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Vote-buying as the game changer in Nigeria’s democracy

By Kehinde Olatunji
02 August 2018   |   3:56 am
The game has changed. The days are gone where rampant and widespread ballot-box snatching, political thuggery, and falsification of figures at collation centres define election rigging in Nigeria.Today, vote-buying is the name of the game and just as an election ....

The game has changed. The days are gone where rampant and widespread ballot-box snatching, political thuggery, and falsification of figures at collation centres define election rigging in Nigeria.Today, vote-buying is the name of the game and just as an election observer and monitoring group, Yiaga Africa, has described, vote-buying is the new way of election rigging by politicians in the country.

Projector Director of Yiaga Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu, said in Osogbo yesterday at a Media Round Table Discussion tagged ‘Watching The Vote’ ahead of the September 22 governorship election in Osun State.Mbamalu said vote-buying was becoming a threat to Nigerian electoral process, adding that all hands must be on deck to put an end to the menace. “Nowadays, the more money you give, the more votes you get and this is becoming a problem and a challenge to our electoral process.”

Mbamalu said since the introduction of card reader machines, election rigging had reduced to the barest minimum but that the new way found by politicians to compromise electoral process was vote-buying. On Osun election, she said the NGO would deploy 500 election observers in 250 polling units across the state.Money has become a dominant, determinant factor in Nigeria’s politics. The ordinary citizens are victimized by vote-buying because their limited means make them susceptible to material inducements, including offers of basic commodities or modest amounts of money.

The July 14 governorship election in Ekiti State brought to the fore the daunting challenge of vote-buying in the country’s electoral process, as it left in its wake, an indelible scar on the election’s outcome. The perpetrators seem to have become more daring with each successive election. The elections in Ondo and Ekiti states, in particular, were hugely marred by vote-buying, not necessarily because of the value of the votes bought but owing to the brazen display of indiscretions by vote buyers. The perpetrators went about the electoral offence as if they had immunity or had been assured of impunity.

The Nigeria Electoral Act, 2010, Article 130 states: “A person who— (a) corruptly by himself or by any other person at any time after the date of an election has been announced, directly or indirectly gives or provides or pays money to or for any person for the purpose of corruptly influencing that person or any other person to vote or refrain from voting at such election, or on account of such person or any other person having voted or refrained from voting at such election; or (b) being a voter, corruptly accepts or takes money or any other inducement during any of the period stated in paragraph (a) of this section, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N100,000 or 12 months imprisonment or both.”

While vote-buying is subject to punishment, the attainment of compliance to this legal provision remains a challenge, as there has not been a single reported case of arrest to serve as deterrent to others.Sadly, the presence of security personnel at the polling units did little to deter the transaction of buying and selling of votes, which continue unhindered. This is usually between the ruling party and the closest opposition party.

It has been observed that vote buying takes place at multiple stages of the electoral cycle in the country and has been seen eminently during voter registration, nomination period, campaign and election day.In the context of Nigerian ballot secrecy, political parties often develop clever ways to monitor vote-buying agreements. Realising the challenge of defection by voters on Election Day and in an effort to ensure value for money, some political parties have devised countering mechanisms.

Party agents are hired and placed at strategic locations very close to the ballot boxes to see which party a voter has voted before payment.The agent would give a signal to another party agent to pay at the back, and if the voter fails to vote for the party, there is also a signal. This system was widely noted in 2015 by politicians to prevent defections by voters who have earlier made commitments towards a particular candidate.

At the just concluded Ekiti election, it was a case of ‘no money, no friend’ affair. Though the exercise witnessed a large turnout of voters, there was friction among loyalists of various political parties.The video of an elderly woman in an interview with BBC went viral on the social media on the day the election held where she disclosed how party agents dolled out N4,000 to anyone that would vote the All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate.

Another 73-year-old retired teacher attested to this in an interview with newsmen that the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) offered N5,000 to people to secure their votes.“I was offered N5,000 to vote for the party but I rejected it. I am a 73-year-old retired teacher. I cannot allow the future of my children to be bought by moneybags. I don’t know how we descended to this level when people brazenly offer money to people to secure their votes. It was not like this in the past. Will our votes count with this problem?” he asked.

