• Ekiti signals bad omen – 26,000 security men couldn’t stop vote buying; INEC fails to ensure secrecy of the ballot

By Luminous Jannamike, Abuja

Although the atmosphere in which the June 18, 2022 governorship election in Ekiti state was conducted has been adjudged to be generally peaceful; solid evidence which reenacted the reality that elections in Nigeria still fall short of global standards were common.

While the world watched to see what would happen, the election was marred by infractions that cast doubt on the credibility of the governorship poll.

For instance, there were situations where some voters were allowed to cast their votes without due authentication by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, using the approved Bi-modal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS).

Also, there was wide spread financial inducement of the electorate by the leading parties, particularly the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party as well as the massive distribution of fake news on social media to sway the voters to different candidates.

According to several accredited field observers, the election in which INEC declared Biodun Oyebanji of the APC victorious over his main contenders, Segun Oni of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Bisi Kolawole (PDP) was twisted in six local government areas of the state, namely; Ado-Ekiti, Ijero, Ikole Irepodun/Ifelodun, Ise/Orun and Moba between N5,000 and N10,000 were paid by political parties for a vote.

Scruffy-looking voters who lacked sufficient money to live at a standard considered comfortable or normal in the society were captured on camera dancing in queues and displaying the N5,000 that they received for selling their votes to the highest bidder.

This is a charade, another blot on Nigeria’s 23-year-old democracy.

The pervasive vote-buying, and other sundry malpractices allegedly committed in the presence of security agents who simply looked the other way paint a picture that succinctly tells the story of how poverty has been weaponised as a means to bastardise the electoral system of the country.

Regrettably, the accusations, denials and counter-accusation by the main political parties and actors that there was no cash inducement in the governorship election rings hollow. It almost appears to be that always denying the obvious is inextricably woven into the DNA of Nigerian politicians

However, lamenting the flaws in the Ekiti governorship election, the National Chairman, Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Engr. Yabagi Sani, told Saturday Vanguard at the Council’s headquarters in Abuja, that they signalled a bad omen for the 2023 general elections.

He said, “We are afraid, worried and concerned that, if necessary action is not taken, Nigeria may be on a roller-coaster in 2023, and where we will land (after the elections) no one knows, if we continue to allow money to be used to buy votes.

“Look at the process of our primaries and what happened where delegates were bribed in foreign currencies to support certain aspirants to become the party’s standard bearers.

“Who has been arrested? These are things that, if the security agencies want to do their jobs proactively, they can easily prevent.

“Believe me, we are worried about the 2023 polls, because the people that should ensure the general election is a success are the ones that are guilty of all these electoral infractions. Moreover, they do so with impunity without remorse.”

Sani described the 2023 elections as an accident waiting to happen and said if some drastic actions are not taken, it will only be a matter of time before the consequences become evident.

“So, we need to awaken the consciousness of everyone that vote-buying as witnessed is danger. In fact, it is like an accident waiting to happen. Nigerians have to wake up and fight these things through the right means,” he explained.

While an unprecedented number of enthusiastic voters thronged various polling units in different towns, villages and hamlets in Ekiti to perform their civic rights in Ekiti state last weekend, many of those who did so were mostly the women and the elderly and few youths.

Thousands of Ekiti youths, who stayed away from the election, turned commentators and election pundits on the social media.
Nonetheless, analysts say the perceived youth apathy towards the governorship election was a consequence of the strike by the universities.

According to them, proximity was a challenge as most of the polling centres where many of these young people were scheduled to voted are in the university towns away from their homes.

For Prof. Adele Jinadu, the Chair of Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD)’s Election Analysis Centre, the universities’ strike constituted a greater risk factor to the Ekiti governorship election than the perceived apathy of the youth.

According to him, the ongoing industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has crippled the local economy of university towns in Ekiti State; thereby, creating a threat in terms of the availability of idle youth for recruitment into some of the activities that undermined the credibility of the election.

