Off-Cycle Polls: “Identify, Arrest Sponsors Of Electoral Offences In Bayelsa, Kogi, Imo” – SERAP Tells INEC

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has urged Professor Mahmood Yakubu, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to immediately establish a joint, credible, transparent investigation into allegations of electoral manipulation in the off-cycle governorship elections in Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa states.”

It was gathered that the group led this out in a letter dated 11 November 2023 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare.

SERAP urged INEC boss 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.

The letter read in part: “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.”

“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.

“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.

“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.

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“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.

“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.