Lessons from Saturday’s governorship elections

On 18th March, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducted the governorship and state houses assembly elections. Unlike the presidential and National Assembly polls on February 25, which witnessed low voter turn out, voter apathy has reared its ugly head again or became worse in last Saturday’s elections. There were reported cases of violence and vote buying which marred the exercise across the country.

Though, some politicians have been arrested by operatives of anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), for alleged vote buying, the elections’ could be described as a joke taken too far. In the last presidential and National Assembly elections, Nigerians did not experience vote buying or inducement due to cash scarcity which hit the country.

The naira redesign policy was a big blow to money bag politicians who take any chance to throw money during electios in anticipation of votes. There was no cash to induce voters in the February 25 elections. The measure had helped greatly towards conducting free and fair electios by the electoral umpire.

The cash-swap policy has, no doubt, adversely or negatively affected the lives of Nigerians in different ways. But implementing the policy on the eve of elections’ year has reduced the menace of vote buying especially at the presidential and National Assembly elections.

Regrettably, the Supreme Court ruling which compelled the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to extend the validity of old currencies until December 31 has provided an ample opportunity for desperate politicians to use their stashed currencies for vote buying.

The glaring and annoying incidents of vote buying at the polling units across the country have eroded the gains recorded by INEC in the last elections. Vote buying has mocked our democracy. It has further monetised our elections. Politicians with high stakes count themselves as potential winners.

However, INEC should not be blamed for this mess. Our poverty stricken electorate should take the blame for selling their votes to the highest bidders. It is reported that in many polling units, voters are induced with a token. Some voters collected as little as N200 or a packet of spaghetti to vote. This is, indeed, sad!

The electorate have never paused for a moment to ask themselves a simple question on what will be their fate if they sell their votes for peanuts. These desperate politicians are ready to invest their last kobo in order to win elections. After winning the poll, one should expect them to work for the common man. They have to first recoup their investments along with their profit before dropping crumbs for the people.

While vote buying is a serious electoral offense punishable by law, Nigerians are yet to see any offender facing the full weight of the law. Unless we strengthen our laws to prosecute those who engage in electoral malpractice, including vote buying, Nigeria’s elections will go back to square one.

The INEC deserves a pat on the back. In the last eight years, the commission has improved its operations significantly. Through the deployment of technology by the commission, the incidences of over voting and ballot box snatching have been addressed.

Unfortunately, the resurgence of vote buying as witnessed in last Saturday’s governorship elections will become cog in the wheel of free and fair elections in the country. It is high time government fashioned out workable solution to the problem of vote buying in the country. The menace, if left unchecked, will have adverse effects on the conduct of credible elections in the future.

Ibrahim Mustapha,
Pambegua, Kaduna state

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