Recently, vote-buying emerged as the greatest threat to Nigeria’s electoral system. Since the return of democratic government in 1999, Nigeria’s electoral systems have been plagued with several anomalies ranging from ballot box snatching, thuggery, mal-functioning of voting machines, god-fatherism and INEC tendency to adopt fire brigade approach to preparation for elections.
These ills have affected the credibility of elections in the country, plunged the electoral system into chaos, undermined the electoral process and promoted irresponsible and bad governance.
Vote-buying has emerged as the new impediment to the conduct of free and fair elections in the country.
The automation of the electoral process since the 2015 general elections, through the use of Permanent Voters Card (PVC) has helped in checking rigging of elections across the country. Though not new to the nation’s voting process, vote-buying appears to be a new trend, which has become more pervasive.
In recent gubernatorial elections in Anambra and Ekiti states, there were reports of vote-buying and open inducement of voters with amounts ranging from N5000 to N7000 by the two leading political parties in the country, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition, People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
What is disgusting to note is that this act was carried out openly at the poling units in the presence of security and INEC officials with impunity.
There were also reports of party agents who were armed with the voter’s registers in wards across the state, moving from house to house, offering residences whose names could be found in the voters register money in return for votes.
The Ekiti state government was also accused of offering each voter between the sum of N4, 000 and N7, 000.
Similarly, the Ekiti state workers and pensioners, who had been owed several months’ salary, were reported to have received alert of N7, 000 a day before the election.
However, has the 2019 general election looms, political observers have raised concern about the trend, while urging that it must be urgently nib- in the -bud by relevant agencies.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which is constitutionally charge with the conduct of elections in the country and empowered by the electoral laws to deal with election offends seem bereft of ideas in tackling the act.
Political analysts and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who refused to be mentioned because he is one of the litigant in the Ekiti state gubernatorial election tribunal, said that the trend was worrisome, stressing that there was little INEC could do, while advocating for a stakeholder meeting to find a solution to the trend.
“The electoral law and other laws in the land empower INEC to deal with vote buying. Vote buying can be tagged has election malpractices, it is a criminal act. If it happens in the voting centre it can lead to immediate arrest of those doing it. But how many issues can INEC deal with? INEC would be busy with the conduct of the elections, and what often happens is that; after voting the voter proved that he or she has voted for the party in a corner and is offered the money.
“All the parties are guilty of this offence, the one that happens in the government house in Ekiti how do INEC deal with that? You can arrest in the voting centers, but other places could be difficult.
“If the issue is left with INEC alone there is little that can be achieved; there has to be a consensus effort form INEC and the political parties in dealing with the issue. There have to be stakeholders meeting.
“When voters are been induced it mean they are voting for the wrong candidates which would affect governance, lead to poor governance and under mind the electoral process”
INEC National Commissioner and Member, Information and Voter Education Committee of the commission, Muhammed Haruna, recently said expressed concern about that the trend ahead of 2019 elections.
“The Commission reviewed the conduct of the July 14 governorship election in Ekiti State and preparations for the September 22, 2018 Osun governorship election. It noted the satisfactory conduct of the Ekiti governorship election as attested to by both domestic and international observers, the media and other stakeholders.
“The meeting also noted with deep concern, the rising phenomenon of vote-buying during elections and restated its commitment and determination to continue to work with all stakeholders, especially the security agencies, to stem the ugly trend”.
Rotimi Oyekanmi, Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, in an interview with this medium recently, noted that the commission was strategizing on modalities for checking vote-buying during the 2019 general election, adding it would adopt a method that would make it difficult to reveal which political party a voter was casting vote for.
“But INEC is looking at the protocols involved in the process of casting the ballot, the voting cubicles and how ballot papers will be folded on election-day. The plan is to make it very difficult, if not impossible, for a voter to be able to reveal which party he or she has voted for during the 2019 general election”.
“All stakeholders, not only INEC, must come together to deal with the threat that vote-buying poses to our elections and democracy. All Nigerians should be concerned. In the real sense, it is not a new phenomenon, but I consider it a welcome development that serious attention is being given to it now, arising from what happened during the Ekiti governorship election.
A chieftain of the Accord Party (AP), Yemi Kool, said that the trend was likely to continue if perpetrators were not punished, stressing that the political elites were capitalizing on the high poverty rate among Nigerians.
“The trend may continue, become has it is now the ruling party are the one doing it the most look at what happened in Ekiti , they also tried it in Anambra. It is done in the present of the police without any action. It would continue until the people involve are brought to book”.
Although, with about six months before the general elections, and impending governorship elections in Osun in September, it is has become imperative that political stakeholders in the country, must urgently rally and find a lasting solution to the trend, to give more credibility to the electoral process.