Ezekiel Nya-Etok, the governorship candidate of the Young Democratic Party (YDP), and Iboro Otu of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP) both in Akwa Ibom State, have raised alarm over reported vote buying strategy witnessed in the just-concluded general elections in Akwa Ibom state.
Jointly addressing a world press conference in Uyo, the state capital, the duo identified vote buying as a major setback in Nigeria’s quest to deepen democracy.
Giving a critical evaluation of the recent elections, Nya-Etok described vote buying as a fundamental aberration of the elections, alleging that “unscrupulous politicians and their cronies compromised the sanctity of the ballot through the practice of money politics.’’
He called for the declaration of a state of emergency on political electioneering in Nigeria and the overhaul of democratic institutions and processes to improve legal framework of electoral laws to be in conformity with international best standards and practices.
The statement issued to journalists at the end of the conference reads in part: “It is evident from reports from our agents, supporters, our party members and even members of other parties that the just concluded gubernatorial election (in Akwa Ibom State) was far from free and fair. From the data collated so far, it is evident to us that widespread vote-buying and voter intimidation occurred across 75% of our polling units.
“The two major political parties employed several schemes to extort votes from helpless electorates either by offering instant financial rewards for votes at the polling units or by taking voters to undisclosed locations to pay for their votes and voter’s cards; the price ranging from N1,000 to N10, 000, depending on ward and local government.
“These political parties permeated not only the electorates but also some electoral staff to play ball and look the other way while these despicable actions took place. Some of the parties paid in dollars while others paid in Naira. It is widely known that the PDP, for example, paid N1.1 million in every polling unit. We have videos and photographic evidence to this effect and hundreds of individuals to testify and corroborate this.
“At instances where some electorates elected to vote their candidates other than APC and PDP candidates, these electorates were threatened and stopped from voting while others who had it worse were beaten and threatened not to return. It got so bad that even some of our agents were barred from carrying out their lawful functions as PDP and APC agents and touts overran the polling units.
“Architect Nya-Etok’s case at his unit was even more palpable, as his polling unit, overran with PDP vote buying cash, had villagers approaching him to make a counter offer to them so they could vote for him. Of course, he declined but stood behind to watch the game until the very end. Mr. Iboro Otu’s story from his unit isn’t any different. Thousands of similar stories unfolded across different units.
“Together we have devised numerous strategies to make this a national fight, such that even international spotlight will be shone on this. We believe if vote-buying continues into the next cycle of elections, it would have institutionalized itself and opened doors for illicit money to make its way into our democratic process, thus causing almost irreversible damage, especially when vast numbers of people with questionable character would have purchased their way into power or paid for another.
“The immediate effect would be multi-pronged; mismanagement of our collective commonwealth, alienation of the common man from government or his ascension to any political office, corruption of collective societal conscience, destroying the fabric of culture and society, and destruction of moral values. These basically means death to society as we know it.
“We believe this foresight led the international community to term vote-buying, which is well couched under political repression, a crime against humanity. As such, we have all options on the table. We seek to make timely impact with the Nigerian legal system, while also approaching the International Criminal Court for further support for our fight against this cancer.
“Mr. Iboro Otu has indicated interest in challenging the outcome of the gubernatorial elections at the Election Tribunals. He believes the unfair advantage brought about by the vote buying.
“Actions of the two major political parties across all the local governments in the state, made it impossible for himself or other candidates to compete fairly, and as a result, he is asking for the cancellation of the elections. He is also approaching the International Criminal Court to highlight the effects of the vote-buying and voter-intimidation epidemic in our electoral process, with the hope that this will bring about penalties that will punish individuals, organizations and parties who engage in such.”