THIS week, some members of the House of Representatives threatened to go to court over alleged vote-buying and gross impunity during the June 11 speakership election. They accused the Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Sani Omolori, who supervised the election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, of condoning impunity among the lawmakers. They lamented that even though the laws being used for the election clearly spelt out the secret ballot system, many of the voters displayed their votes on the front row, right in front of the Clerk, to prove to Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila and his supporters that they voted for him.
Spokesman of the group christened G-70, Honourable Mark Gbillah, in a statement on Monday, said it comprised a group of members across party lines who were after truth, transparency and the protection of the independence of the legislature. He said: “We condemn totally, the use of any form of financial inducement and systematic coercion in choosing a leader, in a manner that totally destroys the sanctity and integrity of the House and the National Assembly as a whole. There is verifiable photographic evidence that can be subjected to forensic analysis which clearly confirms that members were taking pictures of either the ‘Green Members’ Card’ or their respective identity cards alongside their respective ballot papers showing whom they voted for, ostensibly for the purpose of going back to receive the balance of the money they were promised.” Gbillah added that from the “findings,” of his group, “it appears that people were initially given $10,000 each with a balance ranging from $40,000 that was supposed to be given for voting for Gbajabiamila. The evidence is there.”
According to the lawmaker, members of the G-70 felt deeply concerned about the involvement of the Clerk in the exercise because when they complained to him that some members were taking pictures of their ballot papers, he declared that his job was simply to ensure the secrecy of the ballot and that if the reps-elect wanted to compromise their votes, that was their own decision. “Unfortunately, the CNA condoned what in the eyes of right-thinking members constituted a flagrant violation of the law and therefore logically justifies being challenged in a court of competent jurisdiction because what eventually transpired made it to be no secret ballot any longer,” he alleged.
To all intents and purposes, there is no evidence as yet to suggest that the claims of Gbillah’s group represent the full scope of happenings on the floor of the House of Representatives on June 11. Yet when the videos of the event circulating widely on the internet are considered, it is difficult to dismiss their claims. Ahead of the election, the point was clearly understood that it was going to be via secret ballot. However, the disgraceful conduct captured on live television whereby voters displayed their votes before putting them in the ballot box left much to be desired. To be sure, no evidence has been provided to support the allegation that Speaker Gbajabiamila or his supporters actually induced members of the House with cash. Those making the allegation need to support it with details of the transactions, including how and where the bribes they alleged were disbursed. They need to be specific about the details of the transactions. But the point is incontrovertible that voters displayed their ballots on the floor of the House. Just like in the governorship elections conducted before the 2019 polls and the 2019 polls themselves, the ugly phenomenon of voters displaying their ballot papers before putting them in the ballot box resurfaced on the floor of the House of Representatives. This therefore gives the allegation of vote buying enough oxygen. Such a thing should not be happening in the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly.
Indeed, the fact that it is even being mentioned at all shows that there is a consistent slide in the country’s democratic experiment. The video of the alleged underhand dealings has gone viral and patriotic Nigerians all over the world must feel let down by that event. The message here is that the Nigerian political elite has no sense of proportion or decency. The event suggests vote buying and selling on the floor of the National Assembly and should give all lovers of democracy cause for concern. As a matter of fact, the report of the European Union (EU) on the 2019 polls detailed specific infractions, including vote buying and widespread violence, during the polls and suggested measures for the reform of the electoral process. Happily, though, both Senate President Ahmad Lawan and Speaker Gbajabiamila have indicated their readiness to pursue electoral reform. That is the right way to go.