Certain elements are present in any election held in Nigeria: vote-buying, snatching of ballot boxes, electoral violence, among others. The Ekiti gubernatorial election bears testimony to this statement as some of these irregularities were recorded in various areas of the state.
The election, which was held on the 18th of June 2022, ushered in Abiodun Oyebanji, the governor-elect of Ekiti state. However, the polls, which were said mainly to be peaceful by independent observers, were marred by massive vote-buying by agents of major political parties.
According to reports from election observers, votes were allegedly purchased in a see and buy format. In this instance, after the voter is done thumbprinting the ballot paper, the paper is raised high for the agent to see where the vote goes, and payment is made afterward. Party agents allegedly bought votes at polling centers between #5000- #10000, even in the presence of security officials in the venue.
When delegates responsible for electing party representatives are now being bribed in thousands of dollars, the electorates voting in candidates must also be paid in denominations of the naira. This seems to be an upgrade in the trend of vote-buying as cups of beans, rice, and even Garri were being traded for votes in previous elections. Various videos of youth flaunting the ill-gotten cash on multiple social media platforms. The whole process is a real slap on our nascent democracy, and the relevant agency should endeavour to find and punish perpetrators of this act.
Various factors are responsible for the recent surge in vote buying. The high rate of poverty in the country is culpable for the increase in this act by the electorates. A report from the World Bank indicates that 42.6% of Nigerians will be living in poverty by 2022. In a region affected by poverty, vote-buying becomes an option for the poor electorates. Although not popular in the urban part of the country, the rural areas are most plagued by this vice. Nigerian politicians are no strangers to using poverty and widespread hunger to make the citizens do their bidding, and vote-buying is just one of the numerous weapons in their armoury.
Furthermore, recent advancement in the field of technology is vastly responsible for the reduction of the traditional form of rigging. The Biometric Voter Accreditation System (BVAS], electronic tracking of electoral materials, and the transmission of results from the polling booths to INEC’s central servers have been of immense help in the reduction of electoral malpractice. However, corrupt politicians and their machinery are instead reaching out to the citizens in trying to buy their votes directly.
Another major determinant of vote-buying is widespread illiteracy amongst the Nigerian populace. The average Nigerian isn’t well versed in their rights, duties, and obligations. As a result, they are easily persuaded to sell their votes without considering the repercussions of their actions. As a result, there is a widespread rise in the purchase of votes by the agents of the corrupt people aiming to occupy an elective office.
Sadly, the consequence of this unconstitutional practice is an adverse effect on the average citizen’s life and the country as a whole. Bad governance becomes the order of the day as the unruly politician who used their money to finance their election will cut corners to rake in their funds back. The nation’s treasury becomes a well where those with access have unrestricted use. This tends to affect the current generations of people who sold their birthright like the biblical Esau and unborn ones yet to come.
This practice will also discourage individuals with integrity from contesting political offices as the rampant tradition of purchasing votes will surely put them off. The country is then rid of persons with the passion and desire to set the nation on the right path. Incompetent people holding essential positions become the norm, thereby running the country off course.
The government and its agencies, electoral bodies, political parties, civil organisations, and the citizens all have a role to play in nipping this issue in the bud. The legislature should pass stringent laws that prohibit vote-buying. They should also insert adequate punishment into the clauses of that law. Security agencies should be on the ground to arrest the agents of political parties involved in these illicit practices. INEC should also carry out a social campaign in collaboration with civil organizations whereby the dangers of vote-buying and other electoral malpractice should be made known to the public.
Vote buying is a cankerworm that has eaten deep into the fabric of this nation, and it is upon everyone to ensure that this issue becomes non-recurring in future elections. The 2023 general elections are incoming, and our duty as citizens is to elect worthy candidates into office, shunning electoral vices.