Nigeria 2023: Electoral umpire helpless in political parties’ vote-buying antics 

By Ben Ezeamalu

Posted on Monday, 23 January 2023 13:44
People wait to collect their permanent voters cards at the INEC office in area 10, in Abuja, Nigeria December 13, 2022. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Barely four weeks to Nigeria's presidential elections, the country's electoral umpire has expressed helplessness at incidences of vote-buying which has characterised previous elections.

Speaking at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in London on 17 January, Mahmood Yakubu, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), said vote-buying by political parties and candidates provides a different, but related, set of challenges.

“It is not only illegal within the electoral framework, but also affects election administration. In the past, vote-buying has been linked to disruption of elections at the polling units and even violence.”

Nigeria’s vote-buyers

Vote-buying or voter inducement is not new to Nigerian politics. The practice of offering voters money or gifts in exchange for their votes is almost as old as the country’s democracy.

But in recent years, it has taken a frightening dimension, analysts say, as political parties become more desperate to win elections in the face of INEC’s improved technology.

At the governorship election in Ekiti State, south-west Nigeria, in 2018, vote-buying was so blatant that the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) had to sue INEC for its failure to put “vote-buyers on trial and do something about the allegations of vote-buying by both the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).”

Party agents usually offer between N1,000 (about $2) and N10,000 (about $20) to voters in exchange for votes. Sometimes it takes the form of food items such as packs of noodles or rice and soft drinks. The agents position themselves near the voting cubicles to confirm that a voter has voted for their party before making payment.

In the Osun governorship election, also in 2018, agents of one of the political parties were paying up to N20,000 (about $50) to get people to vote for their party.

“Osun election happened close to the Ileya (Eid-el-Kabir) festival so you see some inducements in form of giving people livestock,” Paul James, Programmes Manager, Elections, YIAGA Africa, tells The Africa Report.

“And these were primarily sponsored by politicians that we know were in the race for the gubernatorial election in the state.”

Different strategies, same outcome

Ahead of the 2018 governorship election in Osun, INEC, worried by the alarming rate of vote-buying at previous elections, decided on a new strategy: the commission changed the configuration of the polling units by bringing the ballot box close to the voting cubicles.

Yakubu, a professor of political history, while answering questions at Chatham House said the move was to reduce the distance between when the voters make their choice in the cubicles and the point they drop the ballot papers in the ballot boxes.

“We thought we were making some progress,” Yakubu said.

“But another election followed, a few months later that year, the off-season elections.

“Then we learned that they were using their smartphones. So instead of exposing the ballot paper, all you need to do is to go in with the smartphone, snap the marked ballot paper and then go and do whatever you wish to do later.

“We then banned the use of not only mobile phones but even photographic devices in the voting cubicles.”

Yakubu said the commission also went ahead to introduce the folding of the ballot papers and trained election officers.

“When a voter comes, as soon as the person is accredited and given his ballot paper, there is a way it is folded,” he said.

“And the way they make their mark in the voting cubicle we encourage them to fold the ballot papers in the same way before they drop into the ballot boxes.”

But despite the electoral commission’s efforts, analysts say as long as there is no arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators, the vote-buyers will always devise new strategies.

Ahead of the Osun election last year, the police vowed to arrest and prosecute vote buyers and sellers on election day. During the election, officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Offences Commission (ICPC) were present at several polling units to watch for vote buyers.

No person has been prosecuted yet.

James said the political will to tackle vote-buying, both on the part of INEC and the security agencies, is lacking.

“You want to arrest somebody that will violate the law you come with your full regalia when everybody knows this is what you will be coming for,” he says.

“The whole thing seemed like something for the public to say they were there. They were not intentional in that engagement.”

Political parties react

Nigeria’s presidential and federal parliament elections will be held on 25 February, while the governorship and state assemblies are scheduled two weeks later.

Analysts say vote-buying does not provide a level playing ground for all political parties since only the more prominent, wealthier ones have the resources to induce voters.

Yusuf Dantalle, the national chairman of the Allied People’s Movement, described vote-buying as a national problem but added that it is an indication that votes now count.

“If votes are not counting, nobody will buy,” Dantalle tells The Africa Report.

“Again, it means that there is poverty because a man that knows what he wants and is a bit sustainable will not sell his vote because he knows the implication.

“The development of the CBN trying to change the currency and limiting cash flow is another advantage to political parties.

“But the major thing we are clamouring for is to reduce the remuneration of political office holders….”

John Ifemeje, the deputy national chairman of the New Nigerian People’s Party (NNPP), said the practice is worrying.

“I steal your money and use it to buy you over. Why can’t Nigerians resist such a thing? Nigerians must rise up and resist it, not just talk. Don’t allow people to take your future … your money, use the same money to buy you, buy your votes; it should not be allowed,” Ifemeje, a retired air vice marshall, tells The Africa Report.

“International bodies that are advocates of democracy should be concerned, when you buy people’s PVC you are not promoting democracy.”

Although the Electoral Act, signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2022, empowered INEC to prosecute electoral offences, the commission says it lacks the power and resources to arrest and investigate offenders.

At Chatham House, Yakubu appealed to the National Assembly to “speedily pass” the Electoral Offences Commission Bill to help tackle violators of electoral laws.

The bill to establish a National Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal passed the second reading in the House of Representatives in June last year. A similar bill was passed by the Senate in 2021. The bill, among other things, seeks to take the burden of prosecuting electoral offenders off INEC.

“This will enable the commission to focus on its core mandate of organising, supervising and conducting elections and electoral activities,” said Yakubu.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options