Imperative of campaign against vote buying to electing good leaders
• CSOs, Activists Say It Weakens Democracy, Promotes Corruption
• ‘Stemming Vote Buying Requires Sustained Action Ahead Elections’
As the 2023 general elections approaches, there has been an upbeat in politicking and political campaigns by politicians and their parties to woo voters. This is besides a lot of ‘strategising,’ as it is called in political circles, on how to tilt the outcome of the polls in their favour.
Previous elections in Nigeria have never been without election malpractices. Its outcomes have always been marred by such incidents as rigging, over-voting, ballot box snatching, stuffing of ballot boxes with thumb printed votes, falsification of result sheets and unleashing of thugs on political opponents.
But the enactment of the Electoral Act 2022, which allows deployment of technology in accreditation of voters and transmission of results, seem to have thrown many politicians off guard, sending them back to the drawing board to rethink their processes on how to ensure victory during the upcoming elections.
While the introduction of the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) and Result Viewing Portal (iRev) by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that is capable of stopping old ways of rigging elections has become a major concern to election riggers, vote buying seems the new method candidates and their parties now deploy to tilt election results in their favour.
The last off season elections, especially the governorship elections in Anambra, Ondo, Edo, Kogi, Ekiti and Osun states were characterised by massive vote buying, as testified to by election monitoring groups. Observers said voters were induced in almost all the polling units, as some of the perpetrators of the act were arrested by security and anti-corruption agencies.
Giving a post-mortem of the Ekiti election held in June, Yiaga Africa’s Watching The Vote (WTV) observers disclosed that party agents of the three major parties in the election, the All Progressives Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Social Democratic Party (SDP) gave cash, ranging from N5,000 to N10,000, to induce voters to vote the parties’ candidates.
INEC has also admitted vote buying to be a challenge, which, perhaps, explains why it has promised to roll out measures to tackle the menace at the polling units on Election Day in 2023
Chairman of the electoral body, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, while speaking at a stakeholders’ forum organised in Abuja by the Civil Society Situation Room (CSSR), vowed that perpetrators would be dealt with.
A poll recently held by NOI poll, revealed that 26 per cent of registered voters said they would be willing to sell their votes for monetary or material gains during elections. The survey revealed that 45 per cent of respondents would accept money, 21 per cent would accept any gift, 10 per cent would accept promised jobs or contracts, nine per cent would accept food items while two per cent would accept clothes. This further underscores the need for INEC to take measures against vote buying seriously.
Speaking on the issue, the Chairman of Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), Auwal Musa (Rafsanjani), maintained that vote buying and selling has been a trending business by politicians vying for political office in Nigeria. He noted that since the 1964 general elections that paved way for the perennial crisis in Nigeria, elections in the country have been marred by vote rigging and attendant political violence, with politicians and the political parties accusing one another of stuffing the ballot boxes with illegal votes, carting away ballot boxes and beating up or even killing their opponents.
He said: “From the inception of Professor Attahiru Jega as the INEC Chairman in 2010 when he moved to sanitise the system of vote rigging by cleaning up the electoral register and introducing special voters cards, which could only be authenticated by special machines during polling time at polling stations, this was the game changer. Politicians’ intent on fraudulent practices found it difficult to get around the card reading machines. Then came the amendment of the Electoral Act 2022, making it possible to electronically transmit election results from the polling booths to collation centres. The political class had to come up with a new way of manipulating the polls to suit their interests, hence the practice of vote buying and selling.
“Vote buying is a criminal offense under the Electoral Act of 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 offense 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.”
But with vote buying and selling being illegal, many still engage in it during elections. Police officers on election duty in Osun State arrested two men allegedly inducing voters with cash at a polling unit.
Also, in June 2022, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested persons suspected to be buying votes during the Ekiti State governorship poll. The suspects were caught with monies allegedly used for vote buying, while some other suspects were also arrested at a private residence with a book containing details of voters to be paid for voting for their candidates.
Musa described the voter inducement as a great threat to freedom, and people’s rights and a great threat to democracy to a larger extent. He said there were quite a number of incidences where representatives of political parties were caught while engaging in vote buying and selling but unfortunately nothing was done to prosecute the perpetrators.
He said, “The perpetrators will continue with their illegal and unlawful dealings because they know that even if they are caught, they will not be punished. In the recently concluded elections in Osun and Ekiti, those arrested for inducing voters were not prosecuted. We have a system that encourages others to engage in illegal and unlawful dealings of vote buying and selling, which is very bad for our democracy.”On the likely consequences of vote buying, Musa said the country will continue to be led by incompetent leaders who don’t have her interest at heart.
“Closely related to this is a continuous cycle of corruption with impunity where politically exposed persons (PEPs) perpetrate all acts of criminal injustice in the country without being punished.
“The effect will be that the elections will be won by the highest bidder, which makes it more like a business dealing than a democratic process where people are given the right and freedom to choose whomever they want to represent them. Also, that people without a track record of credibility, integrity, and honesty will be in charge of the country, which is a serious concern for everyone.”
During the governorship election in Anambra, a viral video was in circulation showing some rural women in Ukwulu, Dunukofia Local Council kicking against party representatives attempting to induce them with N5,000 to vote for a particular candidate. One of the women, Eunice Ngozi Onuegbusi, said that even though she was poor and had no N5,000, she would not vote against her conscience.
Musa, however, said that looking at the poverty rate in the country and the level at which people are willing to do anything to feed their families if things continue the way they are now, vote buying and selling will certainly increase.
“A hungry voter who goes to the polling station on empty stomach may likely collect money to sell his/her vote if offered the opportunity. The Federal Government has released the poverty index 2022, which revealed that 130 million Nigerians are poor. So, I think the chances of vote buying and selling will increase except we carry out enough voter awareness on the dangers of selling votes.”
