Friday, 1st December 2023

Helping EFCC to apprehend, prosecute vote buyers

By Ameh Ochojila, Abuja
23 August 2022   |   4:21 am
Voting buying in recent times has become a disturbing feature of elections across the country. These development is so disturbing that the Independent Electoral Commission ...

EFCC arresting a suspected vote-buyer during the last governorship election

Voting buying in recent times has become a disturbing feature of elections across the country. These development is so disturbing that the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), has proposed a life ban for any politician or political parties caught in the act of vote buying.   

Former Returning Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Akwa Ibom State, Mike Igini said the menace of vote buying has “assumed the level of an epidemic and it is the greatest thing that we need to deal with.”   

Igini said: “Vote buying has become a problem and it will have huge implications if we don’t stop it now. The first implication of vote buying is that it is going to remove performance politics because the opportunity is that when an incumbent has performed, in the next election for instance, the fellow should be rewarded on account of performance. But because of vote buying, if not dealt with right away, there will be no performance anymore because all you need to do is to keep money somewhere to do the same, if your challenger is going to buy votes. Secondly, vote buying, if not stopped, reinforces inequality in the society because it would be the case of only the rich and the wealthy winning elections.   

“It will also lead to what is called class bias politics. There is what is called the quality of voting of all citizens but when you allow vote buying to thrive, you are going to flood the society with inequality of public franchise.   

“Nigeria is not the only country that has experienced vote buying. Some of the advanced countries you see today like the United Kingdom, America, former Soviet Union, Latin American countries, were all involved in that but in 1856, Australia gave to humanity the idea of secret balloting to deal with the issue.” According to him, Britain resisted secret balloting until it was embraced in 1872.  

America, he said, which was very notorious for vote buying, only embraced it in 1892. “For instance, in Stanford, $5000 was used to purchase 850 votes out of 1000 registered voters before they curtailed it. So, I want to recommend to the National Assembly to replicate the England scenario through legislation.   

“In 1872 the English parliament came up with a Ballot Act. That is what I am asking the National Assembly to do, so that they would be remembered for enacting it together with the profound Electoral Act we are having today.

In England today, if you are caught buying votes through your party campaigner or influencer, or campaign manager and it is traceable to you, you are banned from participating in that election, as well as your political party for six years. Then if you repeat that again, you could be banned for life.   

“The entire section 114 to 129 under Part 7 of the Electoral Act 2022, clearly identifies acts and conducts that are considered anathema, which are totally prohibited. In particular, section 1 subsection 21 of the Act prohibits vote buying and selling. This is because a vote is a public good. It’s a citizen’s share of a public franchise. It must not be sold, it must not be bought, and in fact, we must stand tall in defence of our democracy and the rule of law,” he stressed.   

Reports of recent elections released by local and international observers, as well as civil society organisations, among others, indicated that political parties and politicians indulge in electoral fraud. They actively deploy billions of naira for all shades of voter inducements, including vote-buying. If left unchecked, it would gradually erode whatever gains the 2022 Electoral Act may have conferred on the system.

There were allegations that both the just concluded Osun State governorship election and the one in Ekiti were marred by vote-buying as party agents tried to outdo one another in an effort to win the votes of the electorate.    

In an attempt to curb the challenges of vote buying, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) deployed its staff and agents to monitor and arrest perpetrators during elections. The EFCC had announced that it arrested four persons for offences bordering on vote buying during the governorship election of July 16, 2022 in Osun State.   

According to EFCC, the suspects arrested were Yekini Nurudeen Abiodun, Jimoh Kazeem, Adeyemo Bahir and Abidogun Ismail. They were arrested by operatives at different polling units following credible intelligence, while trading votes for cash in Osogbo, the state capital.   

EFCC said the suspects were arrested at Polling Unit 002, Ward 2, Ababu, Isale Osun, Osogbo, except for Abiodun that was nabbed at Unit 2, Isale Agbara, Osogbo.

The spokesman of the EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, told The Guardian that the agency monitored the primaries of both the ruling APC and the opposition PDP, to discourage inducement of delegates by aspirants. In the same vein, operatives of the Commission, he stated, monitored the off-season governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states. He confirmed that a couple of arrests were made and the suspects will be arraigned in court at the conclusion of investigations.   

However, the question is: can the EFCC successfully handle the arrest and prosecution of big time vote buying that precede presidential primaries of frontline parties, which is done covertly as well as during the 2023 general elections?

A lawyer, Ephraim Akamihe is of the view that the anti-graft agency cannot cope with the challenge. According to him, the EFCC cannot be fighting for every crime in Nigeria. The Act that sets up the EFCC, he said, empowers it to fight economic and financial crimes. Akamihe said election frauds are special offences, which in his view cannot be categorised solely as economy and finance crimes.   He said the Police are there to prosecute other offenders. He queried why the police have not arrested and prosecuted electoral offenders to stop the menace, which he attributed to lack of political will.  
“What happened to those arrested for stopping some people in different areas of Lagos from voting and the votes destroyed during the last governorship election in Lagos? Nothing!” He said.   

According to him, unless and until the Police is allowed to operate independently of those in power, things will remain as they are. “We saw how the British Police drilled a sitting Prime Minister just for holding a party during the lockdown, amongst others, which culminated in his resignation. That is where the law reigns.   

“Here, the law appears to have been made for only the poor and weak. This is the same reason we have insecurity everywhere in Nigeria because herdsmen go into a community and kill every single person overnight,” he lamented.    

The lawyer urged the government to set up a special tribunal for trial of electoral offenders that would be free from government undue influences.    

An Abuja-based lawyer, Sylvanus Maliki, noted that there were still recorded cases of vote buying across political parties, going by the reports of the recently concluded Osun governorship election.  He said the establishment of electoral offences tribunals may not be the solution. “What we need to curb this ugly menace is to strengthen our existing institutions.”   

The lawyer explained that there are existing courts with the requisite jurisdiction to try election related offences. Rather than creating new courts, the existing ones, he argued, should be strengthened as creation of new ones will amount to duplication of efforts.    

“Again we have security agencies, which have a bigger role to play in assisting INEC. Government also needs to empower the security agencies by providing modern crime-fighting equipment to secure polling areas,” he stated.    

He argued that vote buying per se can be construed to be within the ambit of economic and financial crime and matters under the EFCC Act. According to him, EFCC’s role in the fight against vote buying ranges from arresting and prosecuting offenders. He maintained that with a willing mind, the anti-graft agency has the wherewithal to impact positively in the fight against vote buying. “One may not really guarantee the ability of EFCC to completely curb vote buying, but it has the ability to minimise it to a nearest level.”

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