In years past, elections in Nigeria were characterised by ballot box snatching, violence and falsification of results, but with the introduction of technology and improvement in election security, political parties and politicians have adopted vote buying as a strategy to emerge victorious at the poll.
With over 80 million Nigerians living in extreme poverty (less than N800 daily) according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), it’s no surprise that politicians induce electorates with as little as cups of rice, beans, garri and other food and gifts items during campaigns while money, in some instances, as low as N500 are shared to voters on election day.
This phenomenon, which has been observed in most states of the federation, became more prominent during the recent governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states.
Party agents bought votes for as low as N2,000 during the Osun State governorship election, which was the last off-cycle poll before the 2023 General election.
At some of the polling units, party agents and supporters were seen wooing voters with promises of cash. One of the systems adopted was the issuance of coupons, codes and tally numbers to extract commitment from voters during the poll.
Operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested some persons allegedly caught in the act of buying votes during the exercise.
Those arrested include Yekini Nurudeen Abiodun, for alleged vote buying at Unit 002, Ward 08, Isale Agbara area Osogbo; Jimoh Kazeem, Adeyemo Bahir and Abidogun Ismail, arrested at Polling Unit 002, Ward 2, Ababu, Isale Osun.
How votes were bought
The election monitoring group, Yiaga Africa, which deployed 500 stationary observers and 32 mobile observers, through its Watching The Vote (WTV), to all the 30 local government areas (LGAs) in Osun State, in its report noted that the agents of the two leading political parties in the country – All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were engaged in the act of vote buying.
The report, which was signed by the Board Chair of the group, Dr Hussain Abdu, and its Executive Director, Samson Itodo, said the agents of the parties bought votes for as low as N2,000 in some places.
“Yiaga Africa received and verified acts of vote buying perpetrated by agents of the APC and PDP in some PUs. For instance, PU 009, Akinlalu Commercial Grammar School, Ward 01 in Ife North. The party agents strategically positioned themselves by the voting cubicle to see how voters marked their ballots. In PU 003 Opp. Olomu Mosque in Osogbo, PDP agents were seen handing out between N2000 and N5000 to induce voters.
“Also, in Disu Polling Unit 003, ward 7 in Orolu LGA, APC agents were seen distributing N4000 to voters who voted for the party while PDP party agents were seen distributing N2000 to induce voters,” the report said.
The Programme Manager of another pro-election group that monitored the Osun election, CLEEN Foundation, Mrs Chigozirim Okoro, said that widespread vote buying was observed.
The foundation said that security agents deployed for the election looked the other way while political party agents openly bought votes.
Okoro said, “For instance, in PU 014, Ward 05, Sport centre Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife Central LGA, a party loyalist was seen canvassing to pay N10,000 if voters are ready to vote for his party.
“Also in PU 009, Ward 11, Oke Aree, Boripe LGA, massive vote trading was observed as voters show the party voted for and tallies were issued by party agents to the voter to claim the money. In PU 09, Ward 01, Idilapo Ogodobo, Obokun LGA, voters were given money inside a bar house to vote for a political party.
“Also promises of food items were made after they had voted. More so, in PU 14, Ward 05, Sports Centre Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife Central LGA, voters were seen writing their names for a party to collect 3,000 and 10,000 for respective political parties. While in PU 009, Ward 11, Oke Aree, Boripe LGA, party agents stylishly peeped into the cubicle to ascertain the specific party each voter voted for.”
An analyst at the Centre for Democracy and Development, Election Analysis Centre (CDD-EAC) and senior lecturer at Babcock University Ogun State, Dr Ayomola Oluranti, said the election was marred by political party agents campaigning and canvassing for votes near polling units.
Codes, coupons for cash
The convener of the Coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), Ene Obi, said while the group was observing the election, it noticed another means of vote buying, which was the use of codes and coupons to extract commitments from voters.
“There was open negotiation of buying and selling of votes well-coordinated by the polling agents in many of the polling units. There were no complaints from any of them against each other. Codes and coupons were used to extract commitments from voters as opposed to the blatant money exchanging hands observed in the Ekiti State Governorship Election,” she said.
