Nigeria has strengthened her electoral laws and invested in biometric technology, amongst other milestones that have reduced election rigging, but vote buying, which is gradually becoming a norm in the polity, is fast eroding the peoples’ confidence in the electoral process. No doubt, inducement is as old as elections in Nigeria, but rather than outgrowing it, what transpired during the recent governorship elections in Ondo, Ekiti and Osun states indicate that the repulsive phenomenon is getting worse and its negative impact on the polity cannot be underestimated. The way money influenced voting patterns in the said polls clearly indicated that vote buying has turned a major determinant of outcome of elections in the country.
It also showed that efforts to reduce the malfeasance have not yielded desired results as politicians have kept devising new techniques in their desperation to win electoral contests at all cost. I
t was against this backdrop that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recently raised the alarm over a new method of vote buying in the 2019 general elections, which commences this weekend. The commission’s chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, who spoke at a meeting with the European Union (EU) Observation Team and the ECOWAS delegation, said the plan is to use food vendors around polling units as collection points of cash for votes. According to him, the plot was brought to INEC’s notice during its recent consultations with stakeholders across the six geo-political zones.
“The attention of the commission was drawn to a new plan by some political actors to use food vendors around polling units with large voter populations as collection points for cash-forvotes as well as other forms of material inducement to voters on election day,” he said. INEC had earlier banned the use of smart phones by voters at polling booths due to vote buying.
The measure was aimed at preventing voters from taking pictures of thumbprinted ballot papers and presenting such as evidences before vote buyers. While vote buying is subject to punishment, the attainment of compliance to this legal provision remains a challenge. Like other electoral offences, the relevant agencies have only been able to prosecute a handful of offenders despite their growing number. Sections 124 and 130 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) clearly criminalise the act of vote buying as bribery and conspiracy.
Section 130, particularly states: “A person who (a) corruptly by himself or by any other person at any time after the date of an election has been announced, directly or indirectly gives or provides or pays money to or for any person for the purpose of corruptly influencing that person or any other person to vote or refrain from voting at such election, or on account of such person or any other person having voted or refrained from voting at such election; or (b) being a voter, corruptly accepts or takes money or any other inducement during any of the period stated in paragraph (a) of this section, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N100,000 or 12 months imprisonment or both.”
As has been rightly noted by several stakeholders as well as INEC, the drift from ballot snatching and stuffing to vote-buying in the nation’s electoral process is worrisome and poses a threat to free, fair and credible elections. Its negative impact, unquestionably, cannot be underestimated. We, therefore, not only condemn this pathetic and ignoble act, but also warn the electorate on the dangers of selling their votes to desperate politicians. When voters trade their mandate, they become slaves to those who bought them.
They also lack the moral right to hold their leaders accountable. The Federal Government and its relevant agencies, on their part, should not see the issue of vote buying as one to be left alone in the hands of INEC. Like other electoral offences, the commission, clearly lacks the capacity to prosecute those involved in cash-for-votes, given the large number involved.
The police and other security agencies must be made to rise to their responsibilities. The fact that the buying and selling of votes take place in the full glare of security personnel and election officials, calls for more concerted efforts by these officials to ensure that the menace is curbed. Police personnel have always been deployed to polling units and nothing stops them from arresting those perpetrating this crime. Without the collusion of the electoral officers, security agents and politicians, inducement of voters cannot succeed. INEC, on its part, should take its war against vote buying beyond electioneering periods.
It must keep tab on the primaries of the various political parties, as cash for votes is not limited to general elections. It is evident that delegates, who decide candidates for elections, usually go for the highest bidders during the nomination process. The commission should go a step further by coming up with proposals that will further enhance the legal framework guiding against vote buying in the Electoral Act. Such proposals should be able address some of the notable inconsistencies and potential loopholes in the law