Generally, elections are central features of democracy which enable the electorate to exercise their civic rights in a free and fair manner. Democracy proponents believe that if an election is “free,” it means that all those entitled to vote and be voted for are rightly registered and are totally free to make their choice of candidate without imposition or inducement. Unfortunately, this cannot be totally true of elections in Nigeria, where the inducement of voters by political parties and politicians has become the order of the day. In every election cycle in Nigeria, since independence in 1960, the problem has always been how to deal with issues relating to election management, such as ineffective resource management and poor preparations. Recently, there have been cases of snatching of ballot boxes and other forms of violence by politicians wanting to win elections by any means. However, in the recent times, with the advancement and inclusion of technology in the electoral process, it is becoming increasingly difficult for politicians to manipulate the process and, therefore, seeking alternative means of influencing the outcome, they resort to vote buying and selling.
According to Frederic Schaffer, vote-buying, in its literal sense, is a simple economic exchange in which voters sell their votes to political candidates, sometimes to the highest bidder, in an election.[i] In contemporary Nigerian society, vote-buying and selling have almost taken the center stage in the political activities of the nation. On the one hand, political parties and politicians are always on standby to offer money to induce the electorate to vote for a particular candidate. On the other hand, the electorate are out to turn their votes into commodities by their readiness to sell their votes to the highest bidder. Unfortunately, this spiteful practice threatens the democratic process of electing officers and violates human rights.
Vote buying and selling have been in practice in Nigerian politics for a while now, but according to Wale Ogunade, it had always been done secretly – like stuffing naira notes inside loaves of bread or giving out food items and clothes – all with the intention of wooing voters against their conscience to vote for them. This practice took place during the November 2016 gubernatorial election in Ondo State where it was alleged that some voters were bribed with between N3,000 ($8) and N5,000 ($13) in some polling units to vote for the candidate of the vote buyer. It was the same scenario in the November 2017 Anambra State gubernatorial election when politicians were alleged to have bought votes for an average of N5,000 each, depending on the location. It was reported that in the rural communities, votes were sold for N5,000 each while in the urban areas, they were sold for between N7,000 ($20) and N10,000 ($27) each. Similarly, when the Edo State gubernatorial election was conducted in September 2016, the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room, described the exercise as marred by incidents of inducement and vote-buying. In the same vein, the Ekiti State election in July 2018 took vote-buying to new heights. In some areas of the state, it was alleged that agents of political parties paid those who had no Permanent Voting Card (PVC) as little as N2,000 ($5) to vote with the connivance of some INEC officials, and many others were offered up to N5,000.[ii]
While vote-buying and selling may not be a new phenomenon in Nigeria, the current dimension is a sign of the desperation of politicians to continuously find ways of manipulating the system. It is a high level form of corruption, which dehumanizes, as it robw the people of their civic rights. This menace is no less an abuse of the fundamental human rights as it cages the conscience of the electorate, with undue pressure to be submissive. Based on this, Tomori Uriel believes that vote-buying is electoral slavery, a tool by the powerful to sustain and get more powers, to inflict unquestionable sufferings on the poor and to create safe spaces for their cabals.[iii] Thus, vote-buying is an ugly monster that violates human rights and threatens democracy.
It is interesting and even shocking to note that in spite of the sanctions placed on the violators of electoral processes in any form by the Electoral Act of 2010 (as amended), vote-buying and selling in Nigeria, is gradually becoming a regular phenomenon. The stance of the Commission as spelt out in Article 130 states that: “A person who – (a) corruptly by himself or by any other person at any time after the date of an election has been announced, directly or indirectly gives or provides or pays money to or for any person for the purpose of corruptly influencing that person or any other person to vote or refrain from voting at such election, or on account of such person or any other person having voted or refrained from voting at such election; or (b) being a voter, corruptly accepts or takes money or any other inducement during any of the period stated in paragraph (a) of this section, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N100,000 or 12 months imprisonment or both.”
It is unfortunate that this cankerous worm also manifested itself in the 2019 general elections. Money has become a dominant and determining factor in Nigerian politics, with the poor being the target. The desire of voters to sell their votes can be attributed to the unbearable poverty in the land, whereby the poor, who are always in the majority, see their voter’s cards as a means to an end. Some voters see election periods as an opportunity to get their own share of the national cake, to the extent that some sell their votes, their future, for as low as N4,000 ($11). The rights of the poor are violated by vote-buying because their limited means makes them susceptible to intangible amounts of money.[iv] Offering money, goods or services to induce voters to vote for a particular candidate, makes the electorate vote for their leaders out of fear, duty, indignity, gratitude, righteousness or calculated self-interest. It compromises the will of the people,[v] and it obstructs the democratic process by interfering with the rights of citizens to freely decide who will represent them and their interests.
[i] Frederic Schaffer, Poverty, Democracy, and Clientelism: The Political Economy of Vote Buying, December, 2005. Accessed on 10/02/2019 from https://polsci.umass.edu>file>publications.
[v] Chukwudi Ekezie, Vote buying: Resolving Nigeria’s new political puzzle, July 2018. Accessed on 10/02/2018 from https://odili.net>news>source>jul.