PROSECUTION OF ELECTORAL OFFENDERS
Recent plans by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to prosecute perpetrators of electoral malpractices in the 2007 general elections caught many Nigerians by surprise. The move was unexpected, considering the fact that the polls were concluded over three years ago.
At this time when many people feel every attention must be focused on preparations for next year's elections, to ensure success, there are those who feel that reviewing the failings of the last polls, and prosecuting those responsible for malpractices that marred the effort, should be set aside, to ensure full concentration on the task ahead.
Professor Attahiru Jega, the INEC boss, apparently feels otherwise. He says the commission is already collecting evidence to facilitate the planned trial of electoral offenders.
We strongly support Jega's view on this matter. We believe in the truism that it is hardly possible for a person or a nation to move forward, without looking backwards to correct the ills of the past.
The 2007 polls were characterized by unbecoming lapses that dented the credibility of the process. There are records and photographic evidence of embarrassing activities such as snatching of ballot boxes. Such affront to electoral laws needs to be punished, to send a message to Nigerians that such misconduct will not be tolerated in the 2011 polls.
Nigerians' attitude to electoral malfeasance cannot change when past offenders are not punished. It is how electoral offenders of the past are treated that will determine how the people will behave in subsequent elections. It is always better to connect the past with the present to create a better future. The Electoral Act 2006, under which the 2007 elections were held, has clear provisions for treatment of electoral offenders. These should be followed to the letter.
It is good that Jega has summoned courage to bring these past electoral offenders to book because Nigeria actually needs to make examples of those who break electoral laws with impunity. Everything that has to be done to punish the offenders should be done as part of the cleansing process that our democracy needs to begin on a fresh, clean slate.
However, INEC must be mindful not to waste valuable time on the prosecution process. We must not spend too much time looking backwards. It is glaring to all that Nigeria has very little time to put everything in order for the coming polls, and the work to be done is enormous.
The planned prosecution of offenders should, therefore, be done speedily, so that INEC can concentrate on the more important task at hand.
After the prosecution of offenders, the electoral body should be able to prescribe ways of avoiding such malpractices in future.
This prosecution should not take too much of INEC's time since it will be handled by the agency's legal department, in conjunction with other relevant agencies. The department should strive to do a good job.
It is important to prosecute electoral offenders but the process must not be allowed to impede preparation for the coming general elections in any way.