One of the vexed issues that threaten the electoral process and the sanctity of election outcomes in the country is electoral malpractice. Toping them is vote buying because it robs a critical element from any election; the key element of choice.
The touching satisfaction that one feels for having perform ones civic duty at a crucial time in the life cycle of nation building, is unquantifiable. Thus electoral offenses, in whatever guise they presents themselves, can lead to an abort of the electoral process if they are unattended to with time. Not only that. Materials are destroyed, lives are lost and huge finances incurred.
When a voter is coaxed into voting in any election, that action reveals not only the ignorance of that voter at that point in time but goes straight to the heart of corruption that is so much song about in the country but often nibbled at with too much media blitz on the obvious symptom, such as bribery and money laundering.
Indeed, vote buying as it is currently practiced, shows there is more than one party it: the seller and the buyer. In any election, they can mean the voter and the political party with varying degrees of assistants from electoral officials and the security who abet the process. Media reports during and after elections conducted by the National Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, have detailed this evil now glibly called vote buying in public.
A Politician sharing money at a polling unit!
During the recent Saturday, July 14 governorship election in Ekiti State, television footages of houses where vote sellers and buying were streaming in and out with wads of money, were beamed live to homes across the country, if not the globe. This was in full glare of the security and INEC officials. And yet nothing happened. The alert was ignored. No one was nabbed. Exchange of money is only one form of vote buying, but if this form that takes place in public is unchecked how can we ever get to root out the remote one?
Alerted by the huge public outcry that visited this electoral rape and alarmed by its possible repeat in Kogi state where a bye-election was in the offing, Saturday, August 11, the clergy, traditional rulers, professionals and artisans jointly raised the alarm to draw the attention of the authorities to the menace. They used every forum available; the church, the palace and workshop to press their concern.
But there was no real response from the appropriate authorities, particularly the electoral umpire, INEC, to allay their fears.
Indeed, the nearest they got for all their troubles, was a general, anodyne statement from INEC.
At a meeting in early August of its Resident Electoral Commissioners from all the states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, the Commission stated the obvious.
“The Commission reviewed the conduct of the July 14 governorship elections in Ekiti State and preparations for the September 22, Osun governorship elections… the meeting noted with deep concern, the rising phenomenon of vote buying during elections and restated its commitment and determination to continue to work with all stakeholders, especially the security agencies, to stem the ugly trend”, said Mallam Mohammed Haruna, INEC National Electoral Commissioner for North Central geo-political zone, and member, Voter Education Committee.
Obviously, the Commission knows those involved and those to take immediate action against to “stem this ugly tide.” But few hours to the bye-elections in Kogi, Bauchi, it did not seem so sure.
During his press briefing on the preparation for the bye-election into the Lokoja-Koton-Karfe Federal Constituency, on Wednesday, August 8, Professor Apam, INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, said there was nothing the commission could do to prevent persons who have made up their minds to sell their votes.
“How do you prevent someone who took a camera into the voting cubicle to snap the party he or she had voted for and later showed it to the party and get paid?”, he said. He went on to lay the problem to “stem the ugly trend” at the doorstep of political parties.
He said it was the duty of various political parties to increase their enlightenment campaigns and education of voters not to sell their votes. It is not surprising that the electoral menace took place in all the bye-elections and in Kogi, where the public had been primed ahead, voters took the law into their hands and burnt a suspected ballot box snatcher to death.
At this point, we are pains to ask these questions. What is the core task of the Voter Education Committee and Unit of the Commission?. Who are the stakeholders the Commission wishes to work with to reduce or stop vote buying and selling? Are they not mainly the politicians and the political parties? What is the existing relationship between INEC and political parties?.
At any rate, in the third schedule of the Constitution, under F: Independent Electoral Commission, the Commission is empowered under section 15, particularly subsections c, d and f, to “monitor the organization and operation of political parties, including their finances; “arrange for the annual examination and auditing of the funds and accounts of political parties and publish a report on such examination and audit for public information; “monitor political campaigns and provide rules and regulations which shall govern political parties”
Clearly, these provisions do not need legal interpretation to see that INEC has a certain, definite, hold on parties but because it has been less forceful in their implementation, the parties have been observing them in the breach, especially in the area of financial auditing and publication of accounts. Money is the oxygen that runs the Nigerian system and it can go haywire if unchecked legally or morally.
In fact, no revelation on this matter could be more dramatic than the recent disclosure by INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, before the National Assembly Committee over the request for more money, that the Commission needs N6billion to feed the police during the 2019 general polls, while it has fixed a mere N25million for prosecution of electoral offenses. There is more. During the recall exercise on Senator Dino Melaye, the Commission spent a whooping N100 million.!
The point in all these is not to indict or criticize the Commission, for truth be told, it has been offering a yeoman service possible within the cramp political space polluted by our often dodgy politicians.
But it must wield the stick where it is empowered by the Constitution and the Electoral Act. It must audit and publish accounts of parties, liaise more with the police to arrest and prosecute electoral offenders, allow its prosecution officers to put to use the knowledge, which many are currently getting from trainings sponsored by the European Center for Electoral Support, ECES, of the European Union Commission, nationwide, and cancel any process tainted from the start like the Resident Electoral Commissioner did recently during the violent ridden bye-election in Rivers State.
The process of an election is as important as the outcome.