Not a few Nigerians, including local and international civil society groups have raised concerns over financial inducement for votes which characterized the July 14 gubernatorial election in Ekiti, especially by the two major political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

In the build up to the election, each party tried to outdo each other through campaign strategies in an attempt to ensure victory for their candidate. The parties were said to have nicknamed the vote buying strategies in different tags such as “as agreed” and “see and buy.”

A chieftain of one of the two dominant political parties, name withheld, who confided in our correspondent, said he gave N5000 to each voter that voted for his party. He, however, said the money was given after authenticating that it was true such a person had voted for his party. “We already had a signal that we agreed on before the process began,” he said.

Aside cash inducement, some politicians were also alleged to have influenced voters with gift items such as television set, phones, food stuffs, recharge cards among others.

The PDP was said to have allegedly deposited the sum of N4, 000 into the personal accounts of all serving and retired civil servants (pensioners) in the state, as part of its ‘stomach infrastructure’ strategy. In addition, the state government allegedly gave cash ranging from N3, 000 to N5, 000 to anyone with a Permanent Voter Card (PVC) in different locations across the state, ward by ward. 

Also, PDP loyalists, among them, commercial bus drivers and Okada riders were said to have rushed to the government house in Ado Ekiti where they were allegedly given free vouchers to obtain Premium Motors Spirit (PMS), popularly called petrol. Bus drivers were said to have received 10 liters free vouchers each while the okada riders collected five liters each, which they redeemed at a popular filling station in Ajilosun area, along Ikere - Ado road in the metropolis.

A female pensioner (name withheld) said she was among pensioners whose bank accounts were credited with N3,000 by the state government, ahead of voting in the Ekiti poll. “Government sent money into the accounts of civil servants before the election. I am a pensioner and I received an alert of N3,000. My husband is also a pensioner, he received an alert of N3,000. When he got that, he called someone at the ministry and was told it was posted for election,” she said.

On its part, the APC was alleged to have given out cash gift, ranging from N5,000 to N10,000, to any eligible voters who could present their Permanent Voter Card (PVC) and guarantee the party their votes at the polls. This much was attested to by several residents in Odo Ise community in Ikere Ekiti who spoke to our correspondents.

It was also gathered that some governors, from both the PDP and APC had allegedly arrived the state a day to the election, with large sums of money in chartered helicopters, allegedly to influence the processes of the poll in favour of their respective political parties participating in the election. 

The spokesman of the campaign organization of the PDP candidate, Lere Olayinka, had alleged that N18b was illegally moved from the Abuja branch of the United Bank for Africa (UBA) to Ekiti State to fund Fayemi’s election. Olayinka further alleged that the federal government moved part of the $321m recovered from the late Gen Sani Abacha family to the state for the election. Specifically, he alleged that $50m of the recovered loot was moved from Abuja in a chartered flight through Akure Airport to Ekiti in two bullion vans.”

The allegation was however, dismissed, by the Fayemi Campaign Organisation. A statement by Director of Media and Publicity Secretary, of Fayemi campaign organization, Wole Olujobi, said the author of the press release was writing from a “hallucinating imagination” and background of a professional liar. 

“Lere Olayinka has a background of integrity deficiency in information dissemination in strict compliment with his boss, Governor Ayodele Fayose.

“Across the country and the world audience through social media, Olayinka is renowned for his notoriety to concoct falsehoods and present them to readers as facts. Discerning minds will note the lies contained in the story by a single logic that it took Eleka and Olayinka a whole week after the leak of funds movement before they alerted Nigerians about a purported money cargo being offloaded in Akure for Fayemi’s election in Ekiti.”

A voter who sought for identity protection told our correspondent that they were given N4, 000 each, adding that each beneficiary had to present his or her voter card to qualify for the largesse. Some of the beneficiaries were sighted making phone calls inviting other voters to the cash-for-vote centers.

A civil servant who did not want his name mentioned attributed what he called “mad rush for peanuts” from politicians to the high level of poverty in the state. 

“It is worrisome and you can’t blame them. There is no money, people are not being paid their salaries and so many of our youths are jobless. So they easily accept something like this to keep their bodies and souls together,” he said.

But the main political parties were not the only ones accused of involvement in vote buying during the Ekiti polls. Weeks before the election, other parties like the Action Democratic Party (ADP) was said to have distributed gift items such as mobile phones, TV sets and other valuable items to residents of the state.

Civil Society Groups react

Civil society groups, including the Transparency International, the Socio-Economic Right and Accountability Project; and the Transition Monitoring Group are also worried over the growing menace of vote-buying, especially during the Ekiti governorship election.

Describing vote buying as fast becoming a norm in Nigeria, from available evidence the executive director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said while citizens sell their right for monetary enticement, such scenario threatens democratic culture and constitutes a serious setback to democratic values.

“Vote buying has hitherto been an undemocratic strategy employed by politicians who prey on the existing high level poverty, hunger and unemployment in the country. Vote selling on the other hand has become an escape route from poverty. The poor are worst hit by vote buying, as their limited means makes them susceptible to material inducements, including offers of basic commodities or modest amounts of money,” Rafsanjani said, adding: “If holistic mechanisms are not put in place, there is a high tendency that vote buying may mar electoral credibility in 2019 general elections.”

A coalition of over 400 civil society organizations, under the aegis of the TMG, said that there was a systemic case of vote buying and financial inducement of voters in the election. The TMG, in a statement by its chairperson, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, however, said the election was largely peaceful.

