The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has called on various stakeholders for support and cooperation as it tackles the rising phenomenon of vote buying and selling which poses a threat to the electoral process.
Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, made the call on 14thSeptember, at the WatchingTheVote Election Series II, put together by the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA) in Abuja under the theme: Ending the Scourge of Vote Buying and Selling in Nigerian Elections.
Prof. Yakubu noted that the challenge of vote buying was not just worrisome to the Commission but also the entire country. He described it as a cancer, menace and a shame to the electoral process.
But he expressed optimism about the Commission’s ability to respond appropriately. “We will overcome vote buying,” he affirmed, “just as we have risen to previous challenges to our electoral processes”.
He however observed that the hydra headed problem requires the involvement of all stakeholders including INEC, security agencies, political parties, civil society organizations, the media and citizens.
His words: “We all have to come together to address this challenge. The truth is that buyers and sellers know that they are committing illegality but nobody comes out to say I am a vote buyer or I am a vote seller”.
“Some of the infractions take place at the polling units. Some of them take place outside the polling unit on Election Day. Some even take place before elections through electronic cash transfer”.
He outlined some of the steps the Commission had already embarked upon to address the challenge.
He said: “For the infractions that happen at the polling units, we are looking at the administration of our polling units such that it will be either impossible or difficult for voters to expose their ballot papers to agents of the vote buyers (for settlement thereafter). We are going to use the Osun governorship election in the next eight days to make a statement on vote buying.
“The second measure is to try to ban the use of some devices (in polling cubicles) that aid vote buying on Election Day, such as the mobile phones.”
Besides, he explained that the Commission will also use voter education and citizen sensitization strategies specifically targeted at discouraging vote buying and selling in elections as a third measure.
Prof. Yakubu urged the security agencies to apprehend vote buyers and sellers and cooperate with the Commission to prosecute them. He noted that even though the law empowered INEC to prosecute vote buyers, the Commission lacked the capacity to arrest and investigate offenders.
He also assured that the Commission would continue to work with anti corruption agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Offenses Commission (ICPC) to track and prosecute offenders who explore the electronic cash transfer strategy to undermine the electoral process.
The INEC Chairman agreed with other speakers at the event, who attributed the emergence of vote buying to the improvement in the electoral process.
He said, “elections are no doubt getting better and there are reasons. Today, we have less of ballot paper snatching and ballot hijacking. We hear less of hijacking of INEC officials and materials. We now know the exact location of our Polling Units and their coordinates and the voter register is no longer a secret”.
“No longer are results of elections declared while some people are still on the queue to vote. The Commission is now more transparent than before. The introduction of technology has also greatly improved the process and no longer do people thumbprint ballots without getting accredited”.
Prof. Yakubu assured the people of Osun and other Nigerians that only the people’s votes would continue to determine the outcome of elections in the country.
The newly inaugurated Chairman of the Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Chief Peter Ameh, in his remarks, expressed optimism at the capability of INEC to tackle the menace of vote buying.
He said: “We have an intellectually driven INEC and I know that INEC is going to look at ways by which this issue of vote buying would be dealt with. Our elections are now credible and getting better, and that is why people now pay for votes, because if our elections are not getting better, nobody will bring out money to try to influence the wishes of Nigerians to select”.
The IPAC Chairman called on Nigerians and political parties to support INEC. “Citizens must wake up to their social responsibility,” he said.
On his part, Mr. Ezenwa Nwagwu, one of the Board members of YIAGA, said “vote buying has always been with us, but it has gained some ascendancy in conversations now because our elections are getting better.”
According to him, “politicians buy votes because the citizens are now the ones who decide the votes, unlike in the past when materials were taken to the houses of politicians and thumb printed. Now they are bringing the monies to the voting areas and it is important that we deepen on citizens’ engagement on this issue”.
The Executive Director of YIAGA, Mr. Samson Itodo unveiled the YIAGA Report on vote buying in the recent Ekiti governorship election tagged: “Duly Elected or Duly Purchased” at the event.