THE negative effect of money in elections is a source of concern in all genuine democracies. Though no election is possible without the funding of activities around it, unbridled deployment of money can derail its primary purpose, which is to ensure that the electorate cast their votes freely and that candidates who get the majority of votes will be declared winner.
Vote buying has been with us since we started to vote in Nigeria. But at no other time has it taken on a brazen, devil-may-care form than in recent elections, particularly the gubernatorial elections in Edo in 2016, Anambra in 2017 and Ekiti, penultimate weekend.
Voters were made to vote and show that they voted for candidates who promised to pay agreed sums. In the Anambra election it was called “vote and show”, while in Ekiti it was called “see and buy”. All major political parties freely participate in vote buying and this ensures that elections go to the highest bidders which, invariably are those with very deep pockets.
Sadly, the hordes of security agents mobilised for these elections not only witnessed it all and did nothing, some even boldly made vote-buying easy for some politicians while intimidating and harassing agents of their paymasters’ opponents. They thus betrayed the public trust and colluded with unscrupulous politicians to undermine the sanctity of our elections. Eventually, the huge number of police personnel and security agents mobilised for these elections at a heavy cost to taxpayers ended up an utter waste.
Our anti-graft agencies, especially the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, unfortunately, have shown very little interest in delving into the sources of these funds which run into billions of naira. How can such massive amounts of money be moved without the notice of a government that prides itself on anti-corruption taking stern measures to punish offenders? The answer to this puzzle is not far-fetched: everyone is involved in this horrible vote bazaar.
We must warn, once again, that vote buying is a major progenitor of corruption and lack of accountable governance. Whoever pays so heavily to get into public office will definitely not feel indebted to the people. Our people must know that once they collect money to vote for politicians they lose the moral force to demand for accountability.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC and the Police must take more responsibility and ensure that the modified open ballot system is henceforth no longer infiltrated by political hoodlums. Once a voter is accredited he or she must be allowed to cast their ballot without interference. Only the voter should know whom he or she voted for.
An election is no longer free when the secrecy of the people’s vote can no longer be maintained.