Of vote buying and Nigerian democracy
Vote buying in Nigeria is an undisputable vice tainting the credibility of our democracy. Ever since the return to democracy in 1999, it is a shame that Nigeria still has an intense record of vote-buying across the country. The vice grows every day and the perpetrators grow more confident. This is another season of election, the campaign has commenced and the inducement continues.
The provision of section 124 of the Electoral Act of 2010 (as amended) defined the offense as bribery and delineated a fine of N500, 000 or 12 months imprisonment or both to the culprit upon conviction. Indeed, the Nigerian Lawmakers should be commended for taking an effort by criminalising this act at its early stage. But it is so unfortunate, that like any other law in Nigeria, the law has not been strictly enforced.
The gubernatorial elections of Ekiti and Osun state apparently revealed the lapses in the enforcement of the electoral crime. Both elections had a high record of vote-buying, as observed by local and international observers. The INEC body always promises to take preventive actions but it has not until now yielded a pleasing result. They did so in Osun state gubernatorial election, promising that what had happened in Ekiti would not repeat itself, unfortunately, it did again. This alone has tainted the credibility of the elections even before the votes were counted.
An election is conducted in order to choose the most preferred candidate in a poll and make the will of the majority rule. This important organ of democracy is what makes a civil society works and the country moves. It allows the masses to feel the sense of belonging and the feeling to have been carried along in governance. But this attribute of democracy is long lost in Nigeria. Since inducement has become rampant, elections cannot be guaranteed to be the will of the majority. There is no lecture that will change the mind of a person given N10,000 in a day compared to his monthly wage of N18,000. Many Nigerians who know it is not right to shun voting because it lacks credibility. So, some votes are lost, some are bought. Let’s ask ourselves, where is a democracy?
The vote buyers and vote sellers are growing in confidence in Nigeria, even though there is an existence of a law which criminalised the acts. Let ask ourselves, why does it have to be so? Is it because the perpetrators are powerful or it the law enforcement agencies that are sluggish? Just like Nigeria, vote buying exists in other countries too, and they did criminalise it like Nigeria, but the difference lies in the enforcement of the existing law.
The former President, Goodluck Jonathan said at the occasion of his 61st birthday in 2018 that the issue of vote buying is becoming scandalous. He said that we know that there is this concept of inducing the electorate, which most countries control. For all the countries he has gone to observe elections, ordinary inducement of the electorate is criminalised. But here in Nigeria, we take inducement of the electorate as a part of the electoral process.
The above wording of the former President claimed the ignorance of the electoral crime. Electoral Amendment Act was signed into Law in 2010 when he was the sitting president. It was such a shame to have claimed the ignorance of a law he has signed himself. He was also the candidate of People Democratic Party in 2011 and 2015 where he won and lost respectively. So he didn’t mind reading the rules of the electoral process of what might constitute a valid or criminal action.
Even when the president didn’t know then that his actions were crimes, what about law enforcement agencies saddled with this responsibility; Ignorance of the law is never an excuse. Perhaps the former president had forgotten that it was a crime since nobody has been prosecuted.
The former president is not the only ignorant of this law, millions of Nigerians are. And unlike the former president who knew after vacating his office, hundreds of politicians across the country are yet to have the knowledge, and millions of Nigerians will still sell their votes ignorantly in this coming elections.
Commendably, INEC has been frank in condemning the atrocity, but the real action lies with the law enforcement agencies. If the approach formerly used (if at all exist) is not yielding a positive result, how about trying another method. Instead of scaring the innocent electorate who see an opportunity to gain monthly wages in a day, the result of sanctioning the political party buying the votes, or causing disqualification of the candidate as the punishment for the act will be more responsive.
The general election is here again unless responsible actions which will give responsive results are taken, thousands of our politicians, millions of Nigerians will remain ignorant of the existing law. And the vote-buyers and sellers will continue to grow more confident. When that happens, we won’t be able to save our democracy.
Abdullah Tijani is a writer and Campus journalist from Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto.