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Violence, vote-buying threaten fair, credible 2023 poll

By Muyiwa Adeyemi (Politics Editor)
15 July 2022   |   2:46 am
Although there had been different electoral reforms in the country, intrigues by political actors, over the years, have undermined the process, making votes not to count.

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Although there had been different electoral reforms in the country, intrigues by political actors, over the years, have undermined the process, making votes not to count. Thus, rendering the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) unable to conduct free, fair and credible polls since the beginning of the current political dispensation in 1999.

Political commentators are not convinced that the 2023 general elections will be different from what Nigerians have seen these past years, where thuggery, ballot-box snatching, stuffing of ballot boxes, falsification of result sheets and multiple voting thwart people’s will to elect competent and capable hands.

They fear tomorrow’s governorship election in Osun State might likely record the same pattern of politically motivated violence and vote-buying recently introduced to Nigeria’s political lexicon, considering the utterances of the political gladiators these few days. They pointed out that inducing voters with food items, groceries, cash gifts and clothing materials are becoming a common trait.

Vote-buying
TO buy votes, payment is not done in the open. Party agents stand at strategic positions near the polling booths to see the thumb-printed ballot paper before payment. As soon as the thumb-printed paper is sighted and acknowledged through eye contact, the agent leads the voter to a canvasser, who will follow their ‘customer’ to a party member in a vehicle or a house close to the polling unit where the payment will be made. Party agents are properly trained in the act to avoid prying eyes of observers, whether international or local.

Unknown to many, vote buying, as a concept, initially termed ‘see and buy’ began in Ekiti State in 2011 during a National Assembly election, which was cancelled mid-way and postponed for a week by INEC.

The politicians penetrated and had access to the cancelled ballot boxes and discovered that a particular candidate heavily supported by the powers-that-be in the state was not voted for even by the ward and local council the candidate came from, despite huge “mobilisation” deployed to the area.

  
Their experience at the botched election forced them to stop pre-election inducement and decided to give N5,000 to whoever voted for the party and the strategy worked.
 
The party, again, deployed the same style of inducement during the Ondo State governorship election in 2013, where party canvassers and mobilisers described the post-voting payment as Dibo ko sebe ede, meaning, vote and cook Ede soup, a special delicacy in the state.
 
The Guardian gathered that in the 2014 off-season governorship election in Ekiti, the party failed in its execution of the ‘see and buy’ strategy, as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, who, with support from Goodluck Jonathan-led Federal Government, practically controlled security apparatus in the state.
  
Being a victim when it was introduced (he had contested for Senatorial seat under the platform of Labour Party (LP)), Fayose, on the eve of the 2014 governorship election, in concert with the Presidency, deployed some hooded security agents in a midnight operation, where they apprehended almost all the agents of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), which is one of the legacy parties that transmuted to the All Progressives Congress, holding ‘logistics’ to prosecute the election, beat them and collected the cash from them.
  
PDP had a field day at the heavily militarised election and the result was clear to APC members, who had been traumatised in the hands of agents throughout the night.

The case was, however, different in 2018 in Ekiti, with the APC in control of the Federal Government. The PDP had expected the APC to retaliate and go after their agents the night before the election. So, it adopted the traditional pre-election inducement by asking the electorate to present their PVCs and collect N5,000, a day before the election.

  
All major wards, including the old Governor’s Office were filled with people, who collected the money and allowed party agents to take record of their PVC details but that did not work for the party.

The APC retained its ‘see and buy’ strategy and many voters, who had collected cash from the PDP the previous day could not turn down the APC’s inducement, which was given after they had voted for the party. The strategy was also adopted by the party in Osun, same year.
  
The just-concluded 2022 governorship election in Ekiti confirmed that vote buying had come to stay as a strategy for politicians.

With the Osun election holding tomorrow, there are growing concerns that the same scenario will play out, considering the large-scale violence and desperation by the major parties to win at all costs.

Speaking on the mood of residents, Executive Director of Centre for Democracy and Transparency (CDT), Mrs. Faith Nwadishi, said there were feelers that Osun residents were afraid that the violence that characterised 2018 governorship election in the state would repeat itself on Saturday.
 
Nwadishi, who disclosed that her group had been in the state for over two weeks, told The Guardian that some residents also alleged plans to ensure that the election is inconclusive so as to create room for a supplementary election.

She also disclosed that the electorate doesn’t see anything wrong in collecting money in exchange for their votes as they see vote-buying as an opportunity to have a “share of the national cake.”

For watchers of events in the state, the charged political atmosphere and utterance of politicians have heated up the polity, making residents fear that election will end up being violent as recorded in the 2018 governorship. Billboards of some of the major parties have been pulled down and their posters defaced.

 
The Director of Programmes, Yiaga Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu, was emphatic that the political and security atmosphere have remained tensely unpredictable, describing every local council area in Osun State as a potential flashpoint.
 
