Vote Merchandising: Destroying Democracy

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INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

I was offered N5,000 to vote for the party but I rejected it. I am a 73 years old retired teacher. I cannot allow the future of my children to be bought by moneybags. I don’t know how we descended to this level when people brazenly offer money to people to secure their votes. It was not like this in the past. Will our votes count with this problem?”
Inducement of the electorate by the political class in Nigeria is by no means a novel phenomenon in the country. It is a wide spread practice, and has almost become the norm, for politicians to distribute food stuff, clothing materials, household utensils and other items of everyday use to would -be voters during political campaigns in anticipation of securing their endorsement on polls day through their thumb prints on the ballot paper.
In some other cases this subtle the inducement by political office seekers comes in the form of payment of examination fees, bursary allowances, instituting of scholarship schemes and distribution of customized educational materials to pupils and students among others including half-hearted acts of philanthropic gestures. And yes, monies also change hands under various guises, names and purposes but the motive is almost understood by all parties involved that all political favours are always expected to be paid back in kind on election day. These usually happen in months, weeks and days running up to polling days, and even when some of these things take place on election days, they were done in total confidentiality.
However, on July 14, 2018 during the gubernatorial election in Ekiti, the political class in that state descended to new depths in desperation and threw decency and caution to the wind as they were reported to have set up shops where votes were traded for cash to the embarrassment of the watching world.
One report said a newspaper correspondent “who visited polling units in the Fajuyi Area of Ado-Ekiti, observed a large turnout of voters with glaring cases of vote-buying which voters called “see and buy”. It was observed that the vote buyers demanded evidence of PVC and assurance that the seller would vote for their party before offering the money”.
The report went further to say that “a source confirmed that a woman sitting by the new Fajuyi Bridge with three bags paid voters on behalf of one of the major political parties”.
Of course, even before the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the result and declared the candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Dr Kayode Fayemi as the winner of the election, the media had been awash with unsavoury stories, images and episodes of the unfortunate development. Reactions, as expected, have also, since then, continued to pour in torrents.
One of such early reactions came from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) through its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan who accused the APC of stealing the mandate of the people of Ekiti State.
Writing on his tweeter handle on the morning following the election day, Mr. Ologbondiyan said “The APC won a presidential election in 2015 on the goodwill of Nigerians. Three years after, it depends on guns, billions of naira, snatching of ballot boxes, altering of figures and other acts of electoral corruption to win a state”.
In his own reaction, a candidate in the said election on the platform of the Accord Party, Mr. Abiodun Aluko alleged that Dr. Fayemi won the poll because his party the APC, was able to buy the highest number of votes.
“The APC as the highest bidder was able to take the highest number of votes that was exactly what happened”, Mr. Aluko, who was also a former Deputy Governor of Ekiti State, said.
Also, a coalition of observer groups and civil society organizations that observed and monitored the election, in a press statement, condemned the declaration of Dr. Fayemi as the winner, saying it was regrettable that INEC as well as the security agencies were used to subvert the will of the people of Ekiti.
The statement which was signed by contacts persons of the group, Comrade Haruna Farouk and Nze Adachi Okoro said, among others: “We have evidences of election malpractices, where a particular party in connivance with security personnel went about inducing electorates with cash and coercing them to snap the ballot papers in order to receive cash gifts from the agents of the party in question”.
Exchanging views on the matter with The Tide in Port Harcourt, a journalist and public affairs analyst, Mr. Obidinma Obidinma, described the incidence of vote for money as a dangerous development that will not help the quest for political advancement and democratic stability in Nigeria.
Mr. Obidinma said apart from setting our democratic development backwards, the practice was capable of igniting violence while also representing a form of corruption that must not be allowed to take root in our body polity because of its capability to destroy the very foundation of a civilized and free society.
If left unchecked, he said, it could embolden the political class to impoverish the people more and generate bad blood among the electorate, adding that but for the heavy presence of security agencies, a crisis that may have been difficult to contain would have erupted in Ekiti.
“And why are we seeing this kind of thing in an administration that says they abhor corruption and that they are fighting corruption?,” he queried and cautioned that “once the electoral process is corrupted, whatever is the life, the fabric of our political foundation will be destroyed”.
According to him, nip it in the bud, the Electoral Act needs to be amended by the National Assembly to “make this aspect of inducement as an electoral offence,” with video evidence made admissible before the “court or a tribunal as an infraction against the electoral process”.
“To be very honest, when I first heard cash for vote development in Ekiti, I felt very disappointed. I felt our democracy under threat and I felt that instead of moving forward, we are taking many steps backward”, said the President, Niger Delta Coalition Against Violence, Comrade Christian Lekia.
Comrade Lekia told The Tide in Port Harcourt that “nothing threatens the survival of democracy much more than this. When people can no longer vote based on their conscience and convictions; when poverty become a condition that will determine the direction of loyalty, that means it is deliberately inflicted.
“And talking about corruption, it only encourages people to go look for money at any cost. There’s no better way of encouraging corruption within political circles than allowing this to stand. It is really appalling, so disappointing and nothing anybody should encourage. It defeats the essence of that whole process”.
The rights activist and peace advocate called on the management of INEC to cancel the blighted July 14, Ekiti governorship election and reschedule the contest to prove its capacity to deliver on its mandate or give way for some others to do the job of midwifing acceptable polls in Nigeria.
“If it were possible, I would have called on INEC to reschedule and re-conduct that election. And where they’re unable, let me call on the managers of that institution (INEC) to resign and allow those who will be prepared to conduct a free, credible poll to take over the management of that election body. I don’t think it portends anything good for anybody. It potends evil and this, I’ll really frightened that we’re yet to get anywhere close to enjoying true evidence of the democracy.
“When people buy their way through, they will defintely want to do anything that will make them strong enough to buy their way through next time without really thinking about the people”, he said.
On what implications the Ekiti experience could hold for the forthcoming 2019 general elections, Comrade Lekia said even though he trusts Nigerians to be too enlightened to allow a replay moving forward, “the process must be seen as transparent. The umpire must earn the confidence of Nigerians in the process and it must be unbiased. They must do everything to make Nigerians believe in their ability to deliver on the conduct of the coming polls.”
He emphasized that “allowing naira power to determine the direction of victory defeats the essence of the contest”, in Ekiti and challenged the National Assembly to wade into the issue with a viewing to enacting legislation that will halt the development.
“They have a whole lot to do and the government must realize that the only way we can think of having in place a democratic culture that will be sustainable is by allowing the people to truly decide”, he reiterated.
Sharing his thoughts on the matter as well, the British envoy in Nigeria, Paul Arkwright tweeted “Ekiti Decides 2018 may appear to have ended with the announcement of the results, but the lessons of the election, with alleged monetary inducements, will not be forgotten easily”.

 

Opaka Dokubo