FILE: Vote counting at Gobogi/Isinkan 11, unit 003, Fagbotes House in Akure South in October 2020 during Ondo governorship poll. Photo: Kayode Jaiyeola
A civil rights organisation, YIAGA Africa, has said that politicians and party agents should take oaths not to give bribes or buy votes during elections.
The organisation also hailed the proposed oath-taking for officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission and security agents, which is contained in the Electoral Act 2010 (Amendment) Bill billed for consideration and adoption by the Senate and House of Representatives.
The Executive Director of YIAGA Africa, Samson Itodo, stated this in a chat with The PUNCH on Wednesday.
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Itodo urged the National Assembly to use the opportunity for deliberation on the bill to fix the flaws in the electoral process of the country.
“The process is an opportunity to fix an election and the issues relating to the independence of INEC, the regulatory powers of the commission, electronic transmission of results and issues relating to reduction of campaign expenditure. I understand the National Assembly will pass the bill next week. Any bill that does not address the issues that I have raised threatens the integrity of the 2023 elections,” he stated.
Section 26(1) in the report (which was Section 28(1) in the bill) provides that all INEC staff members, Electoral Officers, Presiding Officers, Returning Officers, Security Officials “taking part in the conduct of an election shall affirm or swear to an oath of loyalty and neutrality, indicating that they will not accept bribe or gratification from any person, and shall perform their functions and duties impartially and in the interest of the Federal Republic of Nigeria without fear or favour”.
Commenting on this, Itodo said, “Oath-taking isn’t alien to our electoral jurisprudence; it has been there and I strongly support it that INEC officials and public officials should be held to certain standards because election management is underpinned by certain values and principles and individuals who cannot abide by these principles have no reason to be INEC officials or ad hoc officials.
“Where they violate the oath, we can use that as a basis to hold them to account but if we are unable to hold them to account to values like neutrality, impartiality, as well as the integrity of the process, then the process would be undermined. It is good that the oath-taking is introduced but what matters is how we hold them to account in the conduct of elections.”
When asked whether party agents and politicians should also take oaths not to give bribe or buy votes during elections because if there is no giver, there is no taker, the YIAGA boss said, “The parties at the level of screening their candidates can ask them to swear to oaths that they won’t engage in any unethical behaviours.”
He added, “In reality, there is a limit to how you can regulate human conduct but we need institutions that are strong to hold people to account. The law should make stringent conditions and sanctions for politicians and their supporters who attempt to buy votes at elections. The electoral act is clear on bribery and conspiracy.”
According to the electoral act, giving or receiving any money or gift, for voting or refraining from voting at any election attract a fine of N500,000 or 12 months imprisonment or both.