By Babatunde Ayedoju
Having practised democracy for less than 60 years and recently celebrating 23 years of uninterrupted democracy after the return to civilian government in 1999, Nigeria is gradually edging towards another season of elections, which will come up next year.
Also, the nation just concluded a series of primary elections which saw various political parties nominating candidates for the elective positions available. The primary elections were not without quiet a number of interesting stories, ranging from humongous prices of nomination forms to stories of buying delegates with huge amounts of money even in hard currency.
This brings to the front burner again the issue of vote buying which has become a pandemic bedeviling Nigeria’s electoral process. Vote buying or vote commercialisation is a situation where politicians bribe people with money and sometimes materials before and during elections, so that such people will vote for them. Most of the time, money is the bait, even though people may also be bribed with materials. The implication of vote buying is that, the people may end up voting against their conscience or conviction, having being influenced with money or materials.
Vote buying did not start recently in Nigeria. In its April 16, 2019 edition, an online platform, Premium Times, quoted the Executive Director of Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Miss Idayat Hassan, who said that the parties that took part in the 1993 general elections spent between N120 million to N1 billion in vote-buying during primaries.
The CDD boss said, “When we talk about the 1993 elections, we tend to talk about it as being the freest and fairest. But evidence showed that between N120 million and N1 billion was spent during the primaries in that 1993 elections, raising issues on how we should define vote-buying.
“In the fourth republic, between 2003 to 2007, the value of vote-buying ranged between N1, 750 to N2, 250. In 2019, the value of vote-buying ranged between N250 to N14000,” Ms Hassan said.
The Premium Times, however, pointed out that the group did not explain how it arrived at the statistics.
Similarly, a Nigerian tabloid reported that vote buying occurred during the Social Democratic Party presidential primary held in Jos in 1992. It was one of the justifications used by former Military President, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida to annul the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
Vote-buying took another dimension since the return to democracy in 1999. Voters, now joyously take pictures and making videos showing themselves while they collected money and food from aspirants and party candidates, and publicly demanding that their right(bribes) be paid before voting.
Over the years, the menace has grown from bad to worse. In the recently concluded primary elections of major political parties in Nigeria, there were allegations of aspirants bribing delegates with huge amounts of money, including hard currencies in some cases.
For example, son of former Vice President Namadi Sambo, Adam Namadi, reportedly demanded for a refund of the N2 million that he gave each delegate after he lost the primary election of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) House of Representatives for Kaduna North Federal Constituency.
He was said to have gotten the least votes among the three contenders, though he had promised the delegates he would give each of them additional N1.5 million after the exercise.
According to media reports, Mr Namadi hired vigilantes and local hunters to help retrieve his money from the delegates.
What is the position of the law on vote buying? Article 130 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, states that: A person who — (a) corruptly by himself or by any other person at any time after the date of an election has been announced, directly or indirectly gives or provides or pays money to or for any person for the purpose of corruptly influencing that person or any other person to vote or refrain from voting at such election, or on account of such person or any other person having voted or refrained from voting at such election, or (b) being a voter, corruptly accepts or takes money or any other inducement during any of the period stated in paragraph (a) of this section, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N100,000 or 12 months imprisonment or both.
Despite the standpoint of the law on this matter, it has continued to thrive unabatedly. About two weeks ago, former Inspector-General of Police, Sir Mike Okiro, warned against selling and buying votes during presidential primaries of registered political parties in Nigeria and the general election in 2023.
The former police boss who vied for the senatorial seat of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, in 2010 but lost said, “Nigerians will talk about the leadership deficiency, but I say no, that is not enough! It takes two angles! If leaders have deficiency, we have followers’ complacency! Because, if leaders are behaving, we just laugh, wave at them, and say, walk and go! And they will do the same thing again.”
He added, “But if we say no! Enough is enough, they change! You go, they give you money for votes so that you can vote for somebody, whether the person can perform or not! They give you
Speaking at a meeting in Ado-Ekiti, in preparation for last Saturday’s governorship election in Ekiti State, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, described vote buying as a destroyer of the electoral process.
He said, ““We are not unaware that vote-buying is a destroyer of the electoral process. To show how determined we are to stop this menace, we have changed the configuration of the ballot boxes in all polling units to prevent vote-buying.
“We are also partnering the operatives of ICPC and EFCC to deploy their men and deal with vote buyers and sellers according to the law.”
Speaking with The Hope, Professor Simon Ehiabhi from the Department of History and International Relations, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko said vote buying is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria. He said that it became firmly established with the general election of 1979.
Ehiabhi cited lack of patriotism, poor political education, weak law enforcement and poverty as factors that are responsible for the emergence and scourge of vote buying in Nigeria.
He said, “When there is less love for a country, individuals can act without thinking of the implications of their actions. Vote buying is one of such actions. Also, there are people who do not understand that the political implication of vote buying is acceptance of any kind of leadership.
“As long as nobody has been prosecuted for vote buying, some people may assume that it is part of the electoral process.”
Talking about poverty, the historian said, “This is not a strong reason because economic poverty should not be equated with poverty of the mind. However, economic poverty has been taken as part of the reasons for vote buying.”
As a way out, Ehiabhi said, “Develop a strategic educational plan where kids would be taught history and citizenship education, with emphasis on political education and corruption from nursery to secondary school levels. This would mean a deliberate goal of at least 12-15 years indoctrination. Therefore, those who can stop vote selling and buying have to be prepared for the task.”
Similarly, Dr Raphael Abimbola from the Department of Mass Communication, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko noted that vote buying is occasioned by the desperation of politicians to win elections at all costs. He said that the basis for desperation is that most of them are not contesting to serve but to better their selfish interest and have access to public resources.
Speaking about the way out, he said, “In the short term, we can only reduce it. It has to be ended in a gradual process. The first thing is to make political positions less attractive financially. How do we do that? Citizens are the ones who will rise up. Elected officials are already benefiting from the rot. Therefore, they will not want to make laws that will make their positions less attractive. However, if the citizens mount pressure on them and sustain it, that can reduce it trend. Once people know that occupying the position will not make them richer, they will no longer be willing to bribe voters.”
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