Deji Elumoye in Abuja
The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has accused politicians of inducing voters with money tucked in slices of bread on election days.
Speaking in the same vein, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, implored INEC, police and other security agencies to ensure free, fair and credible 2019 polls in the country.
Also at the occasion, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, expressed worry over the distribution of cash to the public by the federal government ahead of the 2019 elections.
Yakubu, Saraki and Dogara spoke in Abuja yesterday at a one-day public hearing on ‘Vote Buying and Improving Electoral Processes in Nigeria,” organised by the National Assembly Joint Committee on INEC.
Yakubu said from past elections conducted in the country, the electoral body had identified politicians as vote buyers and sellers through various forms, including inducement of prospective voters with naira notes sandwiched between two slices of bread.
“When I talk about sandwich we are not talking of bread but ways politicians induce voters by sandwiching naira notes in two slices of bread. I am talking of sandwich not as food but as tool used by politicians for voting exercise,” he said.
He identified other items used by politicians to further induce voters on election days to include branded food items, kitchen utensils, automobiles, clothing, and toiletries.
According to him, INEC on its part, does not sell or buy votes.
The INEC boss warned that vote buying should not be allowed to define Nigeria’s election, adding that such aberration is not acceptable.
“Vote buying is not acceptable; it must never be allowed to define our elections. It is illegal and morally wrong. It denies citizens quality representation and gives us bad name internationally,” he said, adding, “It does not give us a good representation.”
Noting that such development denies the citizens quality representation and gives the country a bad name before the international community, the INEC boss said rather than the public hearing, the National Assembly ought to have held a confessional hearing.
“We talk too much as a country. We should stop talking and move on as a nation. We need a confessional hearing rather than this. We should call the people and ask them how they do it. INEC does not buy or sell votes,” he said.
Yakubu called on the legislators to pass the Electoral Offences Tribunal Bill into law as recommended by Justice Muhammadu Uwais, Lemu and Ken Nnamani Electoral Reform Committees, adding that vote buying is not only a Nigerian issue, but has taken international phenomenon.
“The problem has been with us for a long while and it has become an international phenomenon. It is not just a Nigerian problem. In order to address this, we need to break the chain of voters’ inducement. We have so many instances, where aspirants induced electorate and candidates induced voters,” he said.
Yakubu further noted that the challenges behind vote buying are impunity and poverty, stressing that when voters are beginning to chase vote buyers, it becomes a serious problem.
He, however, called for synergy between INEC, security agencies and the lawmakers, for a solution to vote buying.
The INEC boss further displayed the strategies being put in place by the commission, using specimen presidential ballot paper, to defeat the antics of vote buyers in the coming general elections.
Saraki Canvasses Credible Polls in 2019
Meanwhile, Saraki has advised INEC, security agencies and all election stakeholders to ensure that next year’s elections are free, fair, credible and transparent.
This, he said, has become imperative as the country is in a delicate situation where Africa and the entire world are looking forward to what happens in the coming elections.
“This is understandable when you consider that our president is the Chairman of ECOWAS. Moreover, the Chairman of our INEC is the head of Electoral Commissions in West Africa. With these positions, it is clear that we cannot afford to conduct an election that will not be credible, peaceful, free and fair.”
Saraki noted that having set an enviable record in the 2015 general elections, the country cannot afford to lower the standard in 2019, saying, “We must up the ante, because whatever we do will have impact on the continent and serve as a representation of Africa on the global stage.”
According to him, vote buying and election rigging remain contemporary challenges that mar the nation’s electoral process.
“We must deal with them in such a manner that does not detract from the credibility and legitimacy of the coming 2019 Polls,” he said.
Saraki stated that the country’s major concern should be entrenching global best practices in its electoral process while ensuring that these are backed by legislations to make them sustainable and permanent.
He said the use of Incident Form to bypass the lawful process of accreditation and voting must be discarded.
According to him, “This is one of those issues concerning which, whether there is a law or not; all of us who are stakeholders should come to agreement and address the anomaly. At the very least, this is one minimum condition that we must meet as we move towards 2019 polls. All stakeholders should demonstrate the fact that a credible and transparent election is far better and more important than who wins that election.
“We cannot afford to send the wrong signals with our actions or inactions as we prepare for the next elections. The world must take positive cues from us that we are ready to improve on our process, and make our electoral process more transparent and commendable. This is because perception matters, as you all know. Perception is, in fact, the reality.”
Dogara Describes FG’s Cash Disbursement as Corruption
Also speaking at the occasion, Dogara expressed worry over the distribution of cash to the public ahead of the 2019 elections.
He said the trend of giving N10,000 loans to petty traders by the federal government through its TraderMoni scheme was worrisome.
The House speaker said no matter how noble the scheme may be, it is in contravention of Section 124 of the Electoral Act.
“It is instructive to note that the electoral act anticipated and captured most forms of electoral fraud including inducement and vote buying. I hope we will have the courage at this event to address the distribution of cash to the public very close to general elections by public officials,” he said
“I am afraid that such endeavors no matter how noble the intentions behind them may fall within the all encompassing provisions of S. 124 (1)(a); (b); (c); and S.(124)(2)(4)(5) and S. 130 of the Electoral Act.
“Although penalties are not stringent, there is also lack of political will to implement the laws as it is even if it were to offer feeble deterrence to violators. Arrest are hardly made and even where arrests are made, prosecutions are unheard of.
“A more worrisome dimension to vote buying is the alleged use of the officials of the electoral umpire, INEC, and officers of security agencies to induce, or intimidate and coerce voters to vote for particular candidates.
“Such absurdities have been widely reported in the media and confirmed by some local and international observers in respect of the recently concluded governorship elections in Osun State. As expected, all lovers of democracy worldwide rose to condemn these despicable incidents.
“Condemnation is not enough, it will amount to hypocrisy, if we don’t take the bull by the horn by taking concrete steps to eliminate these evils that make mockery of our hard worn democracy.”