The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has given the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) 14 days to “promptly, thoroughly and effectively investigate allegations of vote buying by both the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during last Saturday’s governorship election in Ekiti State”.
In an open letter to Professor Mahmood Yakubu, Chairman of INEC, the organization said if this is not done, it would institute legal proceedings to compel Yakubu and INEC to discharge their “constitutional and statutory responsibilities in the public interest”.
SERAP also urged INEC to collaborate with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in any such investigation.
It implored INEC to “prosecute anyone suspected to be involved and/or complicit in the alleged vote-buying, if there is relevant and sufficient admissible evidence of electoral bribery and abuse of the electoral and democratic process against them”.
In the open letter, dated July 17 and signed by its Adetokunbo Mumuni, its Executive Director, SERAP said: “It is the responsibility of INEC as an independent body to take meaningful steps and action to minimise electoral bribery by politicians, ensure political equality and prevent unfair electoral competition. No body politic worthy of being called a democracy entrusts the selection of leaders to a process of auction or barter.
“Vote buying amounts to undue influence and improper electoral influence. When politicians buy votes, they reinforce social subjugation and do long-term damage to poor voters, as vote buying impairs voters’ already limited political power and participation in governance. Offering and giving poor people money to buy their votes is the hallmark of political disrespect, as it implies that politicians perceive voters as lacking autonomy.”
The letter, copied to both the ICPC and the EFCC, read in part: “Investigating the allegations and prosecuting all those suspected to be involved would indicate your agencies’ willingness to exert your authorities and act as a deterrent against breaches of the electoral process, Nigeria’s anti-corruption legislation and international standards.
“SERAP therefore urges you to carry out investigation and prosecution of vote buying in Ekiti election but also in the elections in Anambra State, Edo State and Ondo State, in collaboration with the ICPC and EFCC of the allegations of vote buying, as highlighted above, and to send a strong message to politicians that INEC under your leadership would not tolerate any infringement of the electoral process ahead of the 2019 general election.
“Turnout of poor voters may decrease if they view a wealth-driven electoral system increasingly stacked against their interests. It is inconsistent and incompatible with the principles of democracy, the rule of law, transparency and accountability for politicians to use vote buying to perpetuate systems of regular patronage, knowing that such acts would purchase them sympathy and support, especially from socially and economically vulnerable communities.
“Vote buying amounts to undue interference in the free exercise of the right to vote, as it implicitly aims at influencing or attempting to influence a voter not to vote or to vote in a particular manner. Specifically, the alleged giving of N3,000 or N5,000 to voters during the Ekiti election or payment into the bank accounts of voters is corruptly intended, and clearly aimed to influence their choice of candidates and voting intention. This practice seriously undermines the right of voters to freely vote according to their convictions.”
“Further, vote buying gives wealthy politicians an advantage in election campaigns and outcome greater than what they already possess, and it biases political decisions in favor of the wealthy. Our democracy cannot be sustainable when the electoral system inordinately prioritises the rights of political parties and their candidates in elections over and above those of the ordinary voter.”
“When politicians buy votes from the poor, political equality will suffer. If voters choose candidates for public office at least in part based on the voters’ economic interests, and these economic interests vary depending upon one’s wealth, candidates chosen in elections where the wealthy buy the votes of the poor more likely will reflect the views of the wealthy. Thus, economic disparities will translate into political disparities in the election of candidates.”
“According to reports, agents of the APC and the PDP allegedly openly engaged in vote buying in some polling units during Ekiti Governorship election. Many voters were videoed moving in numbers to ‘cash collection points’ in lieu of their votes. Others received credit alerts on their mobile phones.”
“We consider allegations of vote buying as political corruption, because it is the promising or giving of value in the form of money, in return for a promise of a vote. We are concerned that the failure of INEC to rein in electoral bribery is illustrated by the fact that the body has failed and/or neglected to investigate and prosecute similar incidents of vote buying in places like Edo State; Anambra State and Ondo State.”
“SERAP is seriously concerned that vote buying undermines the ability of INEC to discharge its responsibilities under Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and paragraph 15(a) of the third schedule of the Constitution, the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and under the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party.”