Vote buying and all that
Vote buying and election rigging are as old as the history of election in this country – at least as old as the living memory.
Since Nigeria’s independence in 1960 and the introduction of the electoral franchise with its one-man-one-vote mantra, politicians of all hues and of all tribes and tongues, believing that the end justifies the means, have perfected the art of using ignoble means to attain political power.
In their desperation to have one up against their opponents at the poll, majority of politicians have had to resort to all manner of inducements to get voters to cast their votes, obviously not according to their conscience, but according to the weight of the largess doled out by each of the contesting parties.
So why this sudden hullaballoo about vote buying and vote selling – a phenomenon which has become part and parcel of our electoral process? Apparently it has to do with the blatant manner in which votes were hawked, sold and bought freely in the just concluded governorship election in Ekiti State.
The bazaar-like atmosphere in which this inglorious transaction was carried out and its potential for casting huge shadow on the integrity of the approaching 2019 general elections must be responsible for the fury it has generated. And it was truly a bazar according to the various reports from the state. Unlike the women of easy virtue who hawk their wares by the roadside or in the dimly lit ambience of the red light districts, the Ekiti political prostitutes, like their counterparts in other states, hawked their wares openly in broad day light, using various code names like “as agreed” or “ see and buy” to attract their customers.
And from ward to ward, and from one local government area to another, they sold their goods only to the highest bidders at prices that ranged from N2000 to N5000 in obvious contempt of the Electoral Act. And they chose to operate, not in hiding, but in clear view of the 30,000 policemen deployed to Ekiti to check and to prevent any electoral infraction.
The whole scenario, one must admit, is scaring. For next year’s presidential election holding simultaneously in the 36 states plus the FCT, Nigeria does not have 30,000 policemen for each of the 36 states using the Ekiti State template. But if this trend of open vote buying is not arrested, it will have a grim implication for the integrity of the said elections.
But can it be stemmed? It can, but it is not going to be easy because it has become a typical Nigerian problem with the do-or die attitude of a typical Nigerian politician. In looking for solution, the starting point is to acknowledge the problem as the chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakub, has done. In February this year, he was quoted as admitting that politicians’ “proclivity” for vote buying could jeopardise the 2019 general elections. He said he has solicited the assistance of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
“Our democracy”, the chairman was quoted as saying, “is on sale on open market… we have observed this in the series of elections we have conducted so far and this must stop.” Unfortunately, it cannot stop on its own if the appropriate laws are not enforced. It is clear that this political mercantilism did not originate from Ekiti State. That it has escalated into an open practice and in defiance of the law enforcement agents, or even with their connivance, suggests that no effective measures have been taken to checkmate it. Obviously, there had been no adequate political education for the citizenry.
Citizens, who have been exposed to extreme poverty by callous officialdom, are prepared to do anything, including vote selling, to ameliorate their lot. Many of them have learnt over the years that it is their lot to be summoned out every four years to do their civic duties only to be dumped.
Given their unenviable plight, little do they know that their vote is the only potent weapon they have against any leader who chooses to take them for granted. Little also do they realise that vote buying and vote selling, apart from demeaning them, is an offence punishable under the Nigeria Electoral Act 2010. Article 30 of the act specifically provides that any person who, “ being a voter, corruptly accepts or takes money or any other inducement during any of the period (of election) commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N100,000 or 12 months imprisonment or both.”
Those who drafted this law did not realise that the most serious form of rigging and vote buying actually take place before the election, outside of the period specified by the law. Take the party primaries and the build up to it for instance. Within the party, there are major-domos, the people who call the shots whose nod an aspirant would require to scale through the hurdle.
Any member of the party who intends to contest any of the offices must announce his intention to the people in his party and he can’t do that by ordinary words of mouth. He must do so with flourish – dole out money and shake hands with them from ward level to the local government level, up to the state executives of the party.
It is not enough that you go around and sell your manifesto to them and make the usual promises. As you speak your mind out and take a bow, they would give you a thundering applause and hail you to the high heavens. Their redeemer has, indeed, come. Incidentally, these pandering and flattery happen to all those who aspire to the same position with you. But if you are not careful, you begin to dream dreams; that all is sealed and delivered. But for where, if you pardon the use of this local parlance!
Some of your rivals – those seeking the same office with you – are reaching out to the family members of the kingmakers distributing money and cars, new or second hand, alias tokunbo. Before you know it, the kingmakers, including the godfather himself and other shakers and movers in the party, have compromised themselves.
Prior to the primaries, they have already anointed the man they want. And their right man is of course the man with the deep pocket. He may not necessarily be the best. But you can tell that to the marines. He is probably the one groomed in the art of perfidy, the man with the sticky fingers for kleptomania, a recent graduate from the school of infamy where he perfected the art of swindling either his unwary employers or members of the public whose trust he has abused most egregiously.
Come time for the primary election, what you will witness is mere ritual, a motion without movement. No substance. And they engage in back clap to celebrate an achievement. This is the hallmark of those who preach the virtues of honesty but hardly practise it because it is both psychologically and morally discomfiting for them to do so, having themselves profited from such humongous integrity deficit.
For them honesty cannot be the best policy. And the reason they come to public office is not to serve but for the public to serve them, to loot and to plunder the people’s collective patrimony. For them good governance is not just a strange concept, it is anathema. Unfortunately the Electoral Act does not cover this political chicanery. But this ought to be the starting point of the efforts to clean up the system that gives rise to vote buying and other unwholesome electoral malfeasance.
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