It would be recalled that during the Edo State governorship election, the same scenario played out. It was observed that in Igueke community, at Orhiowon local government area, a group of young men were seen distributing cash to influence voting. Some of the voters at unit 26 and 27 in Iduenbo Ward would first visit the distributor of the cash encircled by members of the group before going to queue for voting.

In Auchi, Etsakor West local government area, the practice is rampant, as cash was distributed openly to voters. It was gathered that the voters first received N1,000 before queuing and they got a balance of N1,000 after voting for the candidate who paid the money.This disturbing cash-and-carry trend has elicited some reactions, which many observers have described as undemocratic and capable of truncating the nation’s democracy.

Former Education Minister, Oby Ezekwesili, described the situation as ‘Democracy on sale’, reiterating why the major parties in Nigeria need to be voted out in 2019. She noted that the mismanagement of Ekiti election by the ‘Twin-Evil of Nigeria Politics’ would pay off in 2019 election.

In a series of tweets, she wrote: “Democracy For Sale. What would make a person pay voters money in order to serve them? Democracy as practiced by Nigeria’s political class is simple: Use the proceeds of the pillage of the public treasury to purchase the consent of the people to pillage them some more.

“Perhaps, more Nigerians will now appreciate why 2019 must be different. All things about sordidness of the #EkitiVotes2018 shall ultimately work together for the good of Nigeria’s democracy in 2019 because now many more of citizens will awaken to the work needed to deliver Nigeria from the twin-evil of Nigeria’s politics.”

For the General Manager, Castremineo limited, Mr. Seyi Egunjobi, “vote-buying shows the extent of poverty and disbelief in the system. I guess people have just resolved to taking the money as much as they have believed that it might just be the only dividend of democracy they will get. This is sad.”

Also, immediate past chairman, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch, Mr. Adesina Ogunlana, described vote-buying as a rape on democracy. He lamented that it is unlawful, immoral and described it as irresponsible inducement of support for a particular candidate.“I know democracy is about numbers but because it is about numbers, it does not mean you have to get the numbers anyhow. It is a rape on democracy. When somebody rapes a woman, they will say he has had carnal knowledge of that person, he actually forced himself on that particular person. That is the same with vote-buying.”

All eyes are now on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the electoral umpire to enforce its own rules and stamp out the trend in the political system. The body last week called for the criminalisation of vote-buying. Mr. Adedeji Soyebi, National Electoral Commissioner in charge of South-West, made the call in Abuja at the High-Level Post Election Roundtable on the 2018 Governorship Election in Ekiti State.

“We need to work on people to stop selling their votes because it is their conscience they are selling; it means that money has become the determining factor of their choices. As a country, we need to think about this and find a solution to it, we need to start talking about it because the process made it difficult for INEC to really have a say.

“What happened in Ekiti, if we are going to be very honest with ourselves is that, they did it so perfectly but very much distant from the polling units. This is how it works, a voter walks into our polling unit after being verified and he or she casts his or her vote, that is where our relationship with the person ends. Every form of vote-buying we are talking about – 80 per cent or 100 per cent always takes place after the person has cast his votes,“ he said.

He said stopping vote-buying should be a collective responsibility, adding that if there was no vote-selling, there would be no vote-buying. Soyebi said that though INEC did a good job in conducting credible election in the Ekiti state, the only thing people remembered about the election was the issue of vote-buying. “It makes it very difficult for the commission to really have a say because the moment the person casts his or her vote, he or she goes somewhere to collect his or her money.’’

He said that the commission had been talking about vote-buying since the Anambra election and would continue to do so through increased sensitisation of voters, through voter education for them to shun the act.Hajia Amina Zakari, National Commissioner in charge of Operations added that INEC did not rig the election in any way because the same template it used in Ekiti was what it had been using since the Kogi State governorship election. She said that N4,000 to N5,000 was alleged to have been shared for each of at least, 65,000 voters that voted in the Ekiti governorship election.