Why We Are Launching an Initiative against Electoral Impunity – Chidi Anselm Odinkalu


On Thursday, 20 June 2013, the National Human Rights Commission will launch an initiative against electoral impunity in Nigeria. This is an overdue idea. It deserves the support of all politicians, citizens and friends of Nigeria.

The modest progress in 2011 notwithstanding, we have, as a country, historically struggled in Nigeria with organizing elections and counting votes credibly. In its December 2008 report, the Presidential Committee on Electoral Reform led by former Chief Justice, Lawal Uwais, described elections in Nigeria as historically “problematic”, complaining that “hardly any elections conducted in the country has been completely free of charges of irregularities, electoral malpractices, violence and various degrees of disruptions.”

Nearly a quarter of a century earlier, the Bolarinwa Babalakin Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO), in its report submitted in 1986 had equally complained of “corruption in high places” and noted a litany of state conduct that “encouraged lawlessness both in 1979 and 1983 election periods.”

In the 2007 cycle of elections alone, at least 11 governorship election results and those of many elections for other offices across the country were struck down. Yet no consequences were levied on anyone. It is as if election rigging is an act of nature or procured by the gods for which human beings have no responsibility.

Addressing the 52nd Annual Conference of the African Studies Association in New Orleans, USA, in November 2009, current Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, described elections in Nigeria as involving idol worship of “five gods and the Godfather”, in which shamans, brigands, and an entrenched coalition of public and private interests conspire with impunity against the will of the people.

Notwithstanding this clearly established pattern of complaints, impunity for electoral crimes remains the norm. In 1986, the Babalakin Commission “strongly recommended that criminal cases connected with the registration of voters and election offences should be given priority of attention by both the police and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).”

Yet expertise in election rigging is considered essential for some careers associated with our political, electoral, and party systems.

Thus, over the years the habit of doing elections badly has become institutionalized. Politicians do not seek to appeal to the people with programmes that can receive our support; they develop “structures” to “capture” power and then look to run out the clock in post-election dispute resolution using every technicality in the book and worse.

Yet, under our Constitution “sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority.”

The right to effective participation in government and public affairs is a human rights fully guaranteed by our constitution as well as by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Electoral impunity violates these guarantees of our constitution, hollows out our international obligations and tarnishes our country before the world. Additionally, it diminishes public service and promises ruin on a country with tremendous potentials.

Few human rights violations, therefore, rival the theft of the will of the people in the scope or effect of their consequences. This is why human rights institutions, like the National Human Rights Commission, must address it as a major human rights challenge that it is.

The National Human Rights Commission Act requires the Commission to “on its own initiative….report on actions that should be taken by the Federal, State or Local Government to comply with the provisions of any relevant international human rights instruments.”

This is why, on 20 June, 2013, the Commission proposes to launch an initiative against electoral impunity in Nigeria. The initiative will begin by compiling evidence on electoral crimes based on existing public records, of those who have been named in judicial proceedings in Nigeria of complicity in overturned elections. We will seek around this to encourage initiatives aimed at sanitizing the electoral process in Nigeria.

To lead this phase of the initiative, the Commission has constituted a reputable Technical Working Group (TWG) of impeccable integrity led by Professor Nsongurua Udombana, former Dean of Law at the University of Uyo. Other members of the TWG include Professor Yemisi Bamgbose, Dean of Law, University of Ibadan; Professor Tawfiq Ladan of the Bayero University, Kano; Dr. Abubakar Muazu of the University of Maiduguri; Professor Ifeoma Enemo, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Dr. Solomon Ukhuegbe of the University of Benin; and Professor Mohammed Akanbi of University of Ilorin.

The TWG will issue a final report in the first quarter of 2014 with an interim progress report expected in November 2013. These reports will be made available to election administrators, law enforcement agents, political and legislative leaders and the Nigerian people. They will invite us as a people to fight a scourge without whose defeat the progress of our country along the path of accountable government cannot be assured.

In support of this, we will build and sustain participation through community outreach and electronic communities. Within the next month we will roll out a dedicated website for this initiative. We invite and seek for this the support of and participation from all who wish our country well.

By providing authoritative information and evidence to all those implicated in acting, the Commission hopes to inspire committed and joined up action by institutions, political leaders and civics. We have no illusions that it will take one report or two by a group no matter how impeccable, to accomplish this. But doing nothing is no longer an option.

Odinkalu Chairs the Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission

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