Connect with us


Ekiti State Vote-buying saga a national disgrace



THE Ekiti governorship election has come and gone, but the putrid odour of blatant vote-buying that characterised it lingers. Among other malpractices that permeate Nigeria’s discredited elections and its democratic experiment, vote-buying has long featured; but the polling on June 18 broke all previous records in bribes-for-votes. This emerging trend is another fatal blow to the building blocks of democracy in the country. All efforts should be deployed to stop it.

Indeed, vote bribery across the 16 local government areas of Ekiti on polling day was a national disgrace. Vote-buying, once undertaken furtively beyond prying eyes, was conducted openly. All the major parties were involved. Polling stations became open, bustling markets where political party agents openly purchased votes. In most units, the highest bidder won. The buyers and sellers in many instances did not bother to be discreet; voters collected the meagre sums paid for their consciences and announced without shame to the watchful party agents that they had fulfilled their part of the bargain by duly voting for the paying candidate.

Officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission, the police, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, other security and paramilitary personnel deployed for the polls reportedly partook in the bribery spree. Election observers — those who did not join in the naira rain — marvelled at the impunity of the parties and the shamelessness of voters. The Inter-Party Advisory Council rightly described it as “daylight robbery and a slap on democracy.”

The implications for Nigeria’s wobbly democracy are grave. The freedom to choose leaders and representatives through periodic elections that are free, fair, and devoid of coercion or inducement is a major plank of democracy. “In a democracy, votes are the ultimate currency of power,” declares the United States-based Election Law Journal. Selling votes, therefore, is a surrender of that ultimate power to choose an individual or group. In a country where 23 years of civil rule has brought ruin and poverty, those selling their votes for trifling lucre become accomplices in their own pauperization. It is tragic.

The signs of what was to come were unmistakable. At the various party primaries held to choose candidates for state and national public offices, delegates were openly solicited and bought. US dollars and naira cascaded; delegates became instant millionaires. As polling opened in Ekiti, agents of the NSCDC reportedly stormed a polling unit in Ilupeju on the Ikere-Ado Expressway, Ikere LGA, and carted away huge sums of money seized from some politicians preparing to share same to voters.

The candidate of the African Democratic Congress, Wole Oluyede, was downcast; He said he regretted leaving his job to contest as the entire process was marred with dishonesty and “highest-bidder mentality.” Oluyede, who came fourth with 5,597 votes, said, “People called me asking for the money with which I will buy votes. I said, no, I’m not buying any vote, I worked hard for my money.”

Similarly, the candidate of the Action Democratic Party, Kemi Elebute-Halle, alleged that one party gave voters N10,000 each; another gave N5,000; while a third gave N3,000. A restaurant worker in Ado-Ekiti claimed that she made N12,000 at her polling station after she changed her choice of candidate when given N10,000 to vote for another party.

The sordid episode adds to the country’s wretched global reputation. Although a few arrests were made by the police and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission officers, Nigerians await the prosecution of the suspects. The perpetrators should not be allowed to go scot-free. Failure to impose punishment on electoral offenders in the past has entrenched a system of electoral abuse and impunity.

The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), should order the police to arrest and prosecute those who corrupted the electoral system on electoral malpractices and money laundering charges. The police, EFCC and other law enforcement agencies should go after and try those ferrying huge sums of money around on Election Day in violation of extant anti-money laundering laws. Where were the 17,374 police officers that the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, said he deployed for the election?

INEC personnel share in the blame by violating the requirement of secret voting. Secrecy of voting is critical for free and fair elections. Only the voter is entitled to know whom he voted for. But during the Ekiti election, INEC officials placed the ballot box and made the thumb-printing visible to party agents, thereby allowing them to ensure that those collecting their bribes voted for their candidates. This is patently wrong. YIAGA Africa, a civil society group, confirmed that party agents clustered around the voting cubicle viewing how voters marked their ballot papers.

“Secrecy of the ballot was compromised as people could see how voters marked the ballots in Igede Ward II 13-13-06-014 in Irepodun/Ifelodun LGA,” said the group’s Executive Director, Samson Itodo.

INEC should do better. Some polling stations were sited under trees; others were allegedly in the private compounds of known politicians. INEC should henceforth ensure that polling units are devoid of any external influence in any form.

The security agencies should clean up. Heads of agencies should investigate, identify, and punish its officers that compromised in Ekiti. Personnel deployed should henceforth be professional and ensure that no one is induced, threatened, or lured to vote against their conscience. Distribution of money or promises of same at polling areas should be prevented and punished when they occur.

INEC deserves some credit for conducting a largely peaceful and conclusive election. Thankfully, its deployed technology worked better this time. The Bi-modal Verification Accreditation System worked with 90 per cent efficiency, according to multiple reports. This is an incremental improvement; the commission should keep it up, perfect its IT tools and tighten all the loose ends. Working with the security agencies, it should come up with strategies to avoid a repeat of the Ekiti ‘naira rain’ in this month’s Osun State governorship poll.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *