“We will end up putting the wrong people in positions of authority… The long term effect on the people will be disastrous.”
Onyedika Agbedo; Olakunle Olafioye (Lagos); and Wole Balogun (Ado Ekiti)
The recently concluded Ekiti State governorship election has come and gone, but not without adding a new phraseology – ‘see and buy’ – into the electioneering process in the country.
The expression, which was put together by those who witnessed the July 14 election, depicts the massive and brazen inducement of the electorate with money to secure their votes by the candidates.
Although many political analysts admitted that vote buying is not a new phenomenon in Nigerian politics, but they argued that the trend is getting out of hand and now stands as a major threat to the country’s democracy.
During the last governorship election in Ondo State from which Rotimi Akeredolu emerged as governor, the slogan that held sway was ‘vote and cook’, which was used to describe the practice of inducing the voter to sell his/her vote and in return get monetary reward that would enable him/her to cook a sumptuous meal afterwards. ‘Vote and cook’ succeeded largely in the Ondo polls, but it had its shortcomings.
Then the voter was not mandated to show his ballot paper in the course of voting to convince the party agent or compromised security agents that he actually voted for the party that gave him money. That gave room to some voters to play the fast one on the party agents by still voting for the candidates
of their choice after collecting the largesse.
So, in the recent Ekiti election, it was modified to ‘see and buy’. Those who engaged in the malpractice made sure that a voter must show evidence that he/she voted for the party, which he/she had agreed to sell his/her vote. Under the arrangement, the party agent must see that the voter cast his/her vote for his party before releasing his/ her monetary reward in a ‘secret’ manner.
To ensure the success of the malpractice, many ad-hoc staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (lNEC) were co-opted. In fact, they played a major role in confirming which party the voter thumbed printed for, as they were better positioned to see the ballot paper while the voter cast his or her vote.
So, even the voter ensured that the ad-hoc staff saw his/her ballot paper after thumb printing by either ‘slowing down’ the process of folding the paper before slotting it into the ballot box or holding it in such a way that which party he voted for was clearly noticed.
In virtually all the polling booths across the state, ‘see and buy’ held sway and many days after, party loyalists and observers circulated the video clips on the social media.
Speaking with Sunday Sun on the high incidence of vote buying that characterised the election, the candidate of the Abundant Renewal Party (ARP) in the poll, Tunde Afe, said that Nigeria was in trouble if the malpractice would be allowed to rear its head in future elections.
Afe, who is a clergyman, said: “There was widespread vote buying in the course of the just concluded governorship election in the state and those who participated in it cannot deny it. If the same thing goes on in future elections, it means that Nigeria is in trouble; it means consequently that the highest bidder will win elections and that is not good for the country. We will end up putting the wrong people in positions of authority and that will hinder our development. The long term effect on the people will be disastrous.”
He noted that to curb it, the people in government needed to perform satisfactorily. “If you perform well and people see your good works, they will vote for you. For those who are not in government, it is left for them to either accept or reject vote buying. If the people know what they are doing, they will not collect money to vote. When you collect money to put someone who cannot deliver in a position of authority, what you have done is that you have put yourself in a bleak for four years as the case may be. So, the electorate too has a lot to do. People with right values will not collect money to vote,” he said.
To a chieftain of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in Ekiti State, Bayo Orire, vote buying is a cankerworm in the nation’s democracy.
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He also noted that with vote buying, Nigerians would not be able to make correct leadership choices.
“More often than not, the people who have moral standards and are socially acceptable may not be financially capable to induce voters to vote for them. It will get to a situation wrong people will continue to rule you, your children and children’s children. We can curb it with our legislature, which should make laws to criminalise it. We also have to enforce strict adherence and maintenance of moral norms and get our people to obey them. We must let our people realise through campaigns and orientation that if we don’t stop vote buying we will continue to give our leadership to the highest bidder and this is not peculiar to any political party,” Orire said.
Also the National Chairman of United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, on his part, blamed INEC and the security agencies for the raising incidence of vote buying in the country.
He said: “What I can say is that people who have money are taking advantage of the vulnerability of the average voter in terms of poverty and indigence. What happens is that when the poor masses get to the polling unit, they collect money and vote for the highest bidder. I called it bazaar after the Anambra State gubernatorial election, because what happened at the various polling units during that election was simply a bazaar. In a bazaar, the highest bidder wins. That was how the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) won 21 local councils out of 21; it had never happened in the past. No political party had recorded that kind of victory in Anambra except the NPP of old.
“Meanwhile, INEC is partly responsible for this electoral malpractice. I say this because the presiding officers in all the polling units watch voters as they cast their votes instead of adopting the secret ballot system that is in the Electoral Act. The practice now is that voters will thumbprint in a cubicle which is secret and come and cast their votes in a ballot box which is in the open; and instead of folding their ballot papers as required, they leave it open so that a party agent will see where you voted and nod to the person that is paying money who is standing nearby. Now, that is the aspect of INEC’s connivance that gives room for vote buying.
“On the part of the security agencies, they become compromised from their leadership at the highest level to those posted to the polling units. So, when you complain to them that somebody is inducing voters with money, because vote buying is an offence under our laws, they give the rehearsed answer that they are there to maintain law and order and not to go after those who are buying votes. To make matters worse, they will also tell you that you should go and get your own money and buy votes and they will not disturb you.”
Okorie maintained that curbing vote buying does not require a new legislation, saying that there are existing laws against the malpractice.
