Vote-buying turned to vote-bidding in some parts of Bayelsa State, where the governorship election is ongoing this Saturday, November 11, 2023.
Interactions in some communities on voting day revealed that voters delayed joining the queues waiting for vote-buyers.
BusinessDay gathered in one particular local council area that bidding began with N10,000 per vote and went to N15,000 but by 10.30am, the price went to N20,000. Soon, the late voters were being offered far above N20,000 but reporters monitoring vote-buying could not ascertain the exact amount the buyers were offering because it went deeper underground.
Apart from the cash, reporters saw rice and clothes being shared.
Sources said the top contenders are keen to get at least 25 per cent in local councils where they may lose.
In a private conversation, a woman who said a politician sponsored her to return home to vote said: “You see this particular election, I am not voting my conscience. Its my pocket this time. I do not like any of the top contenders, so let me follow and collect. The winner will only go to his father’s house with the victory.”
She said she missed the clothes because she was waiting to receive her friends from the media and show them around.
At a place, the voters gathered under a separate pavilion and compared notes on what each person got. The buyers were nearby offering more than the last bidder. The voters said they were dragging foot to get the highest bid.
A middle-aged woman said the election was ‘sweet’ because it is a festival to them. People are collecting and voting without molestation, she added. She said: “This is a sweet election. It is just like a festival: no quarrel, no fight. It’s just bidding, and each group is bidding and buying. It is normal.”
The local council caretaker chairman of the said local council area told newsmen that he did not see vote-buying or bidding going on, even when he was overheard before the interview shouting his men to go beyond a certain amount.
On official of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Bayelsa, newsmen that vote-buying indicated that votes now count. He said it was a big improvement to apathy and when votes did not count. He said it was a positive development.
In an official reaction, the head of Voter Education and Information, Wilifred Ifogah, said the menace is not for INEC alone. He said all stakeholders have to stop and reduce the menace.
He said the vote-buying or bidding does not go on within INEC nor do INEC officials perpetuate it. “The buyers are the contestants through their agents. The sellers are the voters. INEC is not part of this matter. So, all stakeholders must decide what to do to tame this menace.”
On technology, especially I-rev, he said the BVAS in the state so far has behaved well, except a few incidents, which he said were rectified.
On insecurity, he said there were small pockets that had been addressed but the day was still long.
Ifogah updated, saying by half day, reports were good. He said the official that was abducted had been freed, though was not yet in the custody of INEC.
He also said the over 5000 electoral materials that sank have been replaced and that voting was starting there a bit late.
Easy to reach all
Bayelsa State is one of the lowest in terms of voter strength. The state has 1,056,862 registered voters, and 1,017,613 collected permanent voters’ cards (PVC). This is about a 200,000 jump from 2011, when Bayelsa had about 800,000 voters.
The small number distributed in eight local council areas is 127,000 per local council. If this is redistributed to the 105 wards in the state, it would be easy for agents to target and reach an average of a mere 1,200 voters in one ward.
The state’s nature makes communities huddled in one place, easy to reach, and easy to deal with.
Who will win?
So far, voters and observers still believe the sitting governor, Douye Diri, would be difficult to unseat, barring any serious upset or violence.
At each polling station, some persons contacted privately in exit polls mentioned Diri as the person they voted for.
In one location, the voters said they did not vote because of the rice and money they got but because of many appointments in their area.
This may not be so in every local council area. In the places where the former minister (also former governor, Sylva) has huge influence, opinions are turned upside down.
Violence still feared
Many voters contacted still feared that violence may spark off in the evening when results would be ready for uploading.