The decision by the leadership of INEC to rein in the scourge of vote-buying in the nation’s electoral process is spot-on, writes Olawale Olaleye

Apparently tagging along with public mood, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has promised to make a statement with the September 22 governorship election in Osun State, first, by arresting and prosecuting politicians who induce voters with money.

INEC’s National Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu at a quarterly consultative meeting with the 91 political parties, noted that vote-buying was already rebranding the nation’s democracy before the international community.
“We are witnessing an ugly trend of vote-buying in recent elections in the country. This is giving our democracy a bad name. There is difference between democracy, – government of the people made by the people and for the people – and plutocracy, which is government by the rich.

“We are going to make a big statement with the Osun governorship election by arresting and prosecuting vote-buyers. We can’t carry this ugly trend to 2019 elections,” he said.

Although the resentful practice of vote-buying has lived long enough in the nation’s political cum electoral system, it however became a publicly acknowledged electoral culture during the July 14 governorship election in Ekiti State. This brazen electoral disposition started to sculpt its way into the nation’s electoral process during the governorship elections of Anambra, Edo, Ondo and Ekiti States.

The first time it was test-run in Ondo State was when a former governor of the state, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, sought re-election. It was then tagged ‘yahoo politics’, which encouraged voters to take money from opposition politicians and still vote for him and his party.

But by the time voting-buying took a return trip to the state during the election of the incumbent governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, it had taken a rather nuclear dimension as if there was a mandatory provision in the electoral act, which compels the practice. They called ‘di’bo ko se’be’, meaning vote and be able to prepare a pot of soup.

Sadly, it didn’t generate deserving public excoriation. It was though discussed, it however got lost in the frenzy of the politics of that election as people would rather talk about the winners and losers of that election than see the threat posed by that action, which of course was not peculiar to any of the contending parties.

Eventually, when the vote-buying train berthed in Ekiti, albeit for the second time also, it had further graduated and this time, it was called ‘see and buy’, meaning once a prospective and willing voter is approached, she or he is advanced some money, from where he approaches the cubicle, thumbprints and then flashes his ballot for confirmation and goes back for the balance.

The first time Ekiti had a taste of the trend was in 2014, when the outgoing governor of the state, Ayodele Fayose introduced the culture of stomach infrastructure, which in practice, was an offshoot of the traditional vote-buying.

Thus, while it was right to condemn a practice that tends to undermine the gains and tenets of democracy by politicians, even more disturbing was that security agencies, the police especially were allegedly complicit as they were said to have provided cover for politicians who could afford it as well as voters who were willing.

A majority of the report that emanated from the Ekiti election contended that the police were actively involved in the practice of vote-buying, because according to the reports, police not only watched as money exchanged hands at the polling units, they allegedly provided security for both the giver and taker as a trading ground, claiming they were only there to ensure there was no breakdown of law and order.

INEC must therefore live up to its billings by making sure the ugly practice does not repeat itself again. It should invoke its statutory powers to tame the growing menace and make sure that examples are set where there are established infractions.

In the section that addresses the frequently asked questions on the INEC website, two posers were raised and unambiguous answers were equally given as far as vote-buying or card-buying is concerned.

The first question was: Is it legal to induce a voter to vote for someone? The answer provided by INEC was straight to the point and it says, “No. The offender is liable to N500,000.00 (Five Hundred Thousand Naira) or twelve (12) months imprisonment, or both.”

The other question raised is: Is it an offence to sell voter’s card to someone else? The answer provided to this is particularly succinct.

Here: “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.”
What this means therefore is that the provision to arrest such a menace has always been there but INEC has never activated it, perhaps, because it has never really paid attention to the weight of threat the culture of vote-buying constitutes to the electoral system.

But now that it has fully come out to read riot act against the practice, the electoral umpire clearly deserves some commendation for championing a worthy cause. It must however know that all eyes would be on it and hold it accountable to his words during the September 22 governorship election in Osun State. It is after then it can be said that the commission is truly ready for the general election in 2019.