Vote-buying in Ekiti governorship poll should serve as a rude awakening, a lesson from failure to respond quickly to the red flags blinking ahead of 2019 polls.
Every time a country passes through an election experience, there’s something to learn. Each election experience taken in isolation may seem trivial. But it’s the cumulative effect that can wear a country down. The Ekiti gubernatorial election has come and gone. Of course, we know the winner and the losers. One thing is clear: organising a free, fair and transparent election is more important than the outcome.
Just over a week after the result of the governorship was announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigeria has been crawling unsteadily over one aspect of the election process that raises red flags for next year’s general elections. It was the brazen vote-buying that the two of the dominant parties- the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – were the main culprits. It was not as if the Ekiti election was the first time vote-buying would be reported in our election, but before now, it was an almost unfathomable proposition that the day would ever come when inducement of voters by parties and politicians would become a passé, a shameless norm. It’s no longer an open question. It’s a fact.
No matter how much we paper over what happened in Ekiti, no matter whether vote-buying did impact on the outcome of the governorship contest, vote-buying, no matter how it’s defined, a voter selling his vote to the highest bidder in an election, is a horrifying chapter in any democracy. It has disastrous consequences for governance in our country. It’s illegal, and approximates to rigging and ballot stuffing. But perhaps, the most unsettling consequence is how this ugly phenomenon could affect the integrity of next year’s general election if nothing urgent and drastic is done now to check it.
Political parties and politicians tucking their tails to save their behind is no longer an option. It’s no longer time to play the ostrich. History beckons on all concerned, the government, the citizens and civil society groups to save our democracy from desperate politicians. And, for the voters, awareness on the implication of what they are doing, perhaps unwittingly, to their collective destinies, is of immediate concern. It’s so because, when a citizen sells his or her vote to the highest bidder candidate in an election, he/she loses the moral right to expect good governance. It’s simply as bad as that.
That leaves so much work to do by relevant agencies concerned, INEC inclusive. This is in spite of the fact that the Electoral Act forbids vote-buying.
The Electoral Act, 2010 Article 130 states, “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 person having voted or refrained from voting at such election; (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”. Unfortunately, we are not aware that anybody has been prosecuted
and convicted for committing this offence. A law is as good as a disposable napkin if it is observed in breach. Despite this provision vote-buying has crept into our electoral process as a regular, “acceptable” phenomenon. It was on open display during the governorship polls in Anambra, Edo and Ondo, last year. And nothing was done about it. No suspects were arrested. In some cases, security personnel and party agents were reportedly doing the vote-buying and “trading “. In the past,snatching of ballot boxes, and “settlement” of Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) and other forms of electoral malpractice that were the norms. Who says our politics is not a fun to follow? Let’s go back in time to recall on Chief Donald Duke’s exposé on how elections used to be rigged before. In an interview in The Guardian, Sunday, July 18,2010, Duke, former Governor of Cross River state, painted a seamless picture with anecdotes, of how RECs initiate the rigging of elections by genuflecting before state governors, listing things they needed to “settle down” in order to conduct free and fair elections. It’s a quid pro quo thing, Duke said. Eight years had passed since then, and now, the vote-buying may be the latest innovation to take control of the “market place”, a buzzword to buy off the conscience of the voters.
It, indeed, troubles the mind that instead of improving our electoral process, political parties are devising ways to undermine our democracy. In Ekiti, neither APC nor PDP denied it was not involved in vote-buying. What was in dispute was which candidate or party out spent the other in the inducement of voters. The immedi- ate danger is that governors up for re-election next year or sponsoring a successor, may have prepared an astonishing war chest to bribe the electorate on Election Day. Make no mistakes about it, that’s one of the reasons they are not paying workers’ salaries and retirees’ pensions.
But, it’s high time we looked ourselves in the mirror and come to the grim truth our voters card is the power we have to decide the fate of every politician contesting for any elective posi- tion. But, much more than that, your vote can make or mar your future. Which is why the vote- buying in Ekiti governorship poll should serve as a rude awakening, a lesson from failure to respond quickly to the red flags blinking ahead of 2019 polls. In this regard, history beckons to President Buhari and the National Assembly to initiate electoral bills and the lawmakers to fast track the passage of the Electoral Act. We are running out of time, just under seven months before the 2019 general elections.
When people like former INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega says he smells trouble ahead of next elections, we should listen to him. He had seen all. Local and international observers have also expressed similar concern. Nigeria’s democracy needs our collective support. It must be saved from desperate politicians whose only currency of influence is their ill-gotten wealth from the public treasury. While voter education is crucial, INEC should strive to improve on its performance and rekindle public confidence in view of constant allegations, (some of them unfounded) by those who have lost elections they thought they should have won.
The card reader machine remains a problem. The electronic transfer of results from polling booths to collation centres has delivered little. All of these remain work-in-progress. But it is important that INEC budget should be a first line charge. For now, its budget is at the mercy of highly partisan legislators. Overall, the question many are asking in the aftermath of the Ekiti election is: Will Prof. Mahmood Yakubu deliver? He has a big task ahead of him. Duke seems to have provided part of the answer in The Guardian interview referred earlier. This is what Duke said: “the Chairman of INEC has little or no bearing on the success of election.
To me, that’s immaterial because he’s the Head of the administration, he takes the brunt. The best he can do is perhaps draw up a blueprint, but the implementation of that blueprint is outside his control”. Whether Duke is right or wrong, one thing is not in dispute: When everything goes wrong, it’s the electoral umpire that gets the blame. It doesn’t matter whether the issues are outside his scope.