One of the ominous handwritings on the wall as Nigeria approaches 2019 general elections is vote buying. It is a criminal act that is being perpetrated by politicians in both the All Progressives Congress (APC), opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other emerging political parties are accused of perpetrating. However, the masterminds of the crime have become progressively brazen as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducts one election after another.
During the Ekiti State governorship election in July, 2018 vote buying was done in the full glare of security operatives who were supposed to arrest the ‘merchants’. It took a worse and dangerous dimension during the Kogi State by-election in Kogi/Lokoja Federal Constituency earlier this month. There, vote buying was accompanied by violence and deaths. In the Bauchi Senatorial District by-election a fortnight ago, it took a shameful turn as the recorded incidents there were described as being “higher than what we saw in Ekiti State,” according to Chief Sam Eke, the leader of the Green Party of Nigeria (GPN). Even in Katsina State, the home state of President Muhammadu Buhari, vote buying defaced APC’s victory in the August 11 by-election into Katsina North Senatorial District seat in the National Assembly. It was alleged that the APC distributed N200,000 to voters in each of the 1,825 polling units.
Vote buying is not a new ugly feature in the country’s elections, hence the Electoral Act (2010), as amended, has a section that elaborately covers all the ramifications of bribery that could take place during elections, among them vote buying. Section 124 with the sub-heading ‘Bribery and Conspiracy,’ in its sub-sections (1) and (2), forbids giving and receiving of “any gift, loan, offer, promise, procurement or agreement to corruptly procure, or engages or promises to endeavour to procure, the return of any person as a member of a legislative house or to an elective office or the vote of any voter at any election.” Sub-Section 4 says, “Any person who commits the offence of bribery is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N500,000 or imprisonment for 12 months or both.” This penalty in the Act has never been enforced.
The fusion of bribery and conspiracy into the electoral process is explained away on account of acute poverty in the country; an excuse that is also peddled in defence of security operatives who sell their souls to politicians and aid the successful execution of acts that violate the tenets of democracy. Vote buying is condemnable. Voters who sell their birthright for a plate of amala are condemnable. Security operatives who sell their power and authority to criminal politicians for a little benefit are condemnable. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which would not enforce its own law is condemnable. So also are political leaders who theorise on the need for the country to keep to the principles of democracy but do an about-turn and act contrary to what they profess.
Local and international observers appreciated the integrity of the 2015 general elections, not only because of the use of card readers, but also because the leadership of the electoral umpire exhibited the courage to resist manipulations. Nigerians expect a better, much more credible election in 2019, especially considering the anti-corruption posture of the current administration. We, therefore, call on INEC, The Presidency, the ruling APC, opposition parties, civil society organisations, traditional and religious leaders and security agencies to resist the evil of vote buying, as it could lead to a disappointing setback for the country’s democracy.