While calling on Nigerians to shun financial inducement, the statement said: “The TMG is concerned about the growing trend of vote buying by political parties and contestants in elections. This practice is becoming the norm with political parties trying to outwit each other in the sums paid to voters. This practice is a bad omen for the country’s democracy.”

The National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) have also listed vote buying one of the possible disrupters of the 2019 general elections.        

Regional Director of NDI for Central and West Africa Christopher Fomunyoh, at a news briefing in Abuja on Friday said the delegation came to assess current political and electoral environment, preparations, and make recommendations in the build-up to 2019. 

“The delegation notes that the 2019 presidential race and other polls in the states will likely be closely contested and take place against the backdrop of shifting political alliances and significant security concerns. 

“It also heard repeated frustrations about the continued role that money plays in Nigerian politics, from how candidates are selected to how parties seek to influence voters,” he said.

Even the electoral umpire, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has admitted that there were cases of voter inducement during the Ekiti polls hence its resolve to probe the conduct and the outcome of the state governorship election. The Commission also expressed displeasure over the open buying of votes in the Ekiti State governorship election.

In a communiqué issued after its regular meeting with Resident Electoral Commissioners from all the states and the Federal Capital Territory in Abuja last week, the commission noted that although the exercise was free and fair, vote buying characterized the poll.

“The commission reviewed the conduct of the July 14 governorship election in Ekiti State and preparations for the September 22, 2018 Osun governorship election. It noted the satisfactory conduct of the Ekiti governorship election as attested to by both domestic and international observers, the media and other stakeholders.

“The meeting also 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,” the communiqué read.

Earlier in February this year INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakub, was quoted as saying that politicians’ proclivity for vote buying could mar the 2019 general elections. To stem vote buying, therefore, the INEC chairman solicited the cooperation of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), to help protect the country’s democracy.

 “Our democracy is on sale in an open market, INEC is worried. We have observed this, in the series of elections we have conducted recently and thus, must stop. Open vote buying will not be tolerated during the 2019 elections. We don’t want the outcome of the 2019 elections to be determined by the amount of money some people can deploy on election day for the polling booths. Our democracy will be in jeopardy and the choice of the people will be mortgaged,” Yakubu reportedly told Magu during a visit in February.

The British Government has equally condemned vote buying, which was reportedly rampant in the recent Ekiti State governorship election.

Shortly after a meeting with the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, in Abuja at the weekend, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Paul Arkwright, described vote-buying as a form of electoral misconduct like rigging and ballot stuffing.

 He said: “I was there in Ekiti to monitor elections and I heard a lot of reports of alleged vote buying and we are convinced that some vote buying went on. I condemn it. Vote buying is illegal; it is against the law, it is just as vote rigging, it is just as bad as ballot stuffing.

“We cannot make a distinction when all these activities are illegal, so I condemn that. What are we going to do about it? Well we just had a meeting with the chairman of INEC, we have been talking about public awareness and how the political parties themselves can take responsibility for condemning this action and not continuing it. 

“We do hope that 2019 will be free, fair, credible and of course, peaceful elections.”

Vote buying and selling is a punishable offence under the Nigeria Electoral Act, 2010. Article 130 of the Electoral Act specifically states that: “A person who (a) corruptly by himself 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, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N100,000 or 12 months imprisonment or both.”

What we are doing to avert the menace in 2019-INEC chair

The Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, described the growing culture of vote buying as worrisome stressing that use of cash to induce voters is a violation of the Electoral Act. 

Responding to an interview by email, Yakubu said: “It is also a negation of the true essence of democracy based on people’s will. The will of the people freely given makes the difference between democracy and plutocracy. We condemn this unwholesome act which is a threat to our electoral democracy and we are determined to tackle it.”

Yakubu said the commission had taken drastic steps internally to ensure that its regular and ad hoc staff discharge their responsibilities honestly and transparently hence a drastic reduction in the accusation of complicity of INEC staff in the abuse of the electoral process. “We are determined to eliminate it completely. We have not received any verifiable or actionable report of dishonourable conduct on the part of our staff during recent elections, including Ekiti. We will continue to maintain our integrity, neutrality and transparency as election managers”, Yakubu said.

Speaking on additional measures to tackle the menace of vote buying, Yakubu said: “ Drawing from the experience of the Anambra State Governorship election held in November last year, we have re-examined the administration of our polling units in order protect the sanctity of the ballot. The aim is to make it difficult to expose the ballot paper for anyone else to see the voter’s choice between the voting cubicle and the ballot box. We are similarly looking at the various options for voters to fold the thumb printed ballot papers in the voting cubicles before casting them into the ballot box.

 “Secondly, the most immediate way of dealing with the menace is the effective enforcement of the law against vote buying. This was discussed with the security agencies during our regular consultative meetings of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES). I am glad to hear that the police have made some arrests in Ekiti State. We will work with them to ensure diligent prosecution. Furthermore, you will recall that after the Anambra Governorship election, the Commission also solicited the assistance of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which has the mandate and capacity to track and trace the movement of cash before, and after elections. We shall extend such partnership to the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and other security and law enforcement agencies.”

He said the commission intends to engage with all stakeholders on the way forward, particularly on how to intensify voter education and sensitization, saying: “Ultimately, resistance through citizens’ mandate protection is the best antidote to the menace.”

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