By Osehobo Ofure
The controversy over its role in the conduct of the Osun Governorship polls notwithstanding, it is a about time that as a people, we give some institutions in our polity some benefit of doubt if we want them to succeed. One such institution is the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
I say this with reference to INEC’s marginal success in checking the monster of vote buying to a reasonable extent in that elections. The gains of the exercise may take time to manifest.
Nevertheless, INEC has begun on a good note. Nigerians too must now begin to show some appreciation and invest some confidence in the commission to succeed, especially with a general election next year.
It all began when the Nigerian Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) banned the use of mobile phones, cameras or any recording devices by voters during the Osun election.
Chairman of the commission, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, disclosed that the ban would help reduce the risk of vote buying and selling, which he said has been a new development amongst politicians and a major concern to the nation.
Scholars have argued that vote buying occurs when a political party or candidate seeks to buy the vote of a voter in an upcoming election. Vote buying can take various forms such as a monetary exchange, as well as an exchange for necessary goods or services.
This practice is often used to incentivise or persuade voters to turn out to elections and vote in a particular way.
Despite the fact that this practice is illegal in many countries such as the United States, Argentina, Mexico, Kenya and Nigeria, its prevalence remains worldwide.
Yakubu explained that voters would not be prevented from using their devices at the polling units, but would be banned from holding their cameras and telephones, once the ballot papers are issued and until they cast their votes in the ballot boxes.
The commission also disclosed that it had developed an application as part of efforts being put in place by the commission to stamp out the menace of vote buying that has found its way into the electoral process of the country.
Amplifying the INEC position, another official said that the INEC rule is that voters should not carry their phones or other camera devices into the voting cubicles where the voter will mark the ballot so as to safeguard the secrecy of the ballot.
“Voters are free to come with their phones and other camera devices; what we are saying is that at the cubicle where they will be casting their votes, they can’t be allowed to go in with anything except the voting materials.”
The official warned politicians and voters against vote-buying, and vote-selling, saying the commission was ready to unleash the full wrath of the law on anyone found doing so.
In his work on Vote buying and violence in Nigerian election campaign, Michael Bratton said, “Vote buying and political intimidation are characteristic dimensions of African election campaigns”.
He said survey-based estimates, show that almost one out of five Nigerians is personally exposed to vote buying and almost one in ten experiences threats of electoral violence.
“But when, as commonly happens, campaign irregularities are targeted at the rural poor, effects are concentrated”.
He says, “these effects are as follows: violence reduces turnout; and vote buying enhances partisan loyalty. But, perhaps because most citizens condemn campaign manipulation as wrong, compliance with the wishes of politicians is not assured. Defection from threats and agreements is more common than compliance, especially where voters are cross-pressured from both sides of the partisan divide”.
Thierry Uwamahoro, a senior program officer with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) says that there is the harm in buying votes.
“Vote buying is rarely an isolated action, and it perpetuates corruption throughout the entire political system. When a candidate chooses to pay for support, rather than compete fairly for votes, they show a disregard for democratic norms and a willingness to use illegal means,”
Uwamahoro said. “If they see that buying off supporters worked during the election, what is to stop them from using that strategy in other areas of governance?”
Broadly speaking, vote buying obstructs the democratic process by interfering with the rights of citizens to freely decide who will represent them and their interests.
“This can result in the candidate with the deepest pockets winning the election, rather than the candidate who would best serve their constituents,”
Ideally, elections create a “social contract” between candidates and constituents who voted with the presumption that the candidates will govern along the lines of their stated policy platforms.
“Vote buying enables poor governance and undercuts citizens’ ability to hold their elected officials accountable. If a candidate believes all they need to do to be elected is pay off voters and government officials, they will have no incentive to be responsive to issues their constituents care about — issues like water and sanitation, education and unemployment,”
Along with damaging the candidate’s credibility, vote buying deters aspiring political leaders from running for office because it suggests that money, rather than ideas or experience, is how to win an election. “That discourages qualified candidates from running for office, while entrenching corrupt officials in their positions,”
In places where vote buying is common, candidates face the dilemma of needing to mobilize most of their resources to buy the votes and assuming office with significant debts from campaigning.
The argument is that in a true democracy every citizen has the right to stand for office, subject to reasonable restrictions.
” Vote buying makes it impossible to meet these standards by penalizing potential candidates who are at an economic disadvantage. especially women and minority politicians, Uwamahoro said.
That INEC was able to reduce vote buying with the arrests of persons with huge sums of.money seeking to buy votes at the recent Osun election is commendable. The effort is a good start and one that should be improved upon for the future like the general elections in 2019.