Addressing vote buying challenge in Bayelsa

Supreme Desk
15 March 2024 12:04 PM GMT
Addressing vote buying challenge in Bayelsa
Allegations of vote buying was traded by some of the parties involved in the election, with claims that one vote was bought as much as N50,000.

Money politics is an issue of concern in Nigeria’s political space. After every election, most of the losing and winning candidates often accuse one another of rigging, with vote-buying featured prominently in the allegation.

Such was the case in the Nov. 11, 2023, off-cycle governorship election in Bayelsa. As usual, being a winner takes all competition; stakes were very high.

Allegations of vote buying were traded by some of the parties involved in the election, with claims that one vote was bought for as much as N50,000.

Mr. Udengs Eradiri, the candidate of the Labour Party, alleged that massive vote-buying characterised the poll.

Eradiri, who garnered 905 votes to come in a distant third, said he was overwhelmed and claimed that the votes he got were valid and lawful votes.

“The level of vote-buying was overwhelming,” Eradiri alleged at Agudama-Ekpetiama, Yenagoa Local Government Area.

He said he was particularly disappointed about the open cases of vote-buying because his campaign was partly devoted to educating the people not to sell their votes.

“I thought my messages against money politics would have been tracked with the people, but I was wrong. I am deeply disappointed.

“My greatest disappointment was with one woman from this community whom I offered a scholarship to her son, but today she sold her vote for N14,000,” he alleged.

Even the winner of the election, Gov. Douye Diri of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), accused his opponents of trying to undermine his ambition through vote-buying.

Diri won his second term as governor of the state, polling 175,196 votes.

Diri said at his country home, Sampou, in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area, his predecessor and Senator representing Bayelsa West, Chief Seriake Dickson, paid him a visit.

“For me, that is part of our electoral process that is very faulty.

“I like to urge our leaders, especially those that are in the National Assembly, to propose a bill that can solve this problem of vote-buying because it is becoming a very big problem here in Bayelsa State.

“We all need to put our acts together to see how we can address this issue.

“That is the only way we can prevent politicians who do not mean well for the state from having access to political power,” Diri said.

Ex-governor Timipre Sylva of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who came in second with 110,108 votes, had complained about vote-buying while signing the peace accord with other candidates.

But does Nigeria lack enough laws to check vote-buying?

A legal practitioner, Mr. Austin Jacob, disagrees with Sylva. According to him, the menace has been adequately taken care of by existing laws, and he urged intensified implementation of the laws on vote-buying.

Jacob explained that vote-buying is already prohibited under Section 130 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended.

The legislation, according to the lawyer, criminalises any corrupt inducement or reward to influence a voter’s choice during or after an election.

The Electoral Act 2022, he said, has been further reviewed to spell out punishments for offenders.

The lawyer noted that the Electoral Act spells out that engaging in vote buying, which involves accepting money or gifts in exchange for voting for a specific party, attracts a fine of N500,000, imprisonment for three years, or both.

The Act also prohibits improper use of voter cards, with penalties of up to N1 million in fines or 12 months’ imprisonment.

Anti-graft agencies, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), joined forces to combat vote-buying in Bayelsa on the day of the election, deploying their operatives to the field.

Consequently, the joint operation led to the arrest of 14 suspects in Bayelsa for alleged vote-buying during the exercise, with suspects caught in the act in Otuoke and Adawari playgrounds.

Mr. Dele Oyewole, EFCC spokesman, said out of N11.04 million confiscated in cash on the election operations in Imo and Bayelsa, N9.31 million was seized in Bayelsa, while N1.73 million was confiscated in Imo.

A voter who wished not to be named because of security risks told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the arrests made were the tip of the iceberg.

“The election was like a bazaar, and votes were sold to the highest bidders. In some places, it is as high as N40,000 per vote. The people are not yet ready for progress and development.

“How can they demand accountability when they opted to sell their votes? The scale was massive, and the difficult riverine terrain did not help matters for the EFCC and ICPC officials,” the source said.

Beyond election day raids by security agencies, what else can be done to stop vote-buying?

Mr. Austin Aigbe said it requires combined efforts from all critical stakeholders, as well as the electoral umpire, INEC, paying attention to little details during the polls.

“Placing the ballot in the eyes of the public allows for transparency. Everyone can tell if the voter has voted correctly.

“Everyone can see the slip inserted in the box. But when it isn't done privately, no one can tell that. The voter can even insert multiple ballot papers’’, says Aigbe, senior programme officer at the Centre for Democracy and Development.

The immediate past spokesperson of INEC said the electoral umpire has not folded its arms in the face of vote buying.

“Some measures have been put in place, like preventing cameras in the polling compartment. And collaboration with various security agencies will go a long way in curbing vote buying’’, said Mr Festus Okoye.

Stakeholders say voter literacy remains the key to addressing the challenges posed by vote buying not only in Bayelsa but Nigeria in general.

By Nathan Nwakamma

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