According to her, Yiaga Africa’s pre-election reports have revealed the activities of cultists and political thugs in some local government areas as capable of threatening the peaceful and credible conduct of the election, if not contained. “In addition to this threat, there are also attempts by some political mercenaries to manipulate the process right from the pre-election stage.
 
“Activities of thugs and cultist groups range from disruption of PVC collection in the local councils and violent clashes, which have threatened the peace in the locations affected.”
  
The Department of State Services (DSS), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Correctional Service and National Orientation Agency (NOA) have also expressed concern that the election may not be peaceful.

But a DSS official, who addressed a meeting of stakeholders, disclosed that the agency has identified flashpoints across the state and plans by hoodlums to cause trouble on the election day, pledging to work with other security agencies to mop up criminal elements.

“We have identified some flashpoints where there are lots of hoodlums that are trying to cause some problems for us on that day and we are trying to mop them up. A lot of efforts will be made to ensure that the election is peaceful. We have learnt one or two lessons from Ekiti election that will be needful to us. We are also tackling vote-buying. We are trying to gather enough evidence against vote-buying,” the official said.

 
Only on Monday, some unknown gunmen allegedly attacked the residence of LP candidate, Yussuff at Ilobu in Irepodun Local Council of the state around 1.00 a.m. and operated for about 20 minutes.
  
Yussuff said he was rattled and had to lie down flat in his sitting room alongside his family members, who had visited to celebrate Eid-el-Kabir with him.
  
According to him, the gunmen opened fire at the glass windows of his sitting room and bedroom with the intent to kill, adding that he was relieved when his security details repelled the attack. Yussuff accused Governor Oyetola and the APC of being behind the alleged attack.

The Osun Police command confirmed the attack. Yemisi Opalola, police spokesperson in the state said the attackers could not gain entry into the governorship hopeful’s residence.
 
But in a swift reply, Oyetola denied attacking Yussuff, saying that the former lawmaker arranged the shooting to give the incumbent a bad name.
  
Oyetola, who spoke through his Chief Press Secretary, Ismail Omipidan said Yussuff was no threat to the re-election bid of the governor and urged opposition politician to desist from staging attacks that were capable of giving people the impression that there was tension in the state ahead of the polls.

MEANWHILE, a hail of criticism has attended the comment by the National Chairman of APC, Abudulahi Adamu, while charging the campaign council members for Osun election to do whatever it takes to win the governorship election.

Adamu had stated that while the Ekiti State governorship election was an easy win for the party, the Osun election is a must-win too.
 
The party chairman had warned members of the campaign council not to come back to the party crying, saying there was no room for failure.
 
His words: “Nobody should come back to us crying, failure is not our own by grace of God. Whatever it takes within the laws of the land, go for it, and win the election. Let’s win the election, we have no apologies whatsoever for this posture because these two elections are important pointer to the national election coming up in 2023.”
  
Adamu added that he had been told that PDP candidate is a ‘money bag’, but assured that the APC would be ready for him.
He said, “I was told that the governorship candidate of the opposition is a money bag. So we must be prepared to face him eyeball to eyeball. We are going there to win and that plan to win; the ability to execute the plan rests with the leadership that this council is going to provide in the campaign efforts.
 
“I urge you to leave no stone unturned. I urge you to go there and do whatever is doable within the laws of Nigeria and the electoral law to win. My tolerance level and this national working committee level for failure is really zero.”

 
The PDP in its reaction described Adamu’s comment as reckless and an “irresponsible show of aversion to a peaceful electoral process.”
 
PDP’s spokesperson, Debo Ologunagaba, in a statement, said, “it is pertinent to remind Abdullahi Adamu that election is not warfare! Directing his party members to “go down to the trenches” in the Osun State governorship election and brazenly asserting zero tolerance for election defeat cannot find accommodation within the ambits of the law.”
  
PDP said: “Adamu’s comment further confirms that the APC is in mortal fear of Senator Adeleke’s soaring popularity, realising that Governor Oyetola is no match for Senator Adeleke; a blunt reality for which the APC national chairman has now become frenetic.”

The opposition party said the Osun election is a “referendum on the monumental failure” of the APC in the state, adding that the people of Osun are ready “to liberate themselves from the stranglehold of the incompetent, vicious and inhumane APC administration.”
 
Nwadishi said, “most of the people we spoke to said they are willing and ready to sell their votes as they did in Ekiti State if politicians offer them money. They said promises made by politicians are never fulfilled and election period is the only time they have opportunity to have a piece of the cake but all efforts to convince them that what politicians offer them was a crumb from the table and not a piece of the cake did not convince them from changing their minds against collecting money.”

 
She said it was frightening to note that some residents are alleging plans to use the state security network, Amotekun against the opposition and political thugs to scare away people from casting their votes in some communities.  
 
