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The Punch


Sunday, August 7, 2011

April elections: INEC, Police pass buck over high profile offenders

John Alechenu

The Independent National Electoral Commission and the Nigeria Police Force are engaged in buck passing over the prosecution of suspected electoral offenders, even as the suspects considered "high profile" continue to roam the streets.



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While the electoral body says the outcome of police investigations will decide whether or not a case can go to trial, the force insists that it cannot prosecute without INEC's approval.

As a result, almost three months after the April general elections, the alleged offenders are still roaming the streets free.

The INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, had announced that several high profile individuals were arrested during the voter registration exercise and the just concluded April general elections.

The Director of Information and Public Affairs of INEC, Mr. Emmanuel Umenger, told SUNDAY PUNCH that the commission was not to blame.

He said although he could not go into specific cases, the commission did not have powers to prosecute offenders.

He explained that most of the cases in question were still being investigated by the police.

The outcome of police investigations he said would determine whether or not the case could go to trial.

However, the Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Police Force, Sola Amore, a Deputy Commissioner of Police, disagreed with Umenger's position on the issue of prosecution.

Amore told our correspondent over the telephone that the police were bound by the provisions of the Constitution and the Electoral Act.

He said, "I don't like buck passing but there cannot be any prosecution of any electoral offender outside the purview of INEC.

"There cannot be any prosecution of electoral offenders without the support of INEC; the police cannot prosecute without INEC. You can look this up in the Electoral Act."

Amore was apparently referring to Section 158 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).

The Section states, "An offence committed under this Act shall be triable in a magistrate, or a High Court of a state in which the offence is committed, or the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja."

Sub-section (2) also states, "A prosecution under this Act shall be undertaken by the legal officers of the commission (INEC) or any legal practitioner appointed by it."

Asked about the state of investigations with regard to the well publicized invitation/ arrest of former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Police Affairs, Senator Gbenga Oguniya, and his counterpart in sports, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, the force PRO said, "I don't know the status of investigation with regard to the cases you mentioned."

Only recently, the Inspector-General of Police, Hafiz Ringim, in a paper presented on his behalf by the DIG (Operations), Audu Abubakar, said a total of 2,341 persons were arrested for various election related offences during the last general elections.

It may be recalled that on April 11, 2011, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri was quizzed by the State Security Service in Bayelsa State over allegations of illegal possession of election materials.

Also, the former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Police Affairs, Senator Gbenga Oguniya, and three other members of the House of Representatives in the state were reportedly apprehended by Mr. Tunde Gbolarumi, an Assistant Inspector-General of Police (Operations) for sundry election related offences.