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Vote-buying, a danger to Nigeria’s budding democracy

Vote-buying, a danger to Nigeria’s budding democracy

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Brazen act of vote-buying was reported during the recently held governorship election in Ekiti State. As that wouldn’t be the first time such incident was reported during an election, political analysts assert that the phenomenon can hurt the country’s democracy in the long run, writes JESUSEGUN ALAGBE

A former Prime Minister of Albania, a republic on the Southeastern Europe’s Balkan Peninsula, Mr. Fatos Nano, once said, “Organising free and fair elections is more important than the result itself.”

However, the result seems to be the main priority of political parties and politicians in some countries, including Nigeria, where the Independent National Electoral Commission is the body vested with the powers to conduct elections.

Elections are said to be a central feature of democracy and for them to express the will of the electorate, they must be free and fair, according to scholars.

Democracy proponents believe that if an election is “free,” it means that all those entitled to vote are rightly registered and are totally free to make their choice of candidate without imposition or inducement.

Perhaps this cannot be said of elections in the country, where the inducement of voters by parties and politicians has somewhat become the order of the day.

In the past, there were more cases of snatching of ballot boxes and other forms of violence by politicians wanting to win elections by all means, but recently, the country has seen a wave of vote-buying during elections.

According to an Associate Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the United States, Frederic Schaffer, vote-buying is giving reward to a person for voting in a particular way.

In his piece, Poverty, Democracy, and Clientelism: The Political Economy of Vote Buying, Schaffer noted that vote-buying, in its literal sense, is a simple economic exchange, wherein voters sell their votes to candidates, sometimes to the highest bidder, in an election.

According to the Electoral Act, 2010,  Article 130, “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.”

But in spite of the commission’s stance on vote-buying, the act has gradually been turning into a regular phenomenon, as reported during the recently held governorship election in Ekiti State.

During the election, anxiety had set in when allegations of vote-buying were levelled against party agents by voters in some polling units.

Several video recordings had emerged, showing brazen sharing of cash among the electorate by politicians and parties.

It was reported that in some cases, the situation led to friction among supporters of various political parties.

Voters had accused parties of offering up to N5,000 to those who had Permanent Voter Cards to secure their votes.

“I was offered N5,000 to vote by one of the parties, but I rejected it. I am a 73-year-old retired teacher. I cannot allow the future of my children to be bought by moneybags,” a voter had said.

In some areas of the state such as Ayegbaju and Oye-Ekiti, it was alleged that party agents paid those who had no PVC N2,000 to vote in connivance with some INEC officials.

It was reported that parties involved in the act started distributing cash inside envelopes from house to house on Thursday night up till Friday morning.

“We were already asleep on Thursday night when they came and knocked on our gate and handed envelopes to three persons whose names were on their lists.

“Those who were given envelopes opened them and discovered that there was N4,000 inside each envelope,” a voter, who spoke on condition of anonymity, had said.

A constitutional lawyer and President, Voters Awareness Initiative, Mr. Wale Ogunade, noted that politicians took vote-buying in the Ekiti State governorship election to a higher dimension.

He said that while previous acts of vote-buying were done in secret, it was done openly during the Ekiti State governorship election, saying that the rising phenomenon of vote-buying during elections calls for deep concern.

He said, “Vote-buying is not a new phenomenon in the country. Before now, we have had it in Anambra State, and before Anambra State, we had it in Edo State.

“But before the elections in Edo and Anambra states, it had always been done secretly – like stuffing naira notes inside loaves of bread or giving out food items and clothes – all with the intention of wooing voters against their conscience to vote for them.

“But no doubt, the Ekiti election took vote-buying to a higher dimension. It has now opened it up because it was done with reckless abandon.”

Describing vote-buying as “democracy on sale”, Ogunade added that the phenomenon could hamper the development of democracy in the country.

As Ogunade stated, the phenomenon was also reported as rampant during the November 2016 governorship election in Ondo State.

Rotimi Akeredolu of the APC eventually won the election.

During the election, it was alleged that some voters were bribed with between N3,000 and N5,000 in some polling units to vote for the candidate of the vote buyer.

It was the same scenario in the November 2017 Anambra governorship election when politicians were alleged to have bought the electorate’s votes for an average of N5,000 each, depending on the location.

It was reported that in the rural communities, votes were sold for N5,000 each while in the urban areas, they were sold for between N7,000 and N10,000 each.

Subsequently, the governorship candidate of the Peoples Progressive Alliance, Mr. Godwin Ezeemo, called on security agencies to arrest and prosecute such politicians, according to extant laws.

Similarly, when the Edo State governorship election was conducted in September 2016, the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room, described the exercise as marred by incidents of “inducement and vote-buying.”

It said, “There were concerns of widespread inducement and vote-buying in which two of the major contending parties were cited.

“The vote-buying also led to the monitoring of the votes that were cast by officials of the said parties, apparently in a bid to ensure that voters who were paid, voted as agreed.

“This monitoring was aided by the placement of the voting cubicles in a manner that enabled the party agents to monitor the ballots cast, thus violating the principle of secrecy of vote.”

A policy analyst in Abuja, Mr. Micheal Adetola, said vote-buying was a corrupt election practice which could hamper the growth of democracy in the country.

“It’s a threat to the conduct of free and fair elections. The manner in which it is being done these days is alarming. It’s now done openly, without fear,” he noted.

“It is a threat to the future of democracy. But then, it shows the level of poverty that is being experienced in this country, to the extent that some people could sell their votes, their future, for as low as N5,000.”

In an article titled, Cash for Votes: Political Legitimacy in Nigeria, the Senior Programme Officer at the Africa and West Asia Programme, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Gram Matenga, said that vote-buying could drive up the cost of elections for parties and candidates and might prevent credible candidates from running for political office.

He said, “Most importantly, it breeds cynicism among voters, who feel disenfranchised by a corrupt system that fails to adhere to democratic ideals.

“While Nigeria has improved electoral laws and invested in biometric technology amongst other milestones, there is a need to enhance the legal framework, the integrity of ballot secrecy, and develop a democratic civic political culture.”

Citing poverty and poor voter education, Matenga said that money had become a dominant and determinant factor in Nigerian politics.

“The poor are likely to be victimised by vote-buying because their limited means makes them susceptible to material inducements, including offers of basic commodities or modest amounts of money,” he said.

A social commentator in Lagos, Dr. Mosunmola Abayomi, said since the responsibility to organise good elections belonged to INEC, it must ensure that violators of the Electoral Act 2010 were punished.

She said it was time the commission enforced its laws, including that which made it criminal for anyone to buy or sell votes during elections.

She said, “By offering money, goods or services to induce voters to vote for a particular candidate, it makes the electorate to vote for their leader out of fear, duty, indignity, gratitude, righteousness or calculated self-interest. It compromises the will of the people.

“The solution is twofold: First, it is for INEC to make a decision to stop this trend. What were the police officers allegedly watching the act doing? Why didn’t they arrest anyone?

“Of course, vote-buying doesn’t happen unless some INEC officials and security agents are compromised. INEC should arrest those involved to curb this menace.

“Second, the electorate should know their value and worth. For how long are you going to spend the N5,000 that you are selling your vote? I think it’s a combination of poverty, self-induced ignorance and greed. If the voters decide to be wise and report anyone trying to induce them to the appropriate authorities, we can end this plague.”

Abayomi added that vote-buying would hurt democracy in the long run as only fraudulent office holders would be elected in such manner.

“A person who offers you money to vote for them is a fraudster and they would continue to defraud the citizens when they get into office,” she said.

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