He, however, said the security agencies and all relevant officials responsible for checkmating the elections processes have a critical role to play in ensuring that vote buying and selling is adequately tackled.
“Unfortunately, they too are compromised to a great degree that they cannot handle their responsibilities as they should. For example, a report of the 2019 general elections by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) identified six challenges that plagued the collation of results of the 2019 election as INEC missteps and misconduct; deliberate denial of access to observers and media; logistical shortfalls; intentional disruption by politicians, political thugs, and party agents; and intimidation of collation staff by security agents; which shows the level of compromise that even the security agencies and INEC are subjected to.
“Community stakeholders can play a critical role when it comes to stopping vote buying and selling in the upcoming elections and even beyond. This can be done through sensitisation, educating and enlightening voters on their responsibilities during polling time and also highlighting the consequences of vote buying and selling to them so that they know what they are doing.”
On his part, President, Voters Awareness Initiative, Mr. Wale Ogunade, said that the 26 per cent of the eligible voters willing to sell their votes are those not in the election awareness process, arguing that it is not about hunger, but that they have been brainwashed that vote selling is another means to get money.
“They see it as a commodity that has to be bought. The level of awareness that it is evil to sell votes and that one is selling his future and destiny does not appeal to them. And it is not limited to rural areas; it is also done in urban areas. I have been monitoring elections since 1999 and till the last election in Osun State, people were ready to sell their votes. They even approached us if we knew who wanted to buy.
“It is not really about hunger but that many are not educated. They are not aware of the dangers and since they are not aware, they will continue to be open to it. Generally, in Nigeria, everyone needs extra cash. So, if the extra cash is coming from a voter’s card, they do not mind.”
According to him, the implication of having that huge number willing to sell their votes is that candidates who ordinarily ought not to win election would win because it would be based on cash and carry.
“The person who will win the election may not necessarily be the best, but the person with a deep pocket ready to buy votes as much as possible would be the winner. The politicians know that and it is a practice in Nigeria. It is not something that can be wished away, not in the next election, because the awareness level against it is very low. The development partners need to look into that area to stem the issue of vote buying through serious education and awareness. To check the trend will require a sustained campaign years before the election.”
Ogunade decried the non-prosecution of vote buyers who were arrested in the past, as this would embolden others to either join or continue. “It is a cankerworm; the way out is to create awareness against it by government, the political class, and INEC,” he said.
Social Mobilisation Manager, ActionAid Nigeria, Mr. Adewale Adeduntan believes that vote buying is thriving mainly due to the fact that politicians have weaponised poverty with the primary aim of keeping the masses in servitude.
He added that the level of deprivation orchestrated by successive administrations is appalling, with the electorate believing that they should grab whatever they could glean from the political class during elections because once they are sworn into office, that is the end of engagement with the masses.
“The lack of social safety net is another reason vote buying has become a hydra-headed monster. A hungry man is a dangerous man. Poverty makes people do unimaginable things. With the recent multi-dimensional poverty index data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), which put over 133million Nigerians in the poverty bracket, it is expected that many voters will trade off their votes for peanuts.”
In tackling vote buying and selling, he said that the level of consciousness of the Police, DSS, and INEC on the evil of vote buying is increasing by the day. “Nonetheless, non-prosecution of culprits makes the politicians feel they can always get away with the dastard act. If the prosecution of vote buyers is accelerated, it will serve as a deterrent.
Adeduntan also feels community stakeholders have a huge role in stopping vote buying and selling. He stated that if they know the value of what their votes can deliver when good governance is entrenched, they would be at the vanguard of total elimination of vote buying.
“The traditional council, youth, clergies, and women’s associations must make the campaign against vote-buying organic with a view to rejecting unscrupulous politicians and their votes’ money. Until we get to this point of self-awareness by the community stakeholders, good governance will always elude the electorate.”
Adeduntan noted that no politician would invest in vote buying and be willing to deliver the dividends of democracy to the electorate. He maintained that the focus would always be on recouping his or her investment.
Weighing in, the Executive Director, Emergency and Risk Alert Initiative, Gbenro Olajuyigbe, observed that aside from excruciating poverty, it is extremely difficult for Nigerians to accept their citizenship and take ownership of their country, stating that inequality, injustices, aggravated corruption of and by the political class and inability of Nigeria to emerge as a community of care and protection have ruined commitment to her by her citizens.
“So, patriotism has been sucked off by pervasive identity crises in the country. All these in varying degrees, shape the political behaviour of voters and are motivations for vote selling. Poverty diminishes humanity. It reduces the premium people place on themselves, integrity and could influence behavior. Survival in Nigeria is difficult and it will be more difficult for most absolutely poor Nigerians to reject money in exchange for their votes. Worse those politicians who buy votes face no consequences. The vote market will continue to thrive.”
For Olajuyigbe, selling votes would lead to a climate of compromised election outcome that is not credible, not fair, and not free, because it is encumbered by financial inducements, thereby defeating the very end of democracy as government of the people by the people and for the people.
“Outcome could favour the highest bidder. The implications are bad governance, tendencies for corruption, and unacceptable destruction of tenets of democracy.”
Olajuyigbe noted that the entire justice administration system is hogwash when it comes to punishing electoral crimes. There is no history to support the effectiveness of security agencies in this respect. “INEC is impotently powerless as it has no control over the agencies.”
He maintained that the non-prosecution of those arrested for vote buying or selling has become a tragic enabler and reinforcer of the vote market. According to him, any candidate who wins through vote buying surely lacks legitimacy to govern, because the elections are not people-backed.