The recent Anambra State governorship election was marred by large scale vote buying, a trend which had manifested in other recent major elections as well. What does this scenario portend for elections in political space ahead of 2019? Emameh Gabriel writes
Free and fair elections are the very foundation for fighting corruption and promoting, good governance and accountability in governance. However, this principle has been under threat in light of the machinations of some politicians with deep pockets to win elections.
Analysts had noted a measurable reduction in ballot box snatching, stuffing of other sensitive election materials and illegal ballot papers thumb-printing, which were the major challenges faced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) during elections in recent past.
However these electoral malaise have been reduced largely with the use of more technological innovations which include card reader and Permanent Voter Cards.
Nonetheless, politicians with deep pockets and political parties have resorted to voting buying in their bid to win elections.
This political anomaly is believed to be rooted in the level of poverty in the country which leaves electorates exposed and vulnerable to the financial dictates of politicians.
Money politics and vote buying have taken the centre stage and parties and their candidates have shown by their conduct during electioneering and voting, that party manifestoes and integrity of candidates are no longer sufficient to guarantee electoral success. Thus, the resort to vote-buying.
Electorates on their part have demonstrated distrustful electoral behavior by their willingness to sell their votes to the highest bidder. This behavior or practice constitutes a blemish on public policy and the electoral process. In fact, it portends danger to the democratic process of electing office holders and in turn prevents good governance, analysts have said.
While it is clear that it might be difficult to eliminate the phenomenon of vote-buying due to the level of poverty and poor sensitisation, its negative consequences on the Nigerian polity can be minimized if drastic measures are taken.
Clearly, since after the 2015 general elections, money has become the most influential factor in winning elections in Nigeria. The poor, who constitute the larger population of the country appear to be victims of vote buying because their limited means makes them susceptible to material inducements, including offers of basic commodities or modest amounts of money.
While the incidents that played out during the last gubernatorial elections in Edo and Ekiti States still remain a subject of discussion and criticism, the just concluded Anambra State gubernatorial election has laid credence to what were alleged in previous elections in the states earlier mentioned.
In the build up to the Anambra State gubernatorial election, it was believed that electorates may not turn out for the election due to voters apathy and the threat issued by IPOB who warn them not to come out for the election. But findings have shown that most voters were lured out of their houses by the influence of money offered by some influential politicians and political party.
Candidate of United Peoples Party (UPP) Osita Chidoka, had after the election, blamed the Anambra electorate for his defeat, saying it was not in his character to buy votes when his mission was for the interests of the marginalised majority of the people of the state.
Chidoka who conceded defeat even when the election results was not fully announced said he rejected god-fatherism and money politics and made personal sacrifices with small donations and goodwill of a few good men and women.
He said his campaign, remained issues-based and made him stand out amongst other candidates for the election.
“But from the ballots, we heard the voice of our people. We heard it loud and clear, he lamented.
“On November 18, our people announced strongly their rejection of politicians. They traded their votes because they doubted we would truly represent their interest. While our message resonated with the people, they doubted that the political class cared about them. They voted for the highest bidder.
“When, by Thursday, a large percentage of our supporters insisted that they will not vote unless we paid, I insisted we will not pay for votes. The decision not to pay ended our good run. We accept the voters’ decision,” Chidoka said.
Also in a press statement sent to LEADERSHIP Weekend by the National Chairman of the UPP, Chekwas Okorie, the party which was adjourned one of the favorites to shine at the Anambra polls following the brilliant manifesto given by its flagbearer, Osita Chidoka, the UPP said it felt pity for the ignorant and exploited masses of the state.
Party had also in the statement accused the ruling party in the state and the APC of encouraging vote buying even to the detriment of electoral development of the country, describing it as abberation of the very ethos of a true democratic process.
The statement reads in part: “UPP is disappointed that most observers that commented on the Anambra Governorship Election have tended to play down on the danger posed to our nascent democracy by the monetization and commercialization of the election.
“What happened in the full glare of the general public with some of the drama already streaming in the social media is that political parties, especially APGA, APC and PDP set up shops at virtually all the Polling Units to bid for and buy votes. The difference in votes won by these 3 parties I have mentioned is only in their individual capacity to out-bid one another at different places. In such bazaar the highest bidder always wins.
“It is difficult to blame a poor voter who has already been rendered vulnerable by an unperforming government to resist the lucre of N20,000, N10,000, N5,000 as the case may be for casting his or her vote in a manner required of him or her to earn such windfall.
“It is important to put in perspective that most of these voters trekked to the Polling Units practically with no money in their pockets because of their unfortunate but avoidable indigence. Presenting such a person with the amounts just mentioned above is rather too tempting to be resisted”.
In a television programme (Sunrise Daily) monitored by LEADERSHIP Weekend, the National Coordinator of Transition Monitoring Group, Akiyode-Afolabi, who monitored the election in Anambra State confirmed the allegation raised by Osita.
