• An eyewitness account
By Dayo Johnson
Does anyone still disbelieve the widely held notion that many Ekiti residents, who went out to vote in the governorship election that took place in the state penultimate Saturday, did so, not because they believed their vote would count but because they would be paid if they voted for a particular party or candidate?
Forget the poll statistics that put voter turnout at 36. 75% (registered voters 988, 923; voter turnout 363, 438), the second-lowest in the state since 1999 when democracy was restored after several years of military dictatorship.
Virtually all the reports of observer groups attest to the fact that the primary motivation of many voters at the poll was to sell their votes.
Being an eyewitness, I not only saw what has been detailed in the observer groups’ reports but also many more.
Let me make it clear that the Ekiti election was not the first I will cover and in which votes will be brazenly sold and bought.
I also covered the November 2021 election in Ondo State and the situation was not any different.
Many may have wondered what vote-buying is all about.
Vote-buying is purely an economic exchange in which the voter sells his or her vote to the highest bidder in an election.
Suffice it to say that vote-buying has become a recurring decimal during election in our country.
This transaction is usually carried out by agents who liaise with trusted party leaders to carry out the undemocratic act during election.
Vote-buying or money politics was said to be evident during the last primaries of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) when delegates to both parties congresses and conventions were reportedly bribed (sometimes with dollars) by aspirants seeking the tickets to contest the 2023 elections at various levels.
Findings while covering the penultimate Saturday election in Ekiti and the 2021 Ondo poll show that vote-buying took place in almost all the council areas in both states with political parties bidding for the votes of the electorate.
Findings equally show that it was not only money that exchanged hands but also food items such as rice, groundnut oil, noodles, spaghetti, salt and many other edible materials.
This happened brazenly in the presence of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials and security agents who looked the other way.
The people appeared to have been so impoverished to the extent that they couldn’t resist the miserable money politicians shared on the day of the election to entice them.
Poverty has blinded many to act against their conscience.
So, selling of their votes is their own share of the national cake which many believe politicians corner once they assume political office.
The selling and buying of votes happen in different ways.
But, usually, party agents divide the electorate into groups and deal directly with the leaders of the groups on the day of the election.
The agents prefer the ‘see and buy’ method on the day of election instead of paying upfront.
This is to forestall a situation whereby voters would collect money and vote for a different candidate.
Voters after voting would snap their ballots with their telephone and show them to the leaders of the groups to qualify them for payment or display the ballots to a polling official standing close by to indicate that he voted for their candidate.
I discovered during the Ekiti penultimate election that the three major political parties engaged in vote-buying.
While people who claimed to be agents of the ruling APC paid N10, 000 to voters willing to vote for the party’s candidate, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) gave N3, 000 while the PDP parted with N5, 000.
The inducement is handed over to the leader of the group who pays the electorate immediately after casting their votes with evidence to show they voted for their candidate.
Findings also showed that voters trooped out to exercise their franchise during the Ekiti election not because they wanted to vote for the candidate of their choice but because they were more interested in the money the parties would pay.
In other words, many voters were influenced to come out with the aim of selling their votes during the election.
Some voters attested to this fact in separate interviews with Sunday Vanguard.
Old people, who couldn’t walk properly, were not even left of vote selling in the Ekiti election as they were assisted by their children to the polling units to collect the largesse.
Operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, arrested a chieftain of one of the parties while trying to induce voters at a polling unit in Ado-Ekiti during the election.
However, nothing has been heard on the fate of the suspect. The EFCC later said 15 persons were arrested in connection with vote-buying at the poll.
Also, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) arrested two people in Ado-Ekiti following separate attempts to induce voters and cause violence.
One was allegedly arrested in connection with vote buying while the other was held in connection with thuggery to disrupt voting at a polling unit.
The arrests go a long way to show how widespread vote selling and buying was in the election.
Analysts said it’s high time we as a nation devised means of arresting vote-buying because it increases the cost of election on the part of politicians.
“When vote selling and buying happens in an election, naturally the highest bidder carries the day. And a politician who pays his way into power will not be accountable to the people because he has invested something and he has to recoup his investment first before thinking of service to the people”, one particular analyst said.
“The level of poverty and the unemployment rate in the country is another problem. The people will be happy to receive peanuts in exchange for their votes knowing full well that the money will take care of their immediate needs.
“But on the long run, the vicious cycle of non-performance on the part of elected office holders continues and the people slide more into poverty”.
Meanwhile, some analysts linked the reduction in cases of violence, especially ballot snatching by thugs and manipulation of election results, in the Ondo and Ekiti governorship elections to vote-buying, saying many desperate politicians hoping to win elections now see vote-buying as a more convenient way to achieve their aim.
“Why would a politician who now believes he can part with some money to win election go the whole hog to arrange violence or falsify result? No sane politician will arrange violence or try to falsify result anymore because it doesn’t make sense when he can easily do vote-buying and the result will still be the same”, one of the analysts told Sunday Vanguard.
“As the end justifies the means, he wins the election anyway but the masses lose at the end of the day.
“In the case where vote did not count, we could not be seen to have elected the most popular candidate which is the essence of democracy. So, democracy is compromised.
“But let me tell you. If we do not act fast with the way vote-buying is compromising election after election in Nigeria, democracy will die.
“In essence, it we do not kill vote-buying, vote-buying will kill democracy”.
I think the position of this analyst sums it all: Democracy will die if we do not kill vote-buying in our elections.