by Jide Ojo
One of the most worrying developments in Nigeria today is the ugly phenomenon of cash-for-votes by political parties and candidates. Desperate politicians are not leaving any stone unturned in order to ensure their victory at the coming 2019 general elections. The chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has raised the alarm on this ignominious behaviour twice in the last two weeks. The first was on Monday, January 7, 2019 while meeting with the 91 political party chairmen and the second time was on Monday, July 21, 2019 while receiving a delegation of the European Union Election Observation Team.
Here is an excerpt of what the INEC chairman said to the party chairmen on January 7: “A new method of vote-buying is being devised. We have received credible information that some partisan actors are now going round buying up the PVCs from voters or financially inducing them to collect the Voter Identification Numbers on their PVCs. In some instances, telephone numbers and details of bank accounts of voters have been collected. By collecting the PVCs, their intention may be to deprive the voters of voting since no one can vote without the PVC. By collecting their phone numbers and bank details, the intention is to induce voters by electronic transfer of funds to their accounts since it will be difficult to buy votes at polling units.”
Yakubu stressed further, “By collecting the VINs, they may be acting on the mistaken notion that our system can be hacked into and the card readers somehow preloaded ahead of election and compromised. We want to assure Nigerians that we are aware of the new tricks. It is a futile effort; we will work with security agencies to deal with the violators of our electoral laws, including those who may be trying to compromise our staff responsible for making the PVCs available for collection by the legitimate voters.”
This Monday, the INEC chairman explained that political actors planned to use food vendors “around polling units with large voter populations as collection points for cash-for-votes as well as other forms of material inducement to voters on Election Day’’.
It is important to note that vote-trading, where the voter agrees to vote for a candidate as a result of financial or in-kind inducement by the agents of the political parties or the candidates themselves, is not a latter-day phenomenon. It has been with us from time immemorial. It is also not peculiar to Nigeria or Africa but is a global phenomenon. It is just that the manifestations or techniques employed by the culprits are different. It is also noteworthy that cash-for-vote is not limited to the Election Day. It happens throughout the electoral cycle viz. pre-election, Election Day and post-election. For instance, in the August 18 – October 7, 2018 party primaries, there were several allegations that some of the aspirants induced delegates and the leadership of their political parties in order to emerge victorious. During the ongoing campaigns that started on November 18, 2018, there have also been a lot of voter inducements at political rallies. Branded clothing materials, food items, souvenirs and cash are blatantly being shared at many of the campaign rallies.
I have participated in several voter education programmes aimed at dissuading voters from receiving inducements before or after they vote. I have conducted training and engaged in media advocacy on this issue. Just last Monday and Tuesday alone, I have been involved in radio discussions on the ugly phenomenon where I educated the electorate both in Pidgin English and Yoruba languages. Though the notion is that vote-trading takes place between politicians and voters, that description is elementary. Vote-trading tangentially includes the security agents, media, Civil Society Organisations and indeed the poll workers. There are empirical evidence to show that these critical stakeholders also do get induced by political actors in order to gain undue advantage during elections. A former Deputy Senate President had openly admitted to this while over 200 INEC staff were allegedly induced through the slush funds provided by a former petroleum resources minister in the lead-up to the 2015 general elections.
I do maintain that vote-trading or cash-for-vote is a criminal offence as stipulated in Sections 124 and 130 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended. In Section 124, it is termed “Bribery and Conspiracy”. It is striking that it is not only cash that is forbidden. Also prohibited in exchange for vote, according to Section 124 (2), are gift, loan, or valuable consideration, office, place or employment. Punishment for breach is N500,000 or 12 months imprisonment or both. Section 130 of the Act labels it “Undue Influence” with a penalty of N100, 000 or 12 months imprisonment or both.
Beyond legalese, those who indulge in vote-trading should know that there is an opportunity cost to what they are doing. The buyers, I mean the political gladiators and actors, who engage in this ignoble act should know that by their actions, they are discrediting our elections. Turning our elections into bazaar diminishes the credibility of the elections and over-monitises our electoral process. More importantly, the voters need to be informed that the token being given to them in exchange for their votes is the opportunity cost of the social infrastructure they are perpetually denied by our political leaders. Truth be told, there is no “free” goods and services offered by politicians in a bid to woo voters that they will not recoup with interest when they get voted into power. Thus, while in the rat race to recover their election expenses, developmental projects are perpetually kept in view. It is thus in our enlightened best interest as critical stakeholders in Nigeria’s democratic project to shun any form of inducements. Rather, we should unanimously demand fulfilment of the noble campaign promises.
On the part of INEC, it is gratifying that the commission is doing its best to tackle this negative political phenomenon. For instance, apart from tracking campaign finance of political parties and candidates in the lead-up to the forthcoming elections, INEC has come up with modification of the administration of polling units to make it difficult for voters to expose their marked ballot papers on the day of election. The commission has also introduced a partial ban on the use of mobile phones and other electronic devices by voters while in the voting cubicles and the rolling and flattening of ballot papers by voters on the day of election. Strict enforcement of the legal provisions against vote-trading should also be applied. Security agents should track and arrest politicians involved in vote-buying through “sting operation”. Anyone apprehended should be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted in order to serve as a deterrent to others.
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