ON THE FURORE OVER VOTE BUYING
BY UBAKA OKOFU
Ahead of the 2023 polls which comes up in less that 900 days, there is growing furore over the continued practice of vote buying in Nigerian elections. Some persons might want to argue that vote buying is a lesser evil which cannot be compared to the much vilified acts of election-related violence such as snatching and stuffing of ballot boxes with toxic votes and sometimes, holding unyielding electoral officers at gun point. Whichever way it’s seen, the truth is that vote buying is injurious to our nascent democracy.
However, as long as the voting processes are manually done and the virulent strains of the flaccid economy kept biting, there will always be someone to offer his or her vote in return for cash. Vote buying has therefore come to stay at the moment and as a people, we are being constrained to see it as a necessary evil.
It’s imperative to note that vote buying has been with us since the 1960s. But, it was practiced under the guise of gifting. During election campaigns, the electorate are gifted clothes, salt, rice, kerosene, hot drinks, biscuits and other consumables. Lately, the spiteful act took quite a disturbing dimension. What is obtainable now is that desperate politicians and their cronies unabashedly give out cash gifts to woo and induce voters to their side. What is baffling is the impunity with which the electoral crime is carried out by politicians who wants to win at all cost. No doubt, vote buying is emblematic of a failed system.
Almost no major party in our elections cycle in Nigeria today can claim innocence of the menace. Most times, it’s a question of the highest bidder as witnessed in the Ondo governorship elections where voters were induced with as low as N1000 and as high as N7000 depending on the importance of the unit and whether it’s urban or rural. So much money and energy are deplored into vote buying as if it’s a legitimate option to snatching of ballot boxes.
Findings show that vote buying is rampant in countries with very poor GDP, which of course comes with an associated high rate of illiteracy, a largely dependent population, poor technology and widespread unemployment. Nigeria fits into all of the above.
The situation makes one to feel that the parlous state of the economy was deliberately encouraged to profit politicians during election. The opaqueness of our electoral processes is largely predicated on the fact that only the rich can vie for electoral offices. By extension, credible and prospective candidates are discouraged on account of our money politics.
There are so many reasons it may be difficult to completely eradicate vote buying. First is that the politicians themselves see the act as harmless which they then encourage in place of snatching and stuffing ballot boxes with toxic ballot papers.
To hold such skewed view of vote buying as a necessary evil is to further oxygenate an electoral process which can never be free, fair and credible. The electorate themselves are not helpful in anyway. Economic hardship may not be a good reason to mortgage ones’ future for as small as N1000 which at best can only take one through two meals. But, some of the electorate are helpless! They often argue that half bread is better than none. This is because after voting, victorious candidate forget electoral promises as quickly as possible; and with no consequence.
For the electorate, taking the little bribe money on election-day is tantamount to ‘a bird at hand.’ It takes all to have an unfair and manipulated election: the compromised elections staff, the security agents, the candidate and the electorate themselves. The security agents are worse. There are allegations of policemen ogling for bribes while offering cover for those who exchange money for votes.
Already, the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) has criminalized vote buying but, we are yet to see anyone caught and prosecuted for the singular offence of trading in votes. The most we have heard is playing possum with such insidious infraction as vote buying. Article 130 also criminalizes both the seller and the buyer of votes. The second leg of Article 130 punishes the offence with a fine of N100, 000 or imprisonment for a term of 12 months or both.
Each passing election year, we are reminded by officials of the Nigerian Police of its’ readiness to deal ruthlessly with anyone who indulges in vote buying or other election related crimes. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), on its’ own has also convinced the general public of its’ preparedness to frustrate any form of election irregularity including vote buying.
To say we can completely eradicate vote buying when a majority of the voters are living below the poverty line is to say something that may the impossible. The task before stakeholders is; how do we reduce vote buying to the barest minimum? First, politicians must be ready to play by the rules. It takes two to tango. Where there is no ‘giver’, obviously, there won’t be a ‘taker’. The spirit of winning elections at all cost is the bane of our democracy. Second, the security agents must step up their game. They are supposed to be apolitical and clean. As soon as the act of vote buying is reported, the culprit should be apprehended and prosecuted almost immediately. Third, relevant agencies must not relent in their role of sensitizing the electorate on the importance of their votes and the danger in selling such an all important tool for change.
Above all, the government must embrace electronic voting. Nigeria is the most populated black nation in the world, and must set the pace for other black nations to follow. The electronic voting system eliminates the possibility of much of the opportunity for compromising contact between candidates, their cronies and the voters during the period of actual voting.
Eyitayo Jegede,SAN, PDP candidate in Ondo gubernatorial polls