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Democracy, INEC and Corrupt Officials

INEC and Corrupt Officials

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Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper

The majesty of democracy diminished the other day in Nigeria when the elections umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) revealed that some of its employees received at least N3billion in gratifications to influence the 2015 general elections, generally acclaimed to be free and fair. This is a tragedy.

The greater tragedy is even that it was the electoral body’s National Commissioner, Mohammed Haruna, who disclosed this in Abuja while addressing journalists on the outcome of its internal investigations into the 2015 elections. The body had recently come under fire over allegations of corruption of its officials even in recent rerun elections. For instance, in January this year, a security agency panel constituted to investigate the electoral and other offences perpetrated during the December 10, 2016 Rivers State parliamentary re-run election said that it recovered N111 million from 23 INEC officials.

The chairman of the panel, Damian Okoro, a deputy commissioner of police, revealed the dirty deal while presenting the team’s report to the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, in Abuja on January 7, this year.

He alleged that three senior electoral officers collected N20 million each out of the N360 million given to them by the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, while the remaining officers received N15 million each.
The Rivers State governor who denied the report, accused the police of bias and refused to cooperate or allow state officials cooperate with the police investigation team. The motive of the investigation outside the provisions of the INEC’s enabling laws on electoral fraud remains hazy. But the confession of INEC about complicity of its officials in the 2015 elections fraud that brought the president and national assembly, governors and other state officials to power has set tongues wagging again about electoral impurities in the country.

Haruna who revealed the impurities in the 2015 general elections said some officials of the electoral body, including one of its retired national commissioners and five resident electoral commissioners, were being investigated over the dirty deal.

The INEC commissioner said: “The commission met… to consider the report of its expanded Appointment, Promotion and Disciplinary Committee on the EFCC Interim Report on Bribery, Corruption and Money Laundering Charges during the 2015 general elections.

“You may recall that late last year, the commission received an interim report from the EFCC detailing allegations against 202 serving and retired INEC officials and staff in 16 states of the federation…”

He then noted that in furtherance of its zero tolerance for corruption in the electoral process, the commission ordered a thorough investigation into the allegations to establish the culpability or otherwise of those named in the EFCC report. He added that the committee’s work was thorough and painstaking, involving the issuance of queries to the 202 officials mentioned in the report and interviewing them individually in accordance with the principle of fair hearing and in consonance with INEC Staff Conditions of Service. He also revealed that as a result of the initial findings of the committee, an additional 80 serving officials of the commission, who were not named in the EFCC report but whose names came up in the course of the investigation, were also queried and interviewed.

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“The cases of one former National Commissioner, five former Resident Electoral Commissioners (one of them deceased) have been referred to the Presidency and the EFCC for further necessary action.

“Based on their level of involvement, 205 serving INEC staff will be immediately placed on interdiction, which entails suspension from duties and being placed on half salary, pending the final determination of the cases they have with the EFCC.”

Haruna also said on a sad note that the commission found that a non-governmental organisation (NGO) identified as West African Network of Election Observers made up of retired INEC officials, was used to bribe INEC staff affected.

“Out of over N23 billion, which the EFCC report said was used to influence the elections, the committee established that N3,046,829,000 was received by INEC staff in 16 states,” he added.

Even devastating as these revelations have been to a bewildered nation, INEC deserves some commendation for the audacity to accept responsibility for the action of its officials without prejudice to the fact that the 2015 elections were conducted by a different leadership. It is gratifying to note that the electoral commission boldly accepted the fact that all was not well with the election management agency and needs some form of purification pills after all.

This is another pointer to the fact that corruption that has permeated Nigeria’s national life is one common enemy that the nation should unite to fight. What is more, it is tragic to note that the mandates, which leaderships at various levels have been enjoying since 2015 are tainted, after all. It is a national disaster of monumental proportions if elections’ outcomes do not represent the wishes of the people that cast the votes. When beneficiaries and the so-called winners buy votes, the government therefrom cannot be government of the people by the people and for the people.

The nation can now see why most of the ‘elected’ representatives do not care about welfare and security of the people, which should be the primary purpose of government. Electoral impurities can also lead to curious alienation as is constantly witnessed in the polity in a country that should be a source of inspiration to Africa and indeed the black peoples of the world. The nation can, from these sordid revelations, deduce again why electoral contests have been so inscrutably expensive in the extreme. And this encourages building and consolidation of corruption infrastructure as public officers who would like to contest elections to any posts even at local levels, have to steal enough public funds to get elected sadly by bribing their ways through.

It is now corruption, corruption complaint everywhere. There is corruption in the electoral process, corruption in the election petition tribunal, corruption in governance process and corruption in the regulatory system of managing corruption. Corruption is even alleged in the leadership of the anti-corruption agency. Where does Nigeria go from here? After the 2007 general elections, the then President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, shocked the nation when he admitted that the election that produced him as president was terribly flawed. He, thereafter, set up an electoral reform committee comprising eminent citizens and headed by a former Chief Justice of the country. The far- reaching recommendations are still there. But curiously, even before the INEC’s latest startling revelations, the President Muhammadu Buhari government had seven months ago set up another electoral reform committee headed by a former President of the Senate.

But it is now clear that the trouble with the electoral system is not the number of electoral reforms committees set up. Nor is it with even the election management agency. It is with the politicians that have built a culture of electoral impunities. The president’s men, the governors, the ministers, the legislators and their supporters are the initiators of bribes. They are the recruiters of officials to facilitate bribery of vulnerable election officials. And so, unless there is a national renewing of the people’s minds about hatred for corruption at all levels, there will never be a miracle of electoral integrity. The people too have a responsibility to demand integrity from the people who conduct elections and the contestants who bribe them. All told, Nigeria cannot run away from the constant suggestions that electoral offences tribunal should be set up to deal with electoral offenders including givers and takers of bribes to compromise the wishes of the people. As INEC has boldly identified the bad eggs in its rank, all the indicted officials should be diligently named, shamed and prosecuted to serve as deterrent to those who may wish to make mess of the majesty of democracy.

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