DISCLOSING plans to unleash violence on some communities to scare away voters from polling centres and induce them with cash gifts, the Executive Director of Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Austin Aigbe, said Osun election would replicate what happened in Ekiti State, noting that there has not been any security arrangement to prevent vote-buying.

Aigbe told The Guardian, “if you recall in 2018, the difference between votes by APC and PDP was about 350, which led to the inconclusive declaration because of the margin of votes and supplementary election in seven polling units. Now the parties are ready to do anything to win the election.

Most likely they are moving their strategy beyond vote-buying, but just to put it on record that the APC national chairman has ‘ordered’ its members to go win Osun election by all means.

“The PDP candidate was also seen on the campaign ground saying, ‘If vote-buying is in dollars or naira, he is ready.’ Even though he has tried to deny or amend that statement. But we know what that meant. They are collecting voters’ account details because they want to buy their votes before the election. If what happened in Ekiti was that massive, we are going to get worse in Osun. Many people will likely go to the polling unit with the intention of selling their votes.”

Aigbe accused the politicians of ‘weaponisation of poverty’ by deliberately keeping the masses poor for manipulation.
“In Ekiti, there are two stories about two women that touched my heart; one of them collected N10,000 and voted against her conscience. When asked, she said that the money would be used to pay her child’s school fees. I now said to her that, ‘ In the next four years, you won’t get that same money to pay school fees.’ She said it didn’t matter that she hasn’t seen them since four years ago, so she wants to take the opportunity now. The other woman refused to collect the money and voted according to her conscience.

“All the strategies of the civil society that N10,000 will further impoverish them did not work. This people are saying that in the last four years they haven’t seen them. When you did the calculations it didn’t matter to them,” he said.
 
Many stakeholders have also blamed security agents for providing cover for the culprits instead of preventing party agents from moving closer to the voting cubicles where they can see thumb-printed ballot papers.

Some civil society groups recognised by the INEC to monitor the election are also accused of working for some political parties, using their vantage position to help in identifying voters, who thumb-printed for their preferred candidates.

Nwadishi, who advocated electronic voting as was done in Kaduna State, which he noted will be difficult for party agents to see who voted or did not vote for their candidates, said in the interim, INEC should create a voting environment which will make the cubicles secure and ballot boxes not far from the cubicles.
 
Aigbe advised INEC to create an envelope for the voters. According to him, INEC can create envelopes, when people vote, let them put it into an envelope and seal it before coming out of the cubicle. “Also, there should be, at least an operative of EFCC at all the polling units. Any voter that shows the ballot should be arrested. There can be no buyer without seller, all this time we focus on politicians, we should stop blaming them; we should stop the cycle by arresting people, who are selling votes.

“In fact, the Electoral Act 2022 has provided that both sellers and buyers are offenders. If politicians give voters money before the election and they still go ahead and vote for them, that can’t be classified as vote-buying. The voters had the opportunity of voting with his or her conscience. So, this is the final stage where we should be heading towards, we need to get to digital voting; electronic voting like in Kaduna State,”Aigbe said.

INEC said it is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that vote-buying and other anomalies observed at the Ekiti State governorship election were prevented in Osun.

Rotimi Oyekanmi, spokesperson of INEC national chairman, told The Guardian, “when the INEC conducted the Ekiti governorship election back in 2018, and vote buying suddenly became a big issue, people complained that it was rampantly done in the open on election day, while the security agents allegedly did little or nothing to stop it. Stakeholders called on INEC to act.
  
“They also asked the Commission to stop voters from entering the voting cubicles with their cell phones because it was observed during the Ekiti governorship election, that voters took pictures of their ballot papers after fingerprinting and showed vote-buyers such pictures after leaving the voting cubicle as proof of their voting preferences.

The polling booth was reconfigured to make it difficult for voters from displaying their ballot papers. The position of the ballot box was changed and put in the open.

“The Commission invited the EFCC and the ICPC into the membership of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) to leverage on their powers to arrest and prosecute vote-buyers and sellers.
  
“It was heartwarming that the EFCC arrested some vote-buyers during the June 18, 2022 Ekiti governorship election and the Commission looks forward to diligent prosecution of the matter.”
  
INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu at a meeting with the stakeholders ahead of Osun election admitted that vote-buying has become an albatross to conducting credible election and promised to tackle the menace. He said, “Again, arising from the experience in recent elections, vote-buying remains a major area of concern. We appreciate the role played by the anti-corruption and security agencies in apprehending some of the perpetrators of this brazen assault on our democracy. In particular, we are working with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to ensure the prosecution of persons arrested in the recent Ekiti governorship election. Action will commence, as soon as the EFCC completes its investigation. I appeal to all security agencies to continue to join hands with the Commission to tackle this menace.”

It remains to be seen if the security agents will heed the appeal of INEC chairman and other lovers of democracy in Nigeria and the international community to prevent vote-buying and shun violence.

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