Still on vote buying — Nigerian Tribune Editorial

Posted by News Express | 28 June 2022 | 294 times

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The just concluded party presidential primaries and the Ekiti State gubernatorial election offer conclusive proof of the threat that vote buying poses to the health and continued stability of Nigerian democracy. The proverbial visitor from Mars could well have mistaken the party primaries which held in Abuja and concluded with the emergence of Atiku Abubakar and Bola Tinubu as the standard-bearers of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) respectively for a bazaar. Such was the way in which money was discussed, flaunted and exchanged. At a point, officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had to swoop on the MKO Abiola Stadium and the Eagle Square, Abuja, venues of the primaries of the two leading parties in order to prevent the candidates from distributing money to the party delegates.

This was medicine after death as, according to reports in the media, monies had already exchanged hands across various hotels where candidates with the deepest pockets had accommodated and fed their captive delegates. In the end, the poor EFCC operatives were left grasping at straws. How much delegates to the presidential primaries made from their presence in Abuja can be gleaned from the example of Tanko Rossi Sabo, PDP delegate representing Sanga Local Government, Kaduna, who reportedly shared the sum of N7million with members of his community after retaining a tidy percentage for himself.

If vote buying in the Abuja party primaries was done in the comfort and secrecy of hotel rooms across Abuja, the Ekiti State governorship election won by the APC candidate, Biodun Oyebanji, was a different animal. Across the state, and often under the nose of security agents, representatives of the leading political parties handed out cash to voters in exchange for confirmation that they had voted for their candidates. So brazen and vulgar was the entire episode that some voters uploaded videos on social media boasting about how much they had been paid.  That all this bodes ill for the integrity of  Nigerian elections goes without saying, and it should deeply trouble anyone interested in the long-term prospects of democracy in the country. For what kind of democracy are we talking about when voters can openly and shamelessly trade their future for immediate gratification?

In saying this, we are by no means leaving the blame exclusively at the doorstep of the people. As a matter of fact, the political class gets a lion’s share of the blame; one, for pauperising the populace, and second, for creating a system in which, having no hope in the future, the common people are left with no other alternative but to look for immediate rewards. In the end, what those who are trading their votes for cash are basically saying is that they have no faith in the system. For the situation to change, therefore, there must be a change in the economic conditions of Nigerians. It is a no-brainer that vote buying feeds off the widespread poverty among Nigerians.

In July last year, the Senate passed a bill seeking to establish an Electoral Offences Commission. The bill empowers the proposed commission to investigate electoral offences, prosecute electoral offenders, and maintain the records of all persons investigated and prosecuted. Among other provisions, it prescribes a 20-year jail term for anyone found guilty of snatching ballot boxes during elections and provides that any candidate or agent who damages or snatches ballot boxes, ballot papers or election materials before, during and after an election without the permission of the election official in charge of the polling station, shall be jailed for 20 years or be made to pay a fine of N40 million. The commission, completely outside the purview of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), will once passed into law be charged with  prosecuting cases of electoral malfeasance like vote buying and selling. Expediting action on the bill is obviously in the national interest.

Certainly, if scapegoats are made of politicians buying votes and citizens caught selling their votes, Nigerians will begin to witness some sanity in the electoral processes moving forward. Needless to say, there is still room for more voter education on this critical issue. In this regard, agencies like the National Orientation Agency (NOA) have a crucial role to play.

Source: News Express

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