Says ballot procurement became campaign strategy

•‘There’s prepaid vote-buying and postpaid’

By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor

Programme Director of YIAGA Africa, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the promotion of democratic governance, Cynthia Mbamalu, in this interview, discusses vote-buying in elections, explaining why it has emerged as one of the major threats to credible elections in Nigeria. Drawing on experiences from the recent Ekiti election and others, she classifies vote-buying, its ramifications and consequences.

Before last Saturday’s Ekiti governorship election, vote-buying had existed but it has emerged as one of the major infractions in Nigeria’s electoral system…

Vote-buying didn’t start with the last election in Ekiti. In 2018, vote-buying was recorded as one of the major infractions in Ekiti. And after that election, YIAGA Africa issued a report titled: Duly Elected or Duly Purchased. We questioned the whole value of the votes if the candidates were busy buying votes. But why it didn’t make major headlines at the time was because other infractions took over. But with this Ekiti election, we saw there were improvements in the preparations of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. Because the challenges of malpractices weren’t much, vote-buying became very obvious. Beyond that, one of the major things we had observed in the pre-election phase in Ekiti, was that voter inducement became a campaign strategy in Ekiti.

Could you explain?

Vote-buying didn’t just happen on election day alone. YIAGA Africa’s pre-election report had identified that political parties were conducting door-to-door campaigns distributing money and gifts. We saw an increase in the rate of voter inducement in the pre-election phase. Some individuals and homes got as much as N20, 000 each. It almost correlates with what was happening during the primaries at the national level. The campaigns and primaries happened when the primaries at the national level took place.

In Ekiti, the trend started from the pre-election phase. It became more like a prepaid and postpaid thing. The pre-paid means that some people were paid before the election and there was a guarantee that certain households would bring a specified number of votes. The post-paid involves those who were paid after voting. When I was driving around on election day, one of the things I observed was that there were many places where people gathered. And those places were not polling units and there were no INEC officials there. If something wrong wasn’t happening there, what else justified people coming out to converge on election day when voting wasn’t taking place. It wasn’t that it was that apparent. You needed to look closely and see it happening. You have to understand how elections work for you to know when vote-buying is taking place. It was a major issue in this election and we are worried that it would happen on that scale in the Osun and 2023 elections. Let’s also remember that there were incidents of vote-buying at the 2021 Anambra gubernatorial election. But what happened in Ekiti meant that politicians have reviewed their strategy of buying votes. Rather than campaigning with their manifesto, the strategy now is to buy votes even before the elections. And people are willing to sell their votes to whoever wants to pay.

Arrests

Unfortunately, we didn’t have many arrests as needed. Security agents and personnel of Economic and Financial Crimes , EFCC, were around but it didn’t stop voters from selling their votes.

If you followed the last campaign in Ekiti, a political party had the slogan “vote and chop’’ in Yoruba language. Sadly, the election was purely transactional with people willing to sell their votes to anyone.

Is it right to attribute the large turnout to vote-buying and what were the indicators that made the infraction possible?

Beyond the fact that a lot of people will say there is a high rate of poverty and hunger, I believe one of the major reasons is the fact that government hasn’t delivered its promises to the people. Election is now seen by the people as the time to also have a share of the supposed national cake. They believe that after the election, they wouldn’t see government officials again. So, the poor performance of government is a major reason for vote-buying. It is more like an economic indicator. On election day itself, I would say that INEC in its powers had tried what it could. For instance, on election day in the past, we noticed that the voting cubicle was located in a way that whoever was voting, another person will see how he is thumb printing. The security of the ballot wasn’t guaranteed. But in this election, INEC instructed its officials to make sure the voting cubicle was sited in places where the secrecy of the ballot was protected. Ordinarily, we could say the poor location of polling units enables vote-buying. But this time, I wouldn’t identify that as one of the enablers. I don’t want to create justification for that, but I am insisting that governance hasn’t been transformative in such a way that the people would see the benefits of democracy. Governance has been very transactional and the political class understands this game. That is why they focus on vote-buying for elections. They use the poverty and hunger in the land to exploit people. Rather than getting people to believe in their manifesto, politicians exploit the challenges they people experience.

Another indicator is what I call community conspiracy.

How does it happen?

It is a situation whereby a community decides to vote for a certain candidate. Going by that decision, they assist in rigging the election. They also assist officials to change the results. But now, the deployment of technology has eliminated the chances of doing that. Another factor also is having communities working together with politicians. They disburse money to community members to vote for candidates they had agreed upon. We also saw that trend in the Ekiti election.

Since the system of voting is Secret Ballot System, how does the seller ensure the buyer’s end of the transaction is carried out?

Some of the things we saw were that there were individuals who had booklets. After voting, people met them and told them how they voted.

Party agents had access to observe the process of voting. Some people are smart. Before they drop their ballots, party agents see who they were voting for. So, the party agents served as guarantors to ensure they voted in line with the bargain. You as an observer need to be smart to see all these. The way the parties had structured the infraction, we discovered that for different locations, there is a specific amount of vote expected in line with their deal. This calculation had been done in the post-election phase. For instance, in some locations, a household might have 20 people while another one would have10 people. Within that location, the person in charge would be given money according to the number of expected votes in the deal. And if they don’t get that number of votes, they actually come back for the person they gave money to. There were instances when people came back for those they gave money but failed to deliver. They physically abused these people for not delivering after collecting money. There are different strategies. While the electoral body makes efforts to address infractions, the political class is always a step ahead, seeking new ways. They had people identifying who was voting for who. And INEC can only do little in that area.

What about security agencies who were deployed?

We were hoping to see more arrests of those who were buying the votes. It’s not just about the seller because it is easier to arrest one person who had a bulk of money. We were expecting there would have been a lot more arrests and prosecution of those arrested. We believe that if we had that happening at the polling units, it would have deterred other individuals who wanted to buy votes. We are hoping there will be speedy prosecution of those arrested. The new electoral law criminalises vote-buying. It prescribed stiffer punishment beyond a fine. It comes with imprisonment. We expect to see some level of action now and we also hope it would help to prevent this kind of infraction in Osun and other elections.

What do you make of people of influence who tell people, ‘’collect their money and vote your conscience?’’

That is not voter education. Unfortunately, that is what we are seeing and it is an unfortunate trend.

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