Daily Trust on Sunday reported that in some polling units, party agents issued coupons or codes to voters after confirming they voted for their political parties. The voter is then expected to take the code or coupon to the person sharing the money, who might be three or four buildings away from the voting area or in one of the classes if the polling unit is in a school environment.
However, it was also observed that some voters still voted for their conscience despite collecting money from political parties.
Why we sell our votes
Some voters said they were forced to sell their votes because of the level of poverty in the land, especially considering the rate of inflation and unemployment.
A voter, who identified himself as Kunle Ahmed, said he was approached to sell his vote for N10,000 which he did.
“I have been without a job for some time now. How do I feed? Will my vote change the winner? It is just one vote and if I don’t collect it, another person will,” he said.
Mrs Abimbola Ogundele said some voters believed that the money shared by politicians belong to them so they have no problem collecting it.
A first-time voter, Afolabi Waliat Adesewa, who said she refused to sell her vote because she wanted a better future, counselled electorates against vote buying.
“Vote buying is wrong. It is like we are selling our future; we are going to suffer for it because how do you expect the person that spent so much money buying your votes to get it back. It is not proper,” she said.
Sixty-nine-year-old Engr. Adebayo Abdulfatai, who said he started voting in 1979, said vote buying would soon go out of fashion as voters become wiser and the electoral umpire perfects the system.
“I urge people to stop the act of vote buying but if they fail to stop it, the system will correct itself. Look at the situation when we were younger, your vote will not count because they will snatch the box, write the results that they wanted but all those things have stopped now. This issue of vote buying would also stop because with time, when you spend a huge sum of money and you don’t win, you will learn that it is not about money. It is your character that will sell you, not how much you give to people. We are getting to the level where performance, not money will sell people,” he said.
How to stop vote-buying
Analysts opined that the electoral umpire, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) can discourage the act of vote-buying by ensuring strict compliance with the secret ballot system of voting as recommended by the law. They noted that with support of the security operatives, the commission can stop party agents from campaigning and canvassing for votes near voting areas.
They noted that the secrecy of the ballots is always compromised as INEC staff often placed the voting cubicles in ways that party agents can see the choice of voters.
“INEC needs to train their staff on the positioning of the cubicles. It is to be placed in such a way that a voter is guaranteed secrecy but the opposite is what we see. Party agents would stop buying votes when they can’t see the ballot paper before it is dropped in the box,” noted Pa Oseni Oyegbile who participated in the Osun governorship poll.
Yiaga Africa called on INEC to maintain the secrecy of the ballot at all times.
“INEC should continue to uphold the secrecy of the ballot by ensuring voting cubicles and ballot boxes are situated to guarantee the secrecy of the ballot,” it noted in its report.
It also urged the security agencies to impose appropriate sanctions for any form of violation of the Electoral Act on election day, especially any threat to the right to vote or attempts to buy votes.
The CLEEN foundation in its report, among others, called for actions against vote buying and other electoral offences, to prevent them from being the ‘new or acceptable normal’, especially that the 2023 General Elections are months away.
An election observer and the General Secretary of the pro-democracy organisation, the June 12 Coalition of Democratic Formations (J12CODEF), Nelson Ekujumi, said there is a need for more education and sensitization of the public on the dangers of selling their votes.
“Sadly, when an election comes, the voters see it as a day they can cook soup in their houses. We need to educate and sensitize the people by continuously feeding them with the reason why they should not sell their votes,” he said.
He charged security operatives to know that their responsibilities at polling units go beyond ensuring there is no breakdown of law and order, by ensuring that people do not go to some places around the voting area.
He, however, said, INEC cannot be blamed for the compromise of the secrecy of the ballot as some voters willingly collaborated with the vote buyers by publicly displaying their choice after thumbprinting in order to get payment. He added that INEC staff are threatened in some instances.
Ekujimi maintained that with proper education and sensitization, vote buying will become a thing of the past, the same way it has become almost impossible to rig with the introduction of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs).
The EFCC has also been urged to diligently prosecute those caught in the act, as well as their sponsors.