The off-season governorship election held last weekend in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi states revealed that politicians have perfected illegal acts of voters’ inducement to sabotage the will of the people.
Gone were the days when voters could collect money and still go ahead to vote their conscience, party agents see the thumb printed papers before “paying” for the vote in what is now known as “see and buy”, even to exchange votes for food stuff and drinks, party agents had their ways of ascertaining that candidates were voted for.
Despite efforts by both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to curtail the act by deploying their men officers to monitor the election, elections rigger “coded” their operation to escape Eagles eyes of the security officers.
In a statement after Saturday’s vote, the EFCC revealed that its operatives arrested 14 suspected vote buyers in Otueke, Adawari playgrounds in Bayelsa State and at various polling units in Imo and Kogi states.
The anti-graft agency, which disclosed this through its spokesperson, Dele Oyewale, said the suspects were arrested after what he described as “intelligence-driven operations that commenced several days before the governorship elections in the three states.”
Oyewale also said a total sum of N11,040, 000 comprising N9,310,000 was intercepted from suspected vote buyers and sellers in Bayelsa and N1,730, 000 intercepted from electoral fraud suspects across Imo State, was also recovered from them. According to him, they will be charged to court as soon as investigations are concluded.
Similarly, ICPC said it apprehended an official of INEC in Imo State in possession of a substantial amount of money. The INEC staff, whose name was not disclosed, was apprehended at Polling Unit 005, Township Primary School, Ikenegbu 1, in the Owerri Municipal local council.
Reports by different observer groups also indicated substantial cases of vote buying during the governorship elections. The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, which deployed 220 observers across 56 local government areas in the three states, said it observed widespread vote buying across the states.
The organisation revealed that some of the specific instances include sale of votes for amounts ranging from as low as N1,000 to N30,000 at various locations. In Bayelsa State, for instance, voters were seen showing their thumb-printed ballot papers in exchange for rice, drinks and money in PU 015, RA11, Southern Ijaw local council.
Also, the Centre for Democracy and Development Election Analysis Centre (CDD-EAC) alluded to a similar scenario. The organisation reported the issue of vote trading in Bayelsa Central with reports of voter inducements ranging from N5,000 to N22,000, including other items such as wrappers.
CDD said: “In PU 30 and 31, Ward 13, along with money, rice was also shared to induce voters. We are concerned that there were allusions that it might be linked to the delayed flood and subsidy palliatives that state governments only started distributing two days ago.”
The situation was not different in Kogi. There were reports of vote buying in PUs 004, 038 and 039 in Ward A of Lokoja local council where party agents allegedly shared out money to voters upon confirmation that they voted for their party candidates.
CDD further said that the two major parties’ agents were reported to have engaged in vote buying, with N2000 to N3000 shared and same at PU3 Mbutu Ward, Aboh Mbaise local council, as well as PU11, Civic Centre Ward, Mbaitoli local council.
It added that in PU 7, Central School UmuNakanu Ehime local council, in Imo, there were reports that INEC ad hoc staff was given monetary inducements by party officials.
Also incidents of vote buying were concentrated in Mbaitoli-Ezinihitte, Owerri West and Njaba local councils with the highest number of collected PVCs amongst the local councils in the state with 150,012 and 134,192 cards.
The Guardian also observed similar incidences in polling units visited in Owerri Municipal, Imo State. Most times, the perpetrators of this act stop when they see observers and journalists approaching the polling units. In Polling Unit 008, Umezirike, Owerri Municipal, The Guardian observed that voters were paid a certain amount at a location close to the polling unit before going to cast their votes. In PU 006, Aice Pavillion Street, GRA, Owerri Municipal, party agents were also seen indulging in such acts. One of the party agents, after noticing that journalists had caught them in the act, became violent.
Though election observers are of the opinion that such a corrupt act, which has continued to affect the credibility of Nigeria elections was not as prominent during Saturday’s polls compared to previous elections, they noted that it would undermine the credibility of the election.
At the last general elections held on Saturday, March 18, 2023 across the 28 states where Governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections were conducted, while the EFCC arrested 65 suspects for alleged voter inducement, ICPC said it arrested four vote-buyers in Sokoto and Katsina states.
But for whatever reason(s), many of these offenders have always gone unpunished. While some pundits have blamed the nation’s weak justice system for poor prosecution of electoral offenders, especially vote traders, there are arguments that only the establishment of an Electoral Offences Commission will help the nation to make headway. This is because there are laws on the ground to successfully prosecute such offenders. Keen election observers are, however, of the opinion that there is a need for stiffer punishments to deter future violators.
Notably among the laws against vote buying in Nigeria are sections 121 and 127 of the Electoral Act (2022). Section 121 calls it bribery and conspiracy and it states among other things as follows: 121-(1) Any person who does any of the following – (a) directly or indirectly, by his or herself or by any other person on his or her behalf, corruptly makes any gift, loan, offer, promise, procurement or agreement to or for any person, in order to induce such person to procure or to endeavour to procure the return of any person as a member of a legislative house or to an elective office or the vote of any voter at any election.
Subsection (4) says “Any person who commits the offence of bribery is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N500,000 or imprisonment for a term of 12 months or both.”
Section 127 says, “A person who – (a) corruptly by his or herself or by any other person at any time after the date of an election has been announced, directly or indirectly gives or provides or pays money to or for any person for the purpose of corruptly influencing that person or any other person to vote or refrain from voting at such election, or on account of such person or any other person having voted or refrained from voting at such election; or (b) being a voter, corruptly accepts or takes money or any other inducement during any of the period stated in paragraph (a), commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N100,000 or imprisonment for a term of 12 months or both.”
It is noteworthy that both the giver and the receiver are both criminally liable. When asked on the modalities in place to ensure that the arrested suspects are prosecuted, EFCC spokesperson, Dele Oyewale told The Guardian that the commission had only made the arrest, adding that “when we get to the bridge we will cross it.”
“It is the investigation that will determine the law we will use to prosecute them. It is too early to determine that”, he added. Speaking in an interview with The Guardian, Chairman, Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) Auwal Rafsajani, lamented why some Nigerians would stoop so low to sell their votes for food and drinks.
While blaming politicians for using poverty as a tool to continue their dominance through vote buying, he described the arrests made by anti-graft agencies as a joke, saying that there had been little or no cases of serious prosecution of offenders in the past.
Rafsanjani said: “This time around, vote buying is done in an undignified way because, in some places, vote buying is on the basis of just-food. That is to tell you how hunger and poverty have eaten the psyche of Nigerians. They are trading their votes just for food. This is what the politicians have done to Nigerians. They have killed the dignity of Nigerians using poverty.
“This is the repercussion of electoral corruption and bad governance in Nigeria. The entire corrupt act occurred in the three states. I am giving you an example of how bad the electoral process in Nigeria is. Who have you seen that they prosecuted among those who had been arrested in the past? Ask them that.
“For you to successfully prosecute electoral offenders at the state, the State Attorney General must be the one to prosecute them and if the ruling party in that state is the one that perpetrated those rigging, do you think the Attorney General will initiate any prosecution? This is a joke.
According to him, “there is a way out but Nigeria had not decided to do the right thing, adding that, “we will continue to be at the level of lamentation.”
On his part, the Labour Party (LP) candidate in the governorship election in Bayelsa State, Udengs Eradiri, lamented over what he described as massive vote-buying that took place at the polling units across the state.
He said: “I’m disappointed not in the electoral process alone but on the people themselves because I thought that the people understand now. The people have seen the poverty and neglect on them in terms of leadership so I thought they would play along but I feel very sad because probably I thought that would have defined the voting pattern but I was fooled.”