Development and Integrity Integration Goal Foundation (DIG Foundation) one of the vibrant civil society organisations focusing on the electoral process last week released a car sticker with a message that was as emphatic as it was optimistic. The full wordings on the sticker read; Nigeria Election 2019. My vote is not for sale. I am wiser now! What a wonderful world it will be if all or at least most of the 84 million voters registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the 2019 General Elections can comfortable make the declaration on the sticker. And how so great it will be if the declaration was true. But then you can never close the door on human possibilities. May be the voters are truly wiser now. That will be one aspect of the narrative of Nigeria’s electoral process though.
Thirty three (33) days to the 2019 elections, the nagging question on the mind of many, among them the likely voters during the elections remains; whose elections are they any way? In other words, what is in the elections for a voter?
The very notion that an election, a general election for a whole State or country can be perceived by a chunk or indeed most of the eligible voters as more of some people’s business rather than theirs remains a heavy statement on the state of electoral democracy in Nigeria. That very notion – that elections ultimately belong to some others – accounted for the awkward experience encountered by some INEC field personnel in various parts of the country while on duty for registration of voters through last yer. In various places scattered all over the country, potential registrants frontally asked for inducement before they would come forth to be registered. That is to say, as far as the people were concerned, getting them into the Voter’s Roll was not only INEC’s business it was in the interest of the Election Management Body as well. As the people seemed to hold, if, the Commission’s field officers had nothing to offer prospective voters to make them leave their various important engagements such as farming and trading just to go get registered, then the officers should take a walk. It was that strange.
The story that made some rounds in some instances during the registration of voters exercise was that of some field staff of the Election Management Body reprehensibly asking for assistance before they would go to some locations to register people. As reprehensible as the latter incidence was it at least reflected an appreciation by those being registered that it was in their interest to be registered. The other aspect of prospective voters asking for inducement before getting registered holds up a bigger worry for the system.
Unfortunately, it is from the same mindset or pedestal of ignorance of the need for a citizen to get registered and be eligible to participate in elections that the criminal move for vote buying springs.
As Nigeria gets ready to go to the polls on February 26, the spectre of vote buying has emerged in bolder hues in recent times to add to the problems confronting elections in the country. It is not really that the tendency to corrupt the voting process or acts of outright ambushing of elections at various critical junctures is new. Older democracies in Britain and United States of America have their fir history of vote buying in different faces and shapes. As a matter of historical fact, Britain even had a shop marked out for vote buying at some point in its evolution of electoral democracy
At an exciting multi-stakeholder interactive session on preparations for the 2019 General Elections in Abakaliki Ebonyi State last week, one of the resource persons tried to establish a delicate line between the offers politicians and candidates made to lure people to vote for them at elections and vote buying as it has emerged. According to Mr.Edosa Omoibo of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC),the line of distinction can be found in promises made to a community or group of persons in the open and inducement offered to individuals in private.
Vote buying is not and cannot be justified under any circumstance. In truth however, variant of the antisocial act have always existed alongside elections over the years. What seems to have made it a new, alarming source of worry is the audacity of the criminality. From very subdued soliciting for votes in dark corners of the night before elections, the new face of vote buying now parades itself in broad daylight, using technology and raw grit to seek to steer voters to thumbprint in spaces they surely would not have gone to.
Vote buying it must be pointed out is a pastime of politicians who have not performed or those who fear they have not appropriately convinced the electorate to vote for them. With the 2019 elections around the corner and with vote buying gaining new attention as the election looms, it may be important to pay great attention to politicians and candidates whose performance in office have been dismal. These should form the prime column of suspects for vote buying. The prelude to moves to buy votes is failure to deliver in office or fear of rejection at the polls.
The bulk of the Nigerian electorate must have been disappointed over the years. With reason. Very few of those who were elected into prime offices of government have delivered across the country. Indeed, some of these persons who have been given the benefit of public offices for up to four years deserve to be chased away by the people any time they are sited in public gathering. If then,in place of anger and chastisement of such politicians some voters elect to sell off their Permanent Voter’s Card to them or collect some token to vote where they ordinarily should hold the candidate in contempt, the behaviour can only be a reflection of a pathetic surrender, a costly self-debasing acceptance that elections and governance belong to some others. It is not so. It should not be so