• In Ondo poll, it was called ‘vote-for-me-and-prepare-soup’
By Dayo Johnson, Regional Editor, South-West & Dapo Akinrefon, Deputy Regional Editor
Voters in elections in Nigeria seem to have been turned to commodities that, with wads of Naira notes, can be purchased.
The two prominent parties in the country, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, and the All Progressives Congress, APC, are guilty of this undemocratic development but one of the parties does it with impunity and reckless abandon.
The APC desperation, according to observers, became obvious during the Ondo State governorship election in 2016 when voters were allegedly induced with billions of Naira believed to have been brought to the state by about five state governors to assist the party’s candidate, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu. They would appear to have succeeded as voters allegedly collected money and did their bidding. It was, according to political analysts, a testing ground for what was to come in neighbouring Ekiti State during its governorship election which took place penultimate Saturday and during which the APC allegedly brazenly engaged in vote-buying.
In the 2016 election in Ondo, the vote-buying was tagged, ‘Dibo ko sebe’, meaning ‘vote-for-me-and-prepare-soup’, which changed in the last weekend Ekiti poll to ‘see-and-buy’. Voters in both polls would appear to have been so pauperised that they closed their eyes to the dangerous bait, collected N4, 000/N10, 000 and signed off not only their future but also that of generations yet unborn.
Returning Officer for the Ekiti governorship election, Prof Idowu Olayinka, had announced the candidate of the APC, Dr Kayode Fayemi, as the winner of the exercise.
Olayinka, the Vice Chancellor of University of lbadan (UI), said Fayemi scored 197,459 to defeat the PDP candidate, Prof Olusola, who scored 178, 121.
However, many of the observers, who monitored the election, alleged that it was riddled with financial inducement and that it lacked credibility.
Clement Nwankwo, Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) and Convener, Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, claimed to have seen widespread financial inducement and vote-buying in and around several polling units during the election.
Nwankwo said, “In some cases, the location and positioning of the polling booths and ballot boxes contributed to the non-secrecy of the ballot and vote-buying. The major political parties were very much culpable in this breach. The widespread nature and brazenness of the vote-buying by political parties and candidates create a dent on the outcome of any election and raise concerns that Nigeria’s electoral process is being monetized with impunity.
“The worrying trend of vote-buying escalated to desperate levels, with the major political parties sharing blames.
“This trend portends grave danger for Nigeria’s democracy, as it undermines the responsibility of citizens to freely choose their leaders and threatens the essence of democracy.
“Vote-buying represents a major setback to the gains made with Nigeria’s electoral process and denies citizens the power to hold elected official accountable and responsive to their needs and aspirations.
“Vote-buying is also a threat to the emergence of women as elected representatives with the increasing cost of electoral politics.
“Situation Room calls for urgent legislative action and law enforcement to tackle the challenge of vote-buying in Nigeria’s elections”.
To the Centre for Transparency Advocacy (CTA), vote-buying will make Nigerian leaders irresponsible.
Its Executive Director, Dr. Chima Amadi, said relying on purchase of votes to win elections may make holders of political offices to abandon their responsibilities to the people.
He called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to tackle the menace to avert increasing poverty level in the country.
Amadi said the country’s electoral system must be cleaned up to add to the credibility of elections.
According to him, the group deployed a total of 62 observers to Ekiti to monitor the election.
“Enough of vote-buying in our electoral system! It is capable of increasing the level of poverty in the land, because our leaders will become more lax and irresponsible when they know that spending on election day will make them win elections.
“Our electoral system can only be better when stakeholders like INEC, security and political parties play their roles well.
“We want to thank INEC for cleaning up the electoral system and security agencies but the political parties are not helping matters. Their actors are the ones inducing the voters with money.
“It was a phenomenon that started in Edo election. It moved on to Ondo, Anambra and now in Ekiti. This trend must be stopped if truly we want to reform our electoral system to make our governance better than we even planned.
“What can anybody do with N3, 000 or N4, 000 or N5, 000 in four years, this is disturbing?”
Also, a coalition of domestic and international election observers said the election fell short of global best practices and electoral standards.
The observers comprised of representatives from over 50 domestic organisations, human rights groups and international election observer bodies.
They include Centre for Credible Leadership and Citizens Awareness, Nigeria; Justice and Equity Organisation, Nigeria; International Republican Institute, United States; Patriotic Women Foundation, Abuja as well as some bodies from the African Union.
