Courts Have Legitimised Vote Buying, Falana Alleges

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Femi Falana
  • INEC chairman seeks severe sanction against perpetrators

Olawale Ajimotokan and Udora Orizu in Abuja

A human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Femi Falana, has alleged that the courts have legitimised vote buying.

This is coming as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has urged the National Assembly to properly define vote buying and selling, and make it a separate item in the Electoral Act, calling also for provision of sanction for violation.

Speaking yesterday at the 9th Forum of the Anti-corruption Situation Room in Abuja, Falana said since 1999, the purchase of votes has been the order of the day.

He said measures should be put in place in a bid to reform the country’s electoral process “in a way that we will not be all collectively disgraced.”

The event was organised by the Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) in collaboration with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) and some civil society groups.

“Unfortunately, under the current political dispensation, our courts have legitimised vote-buying and other violations of the provisions of the electoral act,” Falana said.

“I will refer to few cases. In the case of Falae and Obasanjo, in 1999, it was proved in the Court of Appeal that bags of rice, salt and garri were distributed to entice voters for the candidate of the ruling party, General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd).

“The Court of Appeal so found such infraction of the law; however, it turned round to say even those distributing were said to be PDP stalwarts, the Court of Appeal said it was not proven that there were winners of the election.

“Since then, the purchase of votes, bribing of voters have been the order of the day.

“The battle ahead is how we are going to reform the democratic session in a way that we will not be all collectively disgraced. We have never gone this low where publicly people are trading in votes. We never went that low.”

Meanwhile, the INEC Chairman, Yakubu has called for severe sanctions against the perpetrators of vote-buying.

Yakubu, who was represented by INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr. Festus Okoye, said the National Assembly should accelerate work on the Electoral Offences Commission Bill as a way of having a separate agency to handle the investigation and prosecution of electoral offences and offenders.

According to him, vote buying and selling have become a source of worry and concern for the Nigerian people, while some political parties and candidates have sought to abridge the rights of the voters through unorthodox means and methods that compromise the secrecy of the vote.

“The punishment for vote buying should be increased and made stiffer to act as a deterrent to buyers and sellers. “Those that commit the offence of buying and selling should be made to pay a fine of N500,000 and be subjected to three years’ imprisonment or to a fine or both,” Yakubu said.

He also called for the restriction on the use of smart phones in the polling units to be imputed into the Electoral Act, adding that violators should be liable on conviction to a fine of N500,000 and be subjected to three years imprisonment or both.