It is gratifying that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has now decided to move firmly against vote-buying by positioning polling booths in such a way to make it impossible for bystanders to see how votes are cast in an election. The Resident Electoral Commissioner for Anambra State, Dr. Nwachukwu Orji, lamented the phenomenon of vote-buying saying it represents a big threat to democracy and that all Nigerians must join hands to ensure it is eradicated from our electoral system.
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The scandalous spectacle of party officials or their agents handing over cash to voters in what was described as “see and buy” became the latest malfeasance to infect our elections during the Ekiti gubernatorial contest last month. It was so brazen that in one instance the money was first handed over to some security men (who should instinctively arrest anyone who bribed voters) who then handed the cash to voters. Observers noticed that what happened in Ekiti was a child’s play to what happened in the by-elections in Kogi State, a few weeks ago. Our elections have always been dogged by suspicion of underhand tactics, now with vote-buying, they are descending into a farce. When elections become a sham they disgrace the idea of democracy.
Snapshots of vote-buying were noticed in the Edo State governorship election and later in Anambra State; in Ekiti the perpetrators seemed to have gone overboard while Kogi appears to have normalised it. Vote-buying lays an ambush for the 2019 elections unless urgent and decisive measures are taken by INEC and the security agencies.
Yet the law acknowledges that vote-buying is an unequivocal subversion of democracy and outlaws it through Section 124(1) a-c) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
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Thus anyone who directly and corruptly makes a payment to induce voters, corruptly procures votes, canvasses for votes through bribery shall be guilty of an offence and if found guilty shall be liable to a fine of N500,000 or imprisonment for 12 months or both.
This penalty seems like a slap on the wrist in a week an American lawyer received five years in jail for election campaign contributions violations. In May 2010 ahead of 2011 elections, President Goodluck Jonathan promised to set up an Electoral Offences Tribunal, but that seems all but forgotten.
There is no doubt that the law as it exists is observed in the breach. Indeed, the INEC acts unconcerned, which explains why it has paid deaf ears while offering the excuse that it had no resources for the prosecutorial demands of enforcing the law. But that is a self-defeating argument when it is realised that an election undermined by vote-buying is not just illegitimate, indeed, it could be a recipe for violence and with all the chain reactions that come with violence.
The law must not only be enforced, it must be strengthened to serve as a deterrent. The crime is applicable to the giver and the taker. INEC should ring polling places with close circuit television cameras to record video evidence and engage some plainclothes agents to monitor the activities of the vote buyers.
We urge INEC to devote a reasonable portion of its resources, budget and expertise, to voter education, not just on the electoral process but on elementary civics. Vote-buying is the ultimate corruption of politics. Some voters were reportedly offered N100, some N200, to vote in the recent by-election in Bauchi State.
The figures for Ekiti were: N5,000 and N4,000 by the two leading political parties in the State. Now, these payments are, of course, an insult to the dignity of the voter, at a time such amounts cannot pay for even the proverbial pot of soup. But more fundamental is that a purchased election cannot but yield a corrupt politician.