Agents of a political party seen here inducing voters

From Edo to Ondo, Anambra, Ekiti and in view, Osun, the culture of vote-buying appears a fast growing culture in the nation’s electoral process, a situation that may have elevated the standard of electoral malpractices, writes Olawale Olaleye

It actually started in 2012, in Ondo State, during the re-election of former Governor Olusegun Mimiko. Although for each state and its election bout, the idea is often modulated to suit their present reality, thus graduating from state to state, the culture of vote-buying effectively openly started in Ondo in 2012.

During the 2012 re-election of Mimiko, then ruling party in the state, the Labour Party, encouraged voters to take money from the opposition but urged them to still go ahead and vote their conscience. The Labour Party called it ‘Yahoo Politics’, a rather strange move that informed an article by THISDAY then titled: “The Age of Yahoo Politics”.

The Ondo election was tension-soaked and because the former governor feared that a former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, with whom he had a running battle, was determined to influence the outcome of the poll by installing his stooge at the time, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, who is currently the governor of the state, Mimiko’s campaign came up with the idea of Yahoo politics and it worked magic.

Two things they did. They blacklisted Tinubu as planning to annex the state as part of his political empire and therefore urged the people to resist him and his candidate, both of whom had since fallen out. The second was encouraging the people to take the money of the opposition candidate but vote their conscience, by which they meant Mimiko and Labour Party.

Since the Ondo incident, which very few people paid little attention to, the culture of vote-buying to win elections crept into the body polity and started to assume a life of its own, moving from state to state, including Edo, Ondo again, Anambra and most recently Ekiti.

Suffice it to say that the resolve to sell votes by the people without any remorse was believed to have taken root in the usual money spinning party primaries of political parties, which always see delegates smiling home with loads of money for merely deciding the choices of candidates, while the real voters only queue under scorching sun and sometimes rain and still unable to enjoy electoral promises.

This notion, pundits believe, might have greatly influenced the growing culture of vote-buying across political parties, which passes the culture down to them from delegates at party primaries, both of whom have since developed thick skins and nurse no regrets whatsoever.

And typical of Nigerians, who hardly pay attention to details, by the time the scourge revisited Ondo, it had changed style and this time, the slogan was: “d’ibo k’o s’ebe”, meaning vote and get to prepare a pot of soup. But this new electoral culture, which is potentially a huge threat to the nation’s democracy, was paid little or no attention to until the cycle returned to Ekiti this year.

Curiously, vote-buying is coming to Ekiti the second time in four years. In 2014, when the outgoing governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose assumed office, it came in the form of stomach infrastructure, an invention that swept through the political firmament of Ekiti. Yet, not a deserving attention was paid to what was no less a process abuse.

However, having been perfected over time, the latest being the July 14, governorship election in Ekiti clearly proved that if not nipped in the bud, the concept of vote-buying stands out as an electoral misfortune that waits on the side-line to undo the gains of democracy recorded over the years.

Ekiti’s ‘See and Buy’
The July 14 governorship election in Ekiti State has become a subject of national ridicle, because of the dimension its vote-buying appeal assumed. Whilst vote-buying is generally not new, what was new in the last election in Ekiti was the ‘see and buy” concept, a technically reviewed version of the traditional vote-buying.

With this new system, an intending vote-seller is approached by party agents at the respective voting units and upon reaching an agreement, he is advanced some deposit, monitored through to the cubicle and as soon as he thumb-prints, he discreetly displays his ballot paper as a form of confirmation and goes ahead to get his balance from the party officials with huge stark of cash in the their possession and security officials such as the police providing security for the transaction.

This very approach was allegedly embraced by both parties in the race, the APC and the PDP. What might have differed was the purchasing power of each of the parties. Although some said it ranged between N3,000 and N4,000, others said the stake was more than that. At least, the consensus was that money exchanged hands at the polling units across the state, a gross violation of the process.

This electoral market place was also buoyed by the alleged complicity of security agents, who watched as this illegality was perpetrated by all, albeit on the pretext that they stayed away from the ‘show of shame’ on the instruction not to interfere, because the authority did not want to be accused of exerting federal might in the stronghold of the opposition.

This model of vote-buying has since attracted the international community, to the extent that some of the international observers, who were on the ground to monitor an otherwise peaceful election, expressed the fear and reservation that the development might have tainted all the successes otherwise recorded during the exercise.

What Does INEC Say about Vote-buying?
Particularly niggling is that the culture of “cash for votes” is fast becoming a “legit electoral malpractice’ because some of the accounts on the role some of the security agencies were that they were instructed not to interfere in the ‘polling booth trading’ except to maintain law and order in the event of signs of disruption.

