About 48 hours to the gubernatorial election in Osun, there are indications that the process may be fraught with vote buying.
Vote buying is a practice of inducing voters to make them vote for a particular candidate during an election.
Many experts and election observers believe Saturday’s polls will be no different despite assurances by the electoral body, INEC, that it will tighten the noose on such irregularities.
The election is expected by many to be a close contest between five leading candidates, though there are 48 candidates in the election, including four women.
Due to the progressive upscale of vote buying in the four previous successive governorship elections in Nigeria over the last two years, voter inducement became a hot-button issue ahead of the Osun polls and the 2019 general elections. This was particularly so after vote buying was significantly reported in the July 14 governorship election in Ekiti State.
The two major parties in the election, APC and PDP, were culpable with videos showing how money was given to the electorate to influence their votes.
Ahead of Saturday polls, INEC says it has mapped stringent measures to check the irregularity.
On Monday, the commission banned the use of phones, cameras or ”any device that can snap image inside polling booths.”
It earlier threatened to publish names and prosecute those caught either buying or selling votes.
But vote buying and several other forms of voter inducement is still a burning issue among election observers. They say it has already commenced ahead of Saturday polls.
An election monitoring group, the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA Africa) through its Watching The Vote (WTV) project, which concluded its pre-election observations, declared that voter inducement remained prevalent in Osun in the pre-election activities.
“…importantly, even in the All Progressives Congress (APC) primaries in Osun, there were reports of payment of N2000 to delegates to vote. Already, we are receiving information on ongoing vote buying ahead of the elections,” the Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, told this newspaper on Sunday.
Both the ruling APC and the opposition PDP have been trading blames over who started the trend of vote buying.
Though vote buying, according to Suleimon Arigbabu, South-west coordinator, Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), has been on an upward trend since 2016, “this is not to suggest that it is a new phenomenon. It has been with us and (has) been part of the ills plaguing our electoral system for a long time”.
Elections in Nigeria since 1999 have always been characterised by irregularities such as violence, rigging, ballot box snatching, thuggery, forgery, thumb
printing, manipulation of voter registers with voter inducement which is more prevalent in the recent past.
To curb such irregularities in the electoral process, the card reader was introduced and first used in the general election, held on March 28, 2015.
This to some extent reduced the problem of rigging, ballot box snatching and thumb printing during elections. But vote buying remained a burning issue.
“Going by recent observations since 2016 however, there is a spike in its (vote buying) occurrence and brazenness and this is very likely to be the same for Osun State 2018,” Mr Arigbabu noted.
Pointer For Saturday?
Cases of voter inducement were widely reported in four successive governorship elections conducted in Nigeria since 2016: in Edo, Ondo, Anambra and Ekiti States. The trend is on the rise and this might be an indication that Saturday election in Osun may be influenced by vote buyers.
Ms Hassan gave a breakdown of how vote buying has successively progressed over the last two years.
“Vote buying is not new. In fact the lexicon stomach infrastructure was added to the Nigerian lexicon just cause of it. However, the deterioration to this unimaginable level of vote buying commenced with the Edo governorship election in 2016. Since then things have progressively worsened.
“In Ondo governorship elections, it was called ‘vote and cook soup’. Here parties paid N3,000, N2000 and N5000 and the highest payer carried the election.
“This was followed by the Anambra elections, where “see and buy” was introduced. In that election, people even refused to vote until they were paid, it is a gallore of vote buying and selling, a demand and supply market where parties tried to outdo the other.
“This reached its height in the Ekiti elections, which is the worst so far. The important thing to note is there is a progressive deterioration and there is a lot to glean from this. One is poverty, unemployment, and in particular incumbents’ refusal to pay salaries have pushed Nigerians to the brink of selling their votes.”
Antics To Watch Out For On Election Day
Realising the challenge of defection by voters on election day, some political parties have devised several tricks and antics to ensure value for money over the years.
They come in different acronyms such as “buy and see” or “see and buy”, or “snap and send” among others.
Party agents are hired and placed at strategic locations very close to the ballot boxes to see which party a voter has voted before payment. The agent would give a signal to another party agent to pay at the back, and if the voter fails to vote for the party, there is also a signal to indicate this. This strategy was widely noted by many observers especially in the Ekiti elections.
“…citizens who are able to show PVCs were equally paid N4000 at their ward level in a very ‘coded’ manner. On election day however, we witnessed the ‘buy and see’ phenomenon where voters deliberately displayed their ballot paper as proof of voting for in a certain way, upon which they get a payment of N5000 from an agent nearby,” Mr Arigbabu of TMG said.
Laws, Penalties To Dissuade Offenders
Vote buying has become a part of Nigerian elections despite the fact that the 2011 Electoral Act as amended had provisions for penalties for financial inducement in elections.
The Act, Section 124 subsection (a)states that paying money to any other person for bribery at any election attracts conviction to a maximum fine of N500,000 or 12 months imprisonment or both.
Subsection (b) says that receiving any money or gift, for voting or to ‘refrain’ from voting at any election attracts a maximum fine of N500,000 or imprisonment for 12 months or both.
But as of today, there is no completed investigation into several reports of vote buying nor prosecution and conviction of persons reportedly caught in the act.
Already, a civic group. SERAP has dragged INEC to court over the commission’s failure to prosecute offenders.
This newspaper published videos and interviews of vote buying by officials of the two major parties in the Ekiti election, APC and PDP.
Responding, INEC admitted it has powers to prosecute allegations of vote buying, ”but lacks the powers to arrest and investigate suspects.”
According to the election umpire, ”other agencies must first arrest and investigate suspects before the commission can prosecute.”
The commission however said that it would “partner with other agencies to prosecute electoral offenders”.
We Will Deal With Culprits- INEC
Ahead of Saturday, INEC threatened to publish names of anyone who engages in vote buying. The commission said it will ensure defaulters are prosecuted according to the law.
“We are trying to re-engineer our voting cubicle and ballot box in such a way that it becomes difficult to see who a voter votes for,” the national commissioner of voter education and publicity, Solomon Soyebi in a recent interview on Channels TV.
“We are going to see the redesigned polling booths in Osun State first. Anybody who engages in vote buying will get his name published and this time around we won’t be quiet about it.”
To monitor vote buying and selling, the commission said voters will not be allowed to go inside polling booths with their telephones, cameras and any other devices that can record images on Saturday.
“INEC is considering lots of measures including changing the placement of voting cubicle to prevent ‘see and buy’, use of phones during voting; but importantly, the responsibility of curbing vote buying is ours. We have to sensitise people and in particular hold elected officials to account, instead of allowing them pauperise citizens,” the CDD director noted.
“I believe that INEC will improve the design and setup of the polling centres to make it impossible for anyone to see how a voter votes which is a major aspect of vote buying,” Mr Arigbabu also noted.
“There is so much INEC can do, but it is wrong to saddle INEC with any further responsibility in this regards.
“The security agencies should rise up to the occasion by making arrests and conducting thorough investigations that should aid diligent prosecution in order to secure convictions. This is the best way to deter criminally-minded politicians from embarking on this crime. We must also urge the legislature to pass the law to establish an electoral offences tribunal to see to the prosecution of electoral offenders without saddling INEC with additional responsibilities.