Disturbing trend in Ekiti election – Thisday

Vote buying is eroding the legitimacy of elections and endangering the democratic process

While the gubernatorial election in Ekiti State has come and gone, it is very worrisome that by most credible accounts, votes were traded openly as chieftains of both the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) turned the exercise to one big bazaar. Yet, the use of money to manipulate electoral outcomes is not only a violation of the law, it also constitutes an abuse of the constitutional right of the people to choose their leaders in a free, fair and credible manner.

The report of the coalition of local and international observers on the election attested to a prevalence of breaches that the authorities should do well to guide against in future elections. One of the observers, Mrs. Virginia Marumoa-Gae, of the United States’ International Republican Institute (IRI) painted a disgraceful picture of how the slogan, “see and buy” was used to lure voters to show their thumb printed ballot papers in exchange for money. A local observer, Gabriel Nwambu, of the Centre for Credible Leadership and Citizens Awareness, Abuja, said “party agents had huge cash and were close to voting points (while) security agents were indifferent to cash inducement of voters.”

In a tacit confirmation of this ugly development, a national commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and chair of its legal services committee, Mrs May Agbamuche-Mbu said politicians involved in the sordid practice “were clever,” about it. “INEC is taking issue of vote buying very seriously. I am just coming as part of the supervising national commissioners for Ekiti and these things occur,” said Agbamuche-Mbu. “We are having another conference on electoral offences. Vote buying is another electoral offence and we are looking at ways to curb it. Politicians were clever in Ekiti. We will go back and see how we can stop vote buying with the best of our ability.”

We are delighted that INEC is not living in denial about this ugly development that is making a mockery of democracy as contestants engage one another in financial shoot-outs to secure power at all costs. As we have reiterated on this page several times, elections need not to be a zero-sum game that would involve the deployment of cash as was done in the Ekiti gubernatorial election last week. We must of course add that such recourse to financial inducement is not new in Nigeria, only that the entrepreneurs of vote-buying have now become very brazen.

On Friday, the Ekiti State Police Command arraigned 10 persons before an Ado-Ekiti Chief Magistrate’s Court for alleged vote buying at the election. The police prosecutor told the court that the accused persons offered money to voters to induce them to vote for their parties during the election. The action, according to him, contravened Section 130 (a) and 130 (b) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). Ordinarily, we should commend the move but given the environment under which we operate, we hope it is not another weapon for the harassment of the opposition by the APC that was as guilty as the PDP it defeated at the Ekiti State poll.

It is indeed sad that our democracy has today lost its shape essentially because the political parties want to be democratic in a manner that advances only the personal interests of some leaders and not that of the society. Yet until Nigerian politicians begin to imbibe a culture that reflects and promotes good governance, transparency and accountability, our democracy will remain imperilled. The issues of vote buying, financial inducement and the general deployment of cash to game the electoral process are dangerous to the survival of our democracy. All critical stakeholders must come together to find a solution to the challenge.

Meanwhile, aside the use of money, the excessive deployment of police and military personnel in Ekiti State last week made the election look more like a regimental operation. Yet, when victory becomes conquest, defeat can only breed bitterness and deepen insecurity in a divided polity such as ours.

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The issues of vote buying, financial inducement and the general deployment of cash to game the electoral process are dangerous to the survival of our democracy. All critical stakeholders must come together to find a solution to the challenge.

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