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Weak sanctions, poverty derailing fight against vote buying, Stakeholders lament

Key stakeholders in Nigeria’s electoral process on Friday said weak punitive sanctions against those involved in vote trading and the increasing poverty in the country were derailing the fight against vote buying and selling.

The stakeholders raised the concern at a policy dialogue on “Addressing Vote Trading in Nigeria from Global Comparative Experiences” organised by the Electoral Forum in collaboration with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and MacArthur Foundation.

Speaking, Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, lamented that vote trading is an unusual democratic experience, which serves as a clog in the wheel of free choice. and democracy.

Noting that the menace has become a common phenomenon in Nigeria’s political system, which he said has brought negative consequences to the country’s electoral system, he observed that vote trading only guarantees limited, elections-bound benefits for a few, while jeopardizing the long-term fortunes of the majority.

Omo-Agege, who was represented by his Chief of Staff, Dr Otive Igbuzor called for stronger punitive sanctions against perpetrators and sustained information campaigns, community action and locally enforceable public commitments to collectively fight the menace.

He said: “To stem the ugly behaviour, everyone should be involved, both voters and contestants. It needs sustained information campaigns, community action and locally enforceable public commitments to collectively shun vote-buying.

“Punitive sanctions strategies are more likely to be successful than moralistic pleas. Political actors who buy votes should face stringent consequences. Political financing reform, and ensuring election security and ballot secrecy, are equally vital in addressing vote-selling. Most of this was taken care of in the new Electoral Act 2022 passed by National Assembly and assented to by the president.”

INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said the speedy passage of the National Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal Bill by the National Assembly will checkmate vote buying.

Represented by the national commissioner, May Agbamuche-Mbu, the INEC boss admitted that poverty was largely responsible for the menace.

He however expresses confidence that the tide would change soon as Nigerians were beginning to have faith in the electoral process.

He said: “We are going to intensify voter education and sensitise the people more with regards to vote buying. People have also talked about poverty. Yes, we all know it’s poverty. But I think also that as soon as people begin to have faith in the electoral process, they will begin to see the power that they have over the people who are running for office. And I believe that very soon, the story will change and the power will return to the people”

Electoral Forum Chairman, Prof. Bayo Olukoshi noted that there has been a global consensus that seeking to eliminate the use of money in politics is almost impossible and a waste of time because politicians would find ways to bring the use of money into the political equation.

He observed that democracies around the world have moved away from elimination to the regulation of the use of money in politics, in a way to ensure that the use of money does not corrupt the integrity of the electoral process.

Olukoshi said: “So, money in politics is a global challenge, especially criminal money which is unaccounted for and very difficult to trace. However, in our context, the debate around the issue of money in politics is again not an entirely new debate for those who are old enough to know the politics of the 2nd Republic where we saw increasingly the significant role of money as opposed to issues and ideas entering the Nigerian political space.

“But what happened in the 2nd Republic will seem to have been a child’s play compared to what we are dealing with today, in which it is absolutely clear that if you do not have a well-oiled Godfather sponsoring you, or you do not have the resources of your own to oil your political machinery, you are not likely regardless of how beautiful your ideologies may be or your record of personal integrity and achievement may be, you are not likely to be able to make a dent on our political system.

“Much more than that is the fact that the use of money has gone beyond simply capturing political parties and structures to infiltrate the wider electorate.”

Speaking on the “Sociopolitical Paradox of Vote Trading in Nigeria: Focus on the political party primaries and the recent Ekiti and Osun Governorship Elections, immediate past Resident Electoral Commission, Rivers State, Obi Effanga said the malaise of vote trading requires the involvement of a multiplicity of stakeholders, agencies, and groups to address it.

He traced the root of the menace to the economic imbalance and inequality in Nigeria, which is fixed, according to him would to a large extent reduce the “number of poor people whose vulnerability currently is such that they can easily be dangled pittance in exchange for their vote”

Effanga lamented that vote trading is also aided and abetted by security officials at the polling unit, adding that this could happen either by failure to ensure adequate arrangements to guarantee the secrecy of the vote or failure to take steps to prevent those who try to breach the rules.

“The law enforcement agencies, including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) must ensure appropriate steps to stem or react to incidents of vote trading, before, during, and after each election. I am not sure we yet have records of anybody picked or investigated for vote trading during all the political party primaries this year.

“However, it is also a paradox that those saddled with the responsibility to fix the economy are also the primary beneficiaries of the vote trade – politicians. Therefore, it would appear that it serves their purpose to keep the economy in shambles, in order to sustain the vote trading market dynamics”, he stated

On his part, chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), Bolaji Owasanoye, warned that vote buying has a tendency of frustrating and undermining the war against corruption in Nigeria.

Represented by the provost of the anti-corruption academy, Prof. Olatunde Babawale, the ICPC said the commission was working with INEC to tackle the menace.

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