Speaking on behalf of the domestic observers, Gabriel Nwambu, of the Centre for Credible Leadership and Citizens Awareness, Abuja, said the “conduct of some of the security operatives and unwholesome practices of vote-buying – where voters surreptitiously showed which party they voted to party agents who went behind to settle them – largely marred the electoral process”.
Nwambu also said the election was characterised by ballot box snatching, sporadic shootings and driving away of party agents as well as intimidation, oppression and forceful influence of electorate’s free will, among others.
They therefore held, “The July 14 poll could not be recommended as a template for the forthcoming 2019 general elections as it fell short of global standards and spelt doom.
“The exercise witnessed a high level of unprecedented electoral related challenges and such abuse will remain contentious until justice prevails, especially in the areas of cash inducement, arrests of political stalwarts by security agents and snatching of electoral materials by political thugs, among other abuses.
“Party agents shared huge cash and were close to voting points. Security agents were indifferent to cash inducement of voters. The whole process falls short of the compliance with international best standards.”
‘How trouble started’
One of the International observers, Mrs Virginia Marumoa-Gae, of the IRI, US, said, “Trouble began at 11am when ‘see-and-buy’ started and this caused chaos across all the wards and polling units.
“Voters showed their ballot papers to party agents to collect money, thugs disrupted the voting process by shooting, but the police and other attaching security agents did well by establishing their presence at polling units as stipulated by the constitution. We also noted that the INEC has improved on card readers this time”.
In its own assessment of the Ekiti poll, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, gave a damning report on the election even as it called on INEC to urgently investigate and prosecute those involved in vote-buying by the political parties in the election.
Asking INEC to carry out the task within 14 days, SERAP said its failure will make it approach the court to institute legal proceedings to compel the body.
In a statement by the group’s Executive Director, Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni to the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, the body urged the electoral umpire to investigate the allegations alongside the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
SERAP urged INEC to “prosecute anyone suspected to be involved and/or complicit in the alleged vote buying if there is relevant and sufficient admissible evidence of electoral bribery and abuse of the electoral and democratic process against them.”
It said: “It is the responsibility of INEC as an independent body to take meaningful steps and action to minimise electoral bribery by politicians, ensure political equality and prevent unfair electoral competition. No body politic worthy of being called a democracy entrusts the selection of leaders to a process of auction or barter.
“Vote-buying amounts to undue influence and improper electoral influence. When politicians buy votes, they reinforce social subjugation and do long-term damage to poor voters, as vote buying impairs voters’ already limited political power and participation in governance. Offering and giving poor people money to buy their votes is the hallmark of political disrespect, as it implies that politicians perceive voters as lacking autonomy.
“Investigating the allegations and prosecuting all those suspected to be involved would indicate your agencies’ willingness to exert your authorities and act as a deterrent against breaches of the electoral process, Nigeria’s anti-corruption legislation and international standards.
“Vote-buying amounts to undue interference in the free exercise of the right to vote, as it implicitly aims at influencing or attempting to influence a voter not to vote or to vote in a particular manner. Specifically, the alleged giving of N3,000 or N5,000 to voters during the Ekiti election or payment into the bank accounts of voters is corruptly intended, and clearly aimed to influence their choice of candidates and voting intention. This practice seriously undermines the right of voters to freely vote according to their convictions.”
SERAP said it was “seriously concerned that vote buying undermines the ability of INEC to discharge its responsibilities under Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and paragraph 15(a) of the third schedule of the Constitution, the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and under the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party.”
Also, the leader of an Abuja based human rights organisation, the Patriotic Women Foundation, Mrs. Yemisi Ige said: “The July 14 was full of human rights violations, political party agents arrest, disruption of polls leading to cancellation of polls results, adding that the deployment of 30, 000 policemen was unwarranted as it scared some voters away and is a clear case of violation of humans rights which disenfranchised voters as those who voted were either induced or forced to vote a certain party and made the poll to fall short of global standards.”
Meanwhile, reacting to the allegation of vote-buying, the Media Office of Fayemi, through Wole Olujobi, described it as a concoction, fabricated to discredit the election.
On his part, the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the leadership of the party would never allow such practice under any guise.
Ologbondiyan said no circumstance will push the party to descend to vote-buying in any election. “The PDP spent its resources and energy on a democratic campaign that preceded the election and never set up kiosks for buying of votes”, he said