He said vote buying was no longer a secret from the experience in Anambra. He said with no exceptions, all the political parties were involved in the trade and that may have been largely responsible for the large turnout compare to the last elections in the state.
Comr. Jude Obasanmi Immediate Past President, Conference of NGOs (CONGOs) and Chief Responsibility Officer, Josemaria Escriva Foundation who observed the last gubernatorial elections both in Edo and Anambra State expressed worries over the dangers of vote buying and financial inducement on on electorates on the part of politicians.
Mr Obasamni, who spoke exclusively with LEADERSHIP Weekend said what was witnessed in both states was a “trade of the highest bidder”, where votes where sold for any party or politician willing to pay higher.
He said, in Edo for example, “there was a particular unit where each voters was paid N10,000 just to cast a single vote”. It ranges from N5,000 to N10,000 and that depends on the area”.
“The security agencies didn’t help issues too. They were helpless as some were even accused of facilitating the transaction,” added Mr. Obasamni. He revealed that citizens engage in the act of selling votes because “they have lost confidence on politicians who come with similar promises” in every election circle but never to fulfill such promises.
“The Anambra case was no different from what played out in Edo State. There was voters aparthy in both states but for different reasons. In Edo State for instance, there was the believe that the election have already been won and there was no need coming out to vote. In Anambra the case was different because of the agitations over there. But on hearing that political parties were paying for votes, people now troop out to get a share.
He said some collected but did not vote for the party that paid them but rather stuck their loyalty to their original camp.
He however warned electorates to consider the dangers of what they are doing as it’s tantamount to mortgaging their future. According to him: “Grab what you can now and suffer for another four years”.
He further added that while they as members of civil society organizations will continue to do their best in sensitising the public on the need to hold political office holders accountable, the government and mother agencies have to a lot to do.
To understand why most electorates indulge in selling of votes, LEADERSHIP Weekend took the findings to grassroots putting. “Why will I not collect money before I vote? Every time they come with their sugarcoated tongue and tell us that they will bring heaven down for us to feast from but we get hell instead, said Emmanuella Gyang.
Emmanuella, 28, an indegene of Plateau State, who resides in Abuja said “a bird at hand is far better than hundreds in the bush”.
Clearly, this is the situation the average Nigerian electorate find themselves today, and politicians with deep pockets are taking advantage of their vulnerability.
After the 2016 gubernatorial election in Edo State, the INEC swiftly called for collective efforts towards addressing inducement of voters with money by political parties and their candidates during elections.
INEC had through its deputy director on Voter Education and Publicity, Nick Dazang, made the call saying all hands must be on deck to get rid of the vice.
“The commission received about 29 calls and SMSs alleging that some people were inducing voters with money during the election.
“The reports which are from different bodies and monitoring group indicated that major political parties were involved in the ugly incident.
“We are troubled by it and I am saying that over voting and the use of money as inducement to voters is of concern to us and other stakeholders.
“Going forward we need to put this on the agenda, discuss and address it squarely before it become another major challenge to our electoral process,” Mr. Dazang said.
Article 130 of the The Nigeria Electoral Act, 2010 says: “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 other person having voted or refrained from voting at such election; or (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.”
While vote buying is subject to punishment, the attainment of compliance to this legal provision remains a challenge.
Vote-buying in Nigeria takes place at various stages of the electoral cycle and has been observed eminently during voter registration, nomination period, campaign and election day.
INEC from what is cited above has been mandated to prosecute anyone found guilty of breaching electoral guidelines. There have been reported cases with clear evidence of election rigging of different form in the past but INEC still remain toothless in bringing those involved to book. Although the commission had demonstrated some level of commitment and seriousness in recent times by sacking some of its officials who were involved with political parties to undermine electoral processes, there are still more to do before things gets out of hand.
What this emerging scenario portends for 2019, time will tell. Will money politics determine the outcome of the poll or will Nigerians replicate their 2015 stands? What is INEC and the National Assembly doing to curb this negative trend that is taking over the political sphere?
The introduction of the PVC and smart card readers in 2015 elections by the Prof Atahiru Jega’s led INEC, no doubt reduced drastically incidents of voter card buying but this idea is today being threatened by vote-buying, which, no doubt, is being influence by poverty and the loss of hope on the part of the electorate.
Like one analysts recently said, “our problems in Nigeria are not politicians who constantly turn deaf ears to the plight of Nigerians, but the weak and visionless people who constantly vote for them. 2019 is just by the corner when politicians will give them a slice of bread in exchange for another four or eight years of their destiny.”
Observers aver that a a disconnect in governance is responsible for this situation because citizens are increasingly losing faith in their political representatives. They must be engaged in governance.
They must be involved in decision making in matters that affect their lives. They must be consulted in everything that affect their constituents. They must be given the right to decide which project or programme suits their immediate needs. This is where the National Orientation Agency must come in to sensitize the electorates on the dangers of vote selling.