“The moment we find a means of making sure that party agents are only there to watch when votes are being counted and not to see how voters cast their votes, and that casting of votes is strictly secret, nobody will pay money to anybody because he/she is not sure that those he/she paid will vote for his/her party.
“If we do that, the incidence of vote buying will be reduced in the coming elections. And doing that
is very simple because the problem is simply administrative. All that needs to be done is to ensure that the same cubicle where voters thumbprint is where the ballot box is placed. So, when the voter comes out of the cubicle, he has nothing to show anybody. In that way you have checked it. The only money you can give to people, which nobody would be able to control is money you give them in their homes in advance, but that one is not guaranteed because you are not even sure the person will come out on election day.”
He, however, stated that the introduction of electronic voting would completely annihilate vote buying in the conduct of elections in Nigeria.
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“In the long run, electronic voting will completely stop vote buying. It will make many people who don’t normally like going to the polling unit to cast their votes to exercise their franchise in the comfort of their offices or wherever and nobody will entice them with money. Even developing democracies no longer declare public holiday on election days. And you don’t have to organise elections on Saturdays alone. Nigerians, especially those who have been following the activities of the UPP, know that since 2012 when the party was registered, we started clamouring for electronic voting. We even wrote to every member of the 7th Assembly, including the Presidency and INEC. When the 8th Assembly was inaugurated, we repeated the memo that we sent to the 7th Assembly. But up till now, the maximum they have done is to come up with the Card Reader, which is not what we are asking for,” he added.
To former Minister of Information and Culture, Prince Tony Momoh, vote buying underscores the immaturity of Nigeria’s democracy.
His words: “It just shows how immature we are. For instance, the major roadblock in ascending office is the type of the exercise of freedom that we have adopted, which is very expensive. First of all, we go to the parliament full time when what we are ripe for is part time legislature. What are we doing with full time legislature? With full time legislature, people are paid full time and they also do their businesses full time. So, they use their presence in government to secure resources for their businesses and people now demand their own share, especially when they don’t see you for four years. So, we shouldn’t be looking at vote buying in isolation. It is a simple question of demand and supply.”
Momoh, who is a chieftain of the APC, however, noted that there had always been vote buying in the country during elections, but acknowledged that it was the malpractice that was becoming a norm to the detriment of the nation’s democracy.
“For instance, when people are voting, politicians bring water and cooked food and give to them. When we were in the defunct CPC, we went to campaign in a part of the country and they demanded that we should pay N1,000 per vote or else we should forget about their vote. We refused to pay and they didn’t vote for us. Now, it has even become even more expensive. Look at what happened in Ekiti State where it was reported that some people paid N4,000 while other paid N5,000.
“The voters even had to prove that they voted for the party that gave them money. In the recent Osun State gubernatorial primary election, some delegates were asking to be given cars before they support a candidate. But the APC just went for direct primaries and automatically cut off all those delegates who go to convention and return with lots of money because they take from virtually all the aspirants. It means that there is connivance between the person who is voting and the person who wants the votes.
“So, we have not solved anything yet if we are not able to persuade the person who has his PVC that it is his power; that it is not for sale and must not be compromised. So, vote buying will increase as long as we have not changed the mindset of the voter who believes that you are asking for his vote, but the next time he will see you is in four year’s time and so must collect something from you,” he said.
Momoh stated that to checkmate vote buying, the country should make lawmaking part time and pay allowances to lawmakers, as was the practice in the First Republic.
“If we make lawmaking part time, a councilor will not pay for votes if he discovers that he earns N10, 000 per sitting. But now, a councilor earns as much money as the judge of a high court. But if a councilor earns N10,000 per sitting, but does not sit for more than five or six times a year, people will come and beg you to come and represent them and vote buying will automatically disappear. Is it not what you will gain from that you invest in?
“You don’t look at only one side of the coin. What you are ripe for is what you should choose. We are not ripe for the type of democracy we practice. I have always asked people to tell me anywhere in the world you have democracy before development apart from Nigeria. What everybody does in every polity is to concentrate on growing the polity and then taking that quantum of freedom you need to grow the polity. I have also said that democracy is the luxury of development. In other words, the more you develop, the more you choose aspects of freedom that will make the people enjoy governance. But here, we put democracy before development. Everything is full time and then we practice the presidential system at every level from the local government area to the centre. How can you have that kind of system? Unless we reduce the cost of governance, we are not going to have any change,” he said.
The Head of the Department of Political Science, Babcock University, Prof. Abiodu Michael Oni, also told Sunday Sun that with vote buying, the country could not have free and fair elections.
“The implication of vote buying is that we cannot have free and fair elections in Nigeria because when the conscience of the people is bought for a governor to emerge, the election process is already tainted.
“Therefore, the outcome of the exercise no longer reflects the view of the generality of the people. This development is borne out of poverty and self-centeredness. In a situation where this is allowed, there is no way we can have good governance because the people that emerge victorious must have bought their way through with the money they would have used to improve the lot of their people. The implication is massive because it will affect good governance. So, there is no way we can have credible elections and without credible election we cannot have credible leaders.
Only those who have money to bribe the electorate will emerge winners,” he said.
Oni, who noted that vote buying was a new dimension to electoral fraud, added: “It started with stomach infrastructure then and the APC was not aware of the ploy. But when they realised it, it became naira-for-naira. It happened in the past, but it was on minimal level. Except people resolve among themselves that since governance belongs to them, they won’t be able to exercise control if they sell their conscience. The only solution is to curb poverty. As long as poverty continues to rage, vote buying syndrome will continue in Nigeria.”