He also said that by grounding the local economy, the strike generated the wrong incentive for the few young voters who came out to cast their ballots to see the election as an opportunity for economic survival which fertilised the menace of vote buying.

“The situation (strike) influenced a number of young voters to perceive the election as an opportunity to solve their economic challenges by accepting inducement from political actors.

“However, we commend the arrest of some political actors who were alleged to be involved in vote buying in the course of the election and call for a thorough investigation of these persons, and their subsequent prosecution, if found culpable,” Prof. Jinadu told Saturday Vanguard.

For the upcoming general election in 2023 not to suffer a similar fate, the Independent National Electoral Commission, the security agencies, and all stakeholders have to develop counter-measures to disarm desperate politicians.

According to Mr. Paul James, Yiaga Africa’s Program Manager on Elections, the abuse of the electoral process will remain a feature of elections in Nigeria until justice is duly served to those guilty of electoral infractions, particularly cash inducement, compromise by INEC officials and the security agencies, among other flaws.

In a telephone chat with Saturday Vanguard, he described the issue of electoral malpractice as “the uncomfortable truth” in Nigeria’s leadership recruitment system, and maintained that it is not even a new phenomenon.

He said, “These things characterise our polls, because we look at elections in isolation rather than as a process.

“While efforts are being made to improve the electoral process since the return to democracy in 1999, the politicians are becoming lazier in terms of articulating their visions for the country and communicating them to the electorate. So, they are always looking for ways and even going to great lengths to circumvent the system.

“Though our laws are also getting better; for instance, over-voting is now determined by the number of accredited voters and not registered voters, the politicians are succeeding in manipulating the process, because of the way they have weaponised poverty for electoral gain. Many voters now look forward to elections as harvest season.

“So, the problem is not about having the right set of electoral laws, but about the impunity in the system. Those found culpable are not being named and punished.

“We saw a little bit of action in Ekiti where the operatives of anti-corruption agencies swung into action and swooped on some vote traders. But that is not enough.

“It is reported that 17,000 police personnel and other 9,000 other security operatives were deployed in the small state, but all these failed to stop party agents from moving cash about to induce voters fueling doubts that all the 26,000 boots were on ground. This is a pointer to the fact that the presence of security agents during elections in Nigeria does not guarantee credible polls.

“Above all, INEC is overstretched and so there is a need for the proposed legislation establishing the Electoral Offences Commission to bear the responsibility of arresting and prosecuting electoral offenders. Electoral infringements should be severely punished. And the authorities can no longer afford to be complacent.

“INEC also appears to be culpable in some of these electoral infringements. It is on record that about 22 percent of the polling booths used during the Ekiti governorship election were set up in ways that no longer guaranteed the secrecy of the ballot. Also, the structure of the ballot papers and the alphabetical listing of political parties made it easier for party agents to figure out which party the voter gave his vote.

“If some of these issues are properly addressed, we would see a drastic reduction in electoral malpractices during the forthcoming general elections in 2023.” .

However, it is heart-warming that in the area of election management and general administration, INEC seems to have taken care of its own end. Several monitoring groups averred that the umpire adequately handled the logistics for the Ekiti governorship election.

The dubious culture of forging results at collation centres was subdued by technology, as it constrained rigging through inflation of votes. To INEC’s credit, the declaration of result was done in good time. This could partly be attributable to the fact that the Electoral Act 2022 (as amended) allowed the electronic transmission of results.

Another off-cycle election, the Osun governorship election, is around the corner wherein INEC’s impartiality and the effectiveness of the security agencies need to be reinforced before the 2023 elections.

But the major test is in the general election in 2023, in which the whole country will vote to choose a new president. That test will definitely define the fate of Nigeria’s fragile union and the essence of INEC. Nigeria cannot be truly democratic until its electorate have the opportunity to choose their leaders through free and fair elections.

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