reasonable doubt.”
It added, “In Ibeju-Lekki in Lagos State, south-west Nigeria, Tunde Isiaq, a 2007 candidate for the House of Representatives also presented forged credentials. In yet another case from Nasarawa State, the tribunal found that Yakubu Mohammed Kwarra, a candidate in State legislative elections, presented forged documents with respect to both his age and educational qualifications.”
The report lamented thus, “In each of these cases, and many more, the Tribunals, without exception, failed to direct, suggest or order action to ensure accountability for the crimes they identified were committed.
“By doing so, the Nigerian judiciary has created the impression that there is one law for poor people and another for the big men and women who put themselves forward for elections,” it said.
“As a result, the courts not only facilitate the violation of citizens’ rights to effective participation in their government, they also aid the culture of impunity that has become the hallmark of elections in Nigeria.”
It said that out of about 870,000 persons apprehended for offences connected with the 2011 voter registration and general elections, only about 200 persons, or about 0.02 per cent, were successfully prosecuted though INEC Chairman, Attahiru Jega, attributed this abysmal number of prosecutions to lack of funds and personnel.
The report said the evidence from the material it examined “clearly supports the conclusion that the judiciary in Nigeria is unwilling and unable to ensure accountability for electoral crimes. It is also open to the conclusion that the judiciary supports, tolerates or is indifferent to the crimes committed by candidates, parties, and their agents in unlawful pursuit of power and its perquisites.”
The report said the ways tribunals handle election petition cases have fostered a “real perception that the judiciary can be bought or sold, not just in election petitions, but in all cases”.
It adds, “If the judiciary cannot be trusted to resolve disputes fairly and justly, the people may find comfort in violence and vigilante methods.”
The report also said as officers of the court, judges and lawyers were an integral in the effective administration of justice and the legal process, noting that without cooperation from them, the system necessarily collapses.
“So, when judges and lawyers help to break the law, impunity necessarily ensues. Thus, appellate courts have indicted judges from lower courts for such malfeasance,” the document said.
The NHRC stated that based on the evidence so far reviewed, it was clear that:
-Huge gaps remain in the Constitution, the Electoral Act, and other laws governing elections in Nigeria. Different stakeholders – INEC, political parties, politicians, and other individuals – exploit these gaps to violate the right to participate in government, the right to public service, and the right to fair trial;
-Many of the tribunal decisions have been based on technicalities while ignoring issues of substantive justice; as such, the judiciary has been used routinely to validate clearly unlawful election outcomes, in many cases clearly accompanied or facilitated by crimes;
-Many of the cases reviewed also disclose improper exercise of judicial discretion by election tribunals and courts as well as insufficient evaluation of evidence and some suggest possibilities of judicial misconduct that require investigation. Such acts implicate on the right to fair trial and institutional credibility of the judiciary;
-In cases where petitioners fail to prove allegations of criminality beyond reasonable doubt, courts/tribunals simply dismiss the petitions and ignore the compelling evidence that crimes were committed quite apart from questions of proof;
-Counsel for respondents, in clear collusion with INEC officials, also sometimes use unethical methods to delay cases and defeat the cause of justice without consequences; and
-In all cases where the tribunals/courts found infractions of the (criminal) law, they fail to exercise their inherent powers to recommend prosecutions by the appropriate authorities.
On the way forward, the NHRC said the task of consolidating electoral democracy in Nigeria would require that urgent attention be paid to the elimination of electoral impunity through ensuring accountability for electoral crimes.
While making recommendations to all relevant institutions in the electoral process, it, however, stressed that, “No number of recommendations can replace the need for political will on the part of all concerned branches and agencies of the Nigerian State, as well as the INEC, political leaders, political parties and civic organisations.”