Nigerians have witnessed two governorship elections this year; the Osun State and Ekiti State elections. Although both elections were largely peaceful, the exercise was unfortunately riddled with vote-buying.
Ordinarily, a free, fair and peaceful election results from the uniformity of intentions among the electorates, candidates, government and security officers who are driven by a common goal of a successful election. To achieve this in the 2023 presidential election, deliberate efforts must be made to keep out potential intruding elements. Hence, the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) argument for creating a new commission, the National Electoral Offences Commission.
Chairman of the commission, Mahmood Yakubu, noted that of the 125 cases of electoral offences filed in various courts, only 60 convictions had been made since 2015.
In light of this, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) called on INEC to prosecute electoral offenders in the just concluded Ekiti State governorship election.
There are electoral offences punishable by law, which must be taken into cognizance to stay safe during election periods in the country. This article highlights some significant electoral offences you should be aware of ahead of the 2023 presidential election.
- Secrecy in voting
Secrecy of voting means that the choice of every voter must be protected at polling units on election day. There should be no interference with a voter casting his or her vote.
The part VII, no 122 of the new electoral act states that every individual present at a polling place, including election officers, their assistants, polling agents, and every candidate present at a polling unit or collation centre, should uphold and assist in upholding the confidentiality of the vote.
Cases of party agents breaching the law have been rampant in the past. In the past, party agents have paid voters and asked them to display their ballot papers in a way for them to ascertain they voted for the candidate they were paid to vote for. The penalty for breaking this is a fine of N100,000 or imprisonment for six months or both.
- Voting by an unregistered person
The voting process requires the electorates to register their names for the procedure with INEC and collect their Permanent Voters Card (PVC), which is their ticket to vote.
On the day of the election, electorates are accredited using the details on their PVCs before they can vote.
Part VII, no 124 that states that a maximum punishment of N100,000 or a sentence of six months in jail, or both, may be imposed on anybody found guilty of intentionally voting or attempting to vote in a constituency where their name is not on the voter list.
- Bribery and conspiracy: vote buying
A voter violates the law when they accept a contract for any money, gift, loan, or other valuable consideration, office, place, or employment before, during, or after an election in exchange for voting or abstaining from voting, or agreeing to refrain from voting at any election.
Giving or receiving money to vote or refrain from any election is frowned upon by the country’s electoral laws. According to part VII, no 121 of the law, anyone who flouts this will pay a fine of N500,000 or 12 months imprisonment or both.
- Disorderly conduct at polling units
Polling units are meant to be well coordinated for a seamless voting process, but disorderliness can come in different forms during elections. The argument or struggle for who gets to vote first is an issue at polling units and could lead to disorderliness.
Disruptive behaviour which affects elections is considered a grave sin against democracy. Hence, part VII, no 125 of the electoral act notes that punishment of N500,000 or a period of 12 months in jail, or both, may be imposed on anybody who engages in disruptive behaviour during an election or incites others to do so.
- Wrongful voting and false statements
Part VII, no 123 describes this as illegal voting at an election or publishing any statement of the withdrawal of a candidate or about his personal character. Wrongful voting is simply election fraud to try and manoeuvre the system to have an unfair advantage.
Anyone can make false statements to announce the withdrawal of a presidential candidate from an election. Most importantly, this can be perpetrated by an opposition party to unsettle the camp of a presidential candidate.
Consequently, a fine of N100,000 or imprisonment for six months or both applies.
A person who directly or indirectly threatens to use any force, violence, or restraint, either on their behalf or on behalf of another person is guilty of this.
This can involve inflicting or threatening to inflict any minor or major pain, damage, harm or loss on or against a person to encourage or coerce that person to vote or refrain from voting or on account of such person having voted or refrained from voting.
If found guilty of this electoral offence, part VII, no 128 notes that the perpetrator will pay a fine of N1 million or imprisonment for three years.
- Undue influence
This is a situation where a person who corruptly gives, provides, or pays money to or for any person, directly or indirectly, at any time after the date of an election has been announced to corruptly influence that person or another to vote or refrain from voting at that election.
Part VII, no 127 notes that a fine of N100,000 or imprisonment for a term of 6 months or both applies.
- Snatching or destruction of election materials
This electoral offence is classified under the electoral crimes on election day, part VII, no 126 of the electoral act.
Any person who snatches or destroys any election material or any election device, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of 24 months.
Meanwhile, the unlawful possession of a ballot paper attracts a fine of N50 million or 10 years in prison. The illegal printing of ballot papers and illegal production or importation of ballot boxes attract similar punishment.
The electoral offences in Nigeria are numerous and can be found on INEC’s website, but we have highlighted some of the major ones you should know.