Vote buying and integrity of elections
The governorship election in Ekiti State in which the All Progressives Congress (APC) party’s Biodun Abayomi Oyebanji emerged as governor-elect was not the best election a democratic Nigeria could hold. Though considered largely to be an improvement of previous elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), it was nevertheless not above board, having been afflicted with allegations of selling and buying of votes by unscrupulous politicians.
Election observers including the 70-NGO member Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room and the British High Commission commended the commission. The Situation Room noted “appreciable improvement in INEC’s logistics and election administration, especially with the early arrival of election officials and materials at the polling units, leading to the early opening of polls”; that the Bi-Modal Verification Accreditation System (BVAS) machines functioned properly “in at least 76 per cent of the voting locations”, and that the election organizers were sensitive enough to give, during the process, appropriate consideration to the condition of persons with disability. On its part, the British High Commission commended INEC for “improvements in the electoral process including the timely opening of polls, better functioning of the Biometric Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) devices for accrediting voters, and the transparent and efficient electronic transmission of polling unit results to INEC’s results viewing portal.” These are heartening remarks in the ever so troublesome conduct of elections in Nigeria.
On the other hand, the British High Commission expressed concern about reports of vote-buying during the election and called on the relevant authorities to hold persons involved accountable, stressing that “buying and selling of votes has no place in a democracy.” The Center for Democracy and Development reported that, “One of the observable patterns of vote-buying was the collection of cash in brown envelopes, which was meant to disguise the content of the envelopes to avoid arrest by the anti-corruption agencies.” The group also noted an instance of fake news and acts of disinformation intended to confuse voters, citing “the purported withdrawal letter of the SDP candidate Segun Oni,” and his alleged endorsement of the PDP candidate, which circulated across social media. This claim was subsequently confirmed to be “false.” Situation Room noted that vote-buying was widespread despite the large presence of law enforcement agents and strongly condemns “this blatant violation of the electoral law.” The group also condemned the location of polling booths in private residences.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) stated that “reports of vote-buying, undue influence, intimidation, ballot box snatching, and other electoral offences by the three leading political parties” in the election are reasons to challenge INEC to “promptly and effectively prosecute those arrested, and bring to justice anyone who sponsored, aided and abetted them.”
Certainly, the credibility of an electoral process is foundational to the integrity of the entire structure of democracy. Thomas Rye (2003) wrote that, “(democratic) government is ‘government by the consent of the governed’ (and that) elections give practical meaning to this notion of ‘consent’ (by allowing) people to choose among competing candidates and parties and to decide who will occupy public office”.
The 1999 Constitution in such provisions as Sections 65, 76, 131 to 136, and 177 to 181 copiously dwell on the cornerstone necessity of “election” and being “duly elected” to the holding of public office. Therefore, holders of specified public offices must derive their just mandate from the will of the electorate in accordance with the rules laid down in that constitution, and any other law of the National Assembly. A compromised election can only generate a defective dubious and non-credible, mandate of the “elected.” Vote-buying, rigging, ballot snatching, intimidation of voters, indeed any form of act that obstructs a free and fair choice by the voter is a dent in the credibility of the process and the claim of the winner to a just mandate.
Vote-buying is a criminal offence under the Electoral Act, 2022. Sections 22, 121, and 122 are clear on it and the punishment due. For example, Section 121 (2) stipulates that a “ voter commits an offence of bribery where, before, or during an election, directly or indirectly, by his or herself, or by any other person, on his or her behalf, receives, agrees, or contracts for any money, gift, loan, or valuable consideration, office, place of employment, for his or herself, or any other person, for voting or agreeing to vote, or for refraining or agreeing to refrain from voting at any such election”.
Notwithstanding the “improvements” in the election in Ekiti, it is understandable that the Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate Segun Oni vowed to challenge it in court. His proposed action is a civilised as well as legally backed step to seek redress.
The INEC can do better in the Osun election coming up soon. Security officials must also be much more alive to their responsibilities than obtained in Ekiti. It is a welcome move that the President of Traditional Religion Worshippers (TRWA) in Osun State Oluseyi Atanda has reportedly expressed the intention to commit his members to an oath against selling their votes, and he has advised leaders of other religious bodies to similarly commit their followers to a clean electoral process.
Electoral malfeasances arise largely from the crooked intentions of the political actors who facilitate such dastardly acts through their loyalists and supporters. For better elections, therefore, politicians must change their ways by seeking public office as men of good character, not as desperate crooks. Nothing can be more heartwarming than elections that reflect the true choices of the electorate and bring into government persons armed thereby, with a people’s “policy mandate.” To confer respect on government, and to assure the integrity of elections, the process must be founded on a transparent, free, fair, and credible election.