As the 2023 general elections approach, with political campaigns and activities in top gear by