It almost seems at times that stopping electoral violence in developing countries especially Africa is a rocky science that defied all scientific answers. Such thinking is made even likely when you look at approaches of some of the development agencies working on mitigating electoral violence. Much attention is paid to monitoring and reporting of incidences of electoral violence and less on engaging with the government and policy makers on radicalising and providing tougher sanctions against perpetrators of electoral violence. Such approach will only encourage sponsors and perpetrators to continue their act. Tougher sanctions that would send fear to both sponsors and perpetrators might be the answer.
I take a look at the Nigeria Electoral Act and was surprised by the weak provision on electoral violence. It is almost as if electoral violence is not the main bane Nigerian weak democratic system and election transparency. One would wonder if Nigerian parliamentarian and policy makers are actually keen on bringing an end to electoral violence or if they are the invisible perpetrators and/or beneficiaries. The provision on electoral violence in the Nigerian Electoral Act is nothing short of an indirect encouragement for continuous perpetuation of the act of conflict during elections.
Section 95 of the Nigeria Electoral Act provided regulations relating to political campaigns and expressly warned against acts of electoral violence during campaigns in sections 96. Further in Section 117, 118 and 119 the Act provided for offenses relating to registration, nomination and disorderly behaviour at political meetings. It thereafter dealt with offenses relating to card use, use of vehicles and Impersonation in sections 120, 121, and 122. All other provision including buying of vote and bribery was dealt with through to section 131. What is very striking in all the sections is the level of leniency in the sanctions, which in my opinion is not commensurate with the degree of ruin and political instability that often follows electoral violence. Also, the law failed grossly by not distinguishing how different sanctions can apply differently to different perpetrators. What I mean is that sanctions to politicians who sponsor electoral related violence ought to be stronger than sanction to vulnerable youths whose act or participation in electoral violence is caused by the actions of the former. The saying goes that, “to whom much is given, much is expected” If that is the case, politicians and elected official whose action and inaction lead to act of electoral violence should be made to face tougher and radical sanctions. The provision in the Electoral Act for a fine of one million naira (N1, 000,000.00) or 3 years imprisonment maximum – one of the other is merely telling the politicians that there is a way out. This is so when compared to electoral expenditure and of course what is at stake should they win the election in a political system as Nigeria. Adetula captured the overriding effect of money in Nigerian Politics.
Tougher sanctions are needed not only to deter perpetrators but also in holding elected officials to account for their actions retrospectively when it is proved that their actions form and constitute electoral violence. At the moment, there is no such provision which is worrisome for a country like Nigeria where acts of electoral violence have continually proved to be disastrous overtime. Judicial removal from office and inauguration of new officer is merely getting them better prepared in future. It is my opinion that if elected officials are found to have committed electoral violence while in office, they should not only leave the office but also be meant to face the law retrospectively after judicial dismal from office. And of course that comes with full independence of the judiciary to properly adjudicate on issues relating to elections in general.