Yet, on the website of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in the section that addresses the frequently asked questions, two posers were raised and unambiguous answers were equally given as far as vote-buying/card-buying is concerned.
The first question goes thus: Is it legal to induce a voter to vote for someone? The answer provided by INEC was straight to the point. Here: “No. The offender is liable to N500,000.00 (Five Hundred Thousand Naira) or twelve (12) months imprisonment, or both.”
Further up, the second question is no less a follow-up and it asked: Is it an offence to sell voter’s card to someone else? Again, the answer provided here is succinct.

“Yes. Any person who is in unlawful possession of any voter’s card, sells, attempts to sell, buys or attempts to buy any voter’s card whether owned by him or not, commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding N500,000.00 (Five Hundred Thousand Naira) or imprisonment not exceeding two years, or both.”

Perhaps, debatable here is the language use as an element walking contradiction. Voter card or vote-buying is literally the same. Whilst the electoral body did not expressly say vote-buying, it however, emphasized card-buying or selling, which basically are the same thing. If that isn’t clear enough, how about inducing voters?

Will APC Use Ekiti Template for Osun and 2019?
How the Ekiti State election turned out has naturally focused attention on the Osun State governorship election, which is just weeks away. Even more disturbing is the fate of the 2019 general election. This is because with vote-buying gradually becoming a standard template for winning election, at least, as experienced in the last about four elections (Edo, Ondo, Anambra and Ekiti), 2019 might be in trouble.

The fear of what may become of Osun and in the final analysis, the country in 2019, is being given fillip by what has so far been playing out on the turf. There is a trend – a winning template more or less – which dwells on physically arm-twisting the electoral process in favour of the ruling party.

This, of course, is not without the abuse of privilege and position as the ruling party. With a subservient INEC and a willing security architecture, the APC appears determined to sustain the current template.

PDP’s String of Losses: Will It Get a Bounce?
PDP has lost the last four governorship elections conducted since 2015, owing largely to monetization of the electoral process. It has found itself unable to muster the level of cash that the APC currently enjoys. With the new form of vote- buying, it’s difficult to see how the party can counter it.

Unfortunately for the PDP, it cannot feign that this string of losses is of no consequences. With Edo, Ondo and Ekiti in the APC bag, not forgetting that Osun is likely if the template is deployed to use, coupled with the fact that Anambra is though not of the APC, clearly an opposition party, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the PDP might have to do more than just talking to be able to put up a good show in 2019.

This is particularly instructive, because the APC might get more vicious in the countdown to 2019. One of such indicators are the sound-bites from the recently signed Executive Order 6, by President Muhammadu Buhari, which is designed to go after people with suspicious assets.

This might come handy in 2019 and by implication, force many PDP members and their loyalists to retreat in terms of spending as a majority of them might have been sufficiently muscled up. Once this is achieved, those who would be left with money to spend would be APC members and those who have aligned with them.

What this further means is that the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, would become more useful for election purposes. Indeed, the fear of Magu would be the new normal.

Why Executive Order 6?
Executive Order 6, as it is known, seeks to restrain owners of assets under investigation from carrying out any further transaction on such assets. The new law is said to target the assets of no fewer than 11 former governors, ministers and other politically exposed persons, who served in the country between 1999 and 2015. With the coming into effect of this Order, Buhari plans to swoop on the assets believed to have been corruptly acquired at home and abroad by top government officials, directly and through their presumed fronts in and outside government over the years.

A THISDAY report had it that no fewer than ten former governors currently under trial for various graft-related offences have been listed by the federal government as targets for asset seizure pending the conclusion of their trials. Listed also as targets are former ministers and such other elements that purportedly aided and abetted the laundering of government funds for top politicians in the country. With a total of 155 Politically Exposed Persons, businessmen, top civil servants, private individuals and companies, who were said to have been used to launder funds already on the list, covering since 1999, the APC appears to have this cleverly knitted and Magu, definitely has enough on his hands for the period of the election.

Therefore, by consciously starving the opposition of funds and harassing them through institutions of state, the resort to vote-buying in 2019 would have been made a lot easier, because only members of the ruling party would have money to spend while members of the opposition would either be kept out of circulation or negotiating their freedom with the EFCC.

Whilst this is in no way a verdict on the Ekiti election since the result could have been same without incidences of vote-buying, it however seeks to bring into focus, a dangerous electoral practice that could undermine collective democratic gains and ridicule the country before the international community.