A very dangerous dimension is developing in our nascent democracy which, if not curbed and reigned in, may torpedo our democracy. The menace of vote buying and selling as well as other anti-democratic actions by state and non-state actors may derail our hard fought democracy.
While the use of money to manipulate electoral process had long been with us since the return of democracy in 1999, the menace of direct vote buying where you have “vote and collect money” at the polling booth is a new and dangerous development which some claimed started from the Edo State governorship election in 2016.
Even though the jury is still out there on when the vote buying menace started, what is not deniable is that the use of money to influence election had been with us, especially before the 2015 general elections. A former National Security Adviser, Col Sambo Dasuki (rtd) allegedly diverted to the pockets of politicians about $2.1billion earmarked for buying weapons to fight Boko Haram terrorists in the North East, in order to influence the outcome of the general elections. However after spending several billions of naira to influence the outcome of 2015 general elections in which the incumbent President was defeated, the politicians have resorted to direct vote buying at the polling points. Nigerians of goodwill as well as international observers have condemned the violations of Electoral Act by vote buyers and sellers.
Worried about the outcry from concerned Nigerians on the threat posed by vote buying, at the run up to the Osun State gubernatorial election last Saturday, the electoral umpire decided to deal with the matter. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared that cameras and other recording devices would not be allowed into polling booths during the governorship election in Osun State. Chairman of the commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, made this known in Osogbo at an interactive session with stakeholders.
He said the move would curb the acts of vote buying and vote selling which had become a new strategy adopted by politicians to rig elections. He said voters would not be barred from using their devices at the polling units but would not be allowed to hold their cameras and telephones from the moment they are issued with ballot papers until they cast their marked ballots inside the ballot boxes. He noted that the menace of vote buying is now a new concept in our electoral system, and assured that the commission will rise to these challenges.
When this proactive action was taken by INEC ahead of Osun election, which is commendable, the main opposition party in the country, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) opposed it. It condemned the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission to ban the use of smart phones in polling units and accused the commission of a surreptitious move to prevent the global community from knowing its alleged plan to rig the 2019 general elections.
The Special Adviser to the governor of Bayelsa State on Media Relations, Mr. Fidelis Soriwei, quoted national chairman of PDP, Prince Uche Secondus as having made the comment during a meeting with stakeholders from Bayelsa East Senatorial District in Yenagoa. Secondus said it was quite puzzling that the commission would attempt to prevent the use of smart phone, which he described as the easiest means of communication in the society, during elections. According to him, the decision to ban the use of smart phones was the strategy of INEC and the APC to rig the 2019 elections.
Despite the attempt to politicize the ban of phones at the pollingbooths, the Independent National Electoral Commission stuck to its guns and the ban stood. As a result of the action of INEC many local and international observers confirmed that vote-buying syndrome was not very rampant compared to what happened in Edo, Ondo, Anambra and Ekiti states gubernatorial elections. The worry is that, despite the good intentions and efforts of INEC to stop vote buying, the ugly acts still reared its head at the gubernatorial election in Osun State even if it at a was lesser proportion than in the past staggered elections.
It is obvious that the menace is not being properly interrogated to find lasting solution. Several reasons have been adduced for the problem of vote buying and selling. It has been argued in some quarters that behind this problems are voter apathy due to the failure of politicians to fulfil promises made to the electorate during election campaigns. This, it is believed, has led to voter’s wanting instant gratification through collection of money ‘up front’ as politicians could not be trusted to keep their promises once elected. It also means that if politicians had been faithful in delivering the dividends of democracy, the voters would have the choice of electing the candidate that has the capacity to deliver the best outcome. Some politicians, however, have demonstrated capacity to meet the needs of the people whether in or out of office and thus have huge followers who cannot be bought over by desperate politicians. Vote buying and selling should therefore be seen as the consequence of failed leadership in the country.
The reorientation of politicians or political office seekers is essential in ridding the country of vote buying and voting selling acts. Aside the politicians who are majorly responsible for these infractions of the electoral law, another key factor had been the failure of government to hold culprits involved accountable. According to the Electoral Act 2010 in section 124, paying money to another person as bribe at any election attracts a maximum fine of N500, 000 or 12 months imprisonment or both. Similarly in the same section, receiving any money or gift, for voting or to refrain from voting at any election attracts a maximum fine of N500, 000 or imprisonment for 12 months or both. The law is clear on the punishment for vote buying and selling. The question is, are the laws being enforced? How many Nigerians are aware of these penalties against vote buying and selling? What has security agents done to arrest most especially the perpetrators of vote buying in Edo, Anambra, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun states’ gubernatorial elections where the illegal acts was confirmed by INEC and local and international observers? The answer is blowing in the wind.
When people are rewarded for wrong doing there will be little incentive to do the right thing. Vote buyers and sellers will not stop their illegal acts unless they are prosecuted and jailed. Jailing culprits will serve as a deterrent to others. This tumor must be cut off before it degenerates into cancer that could kill our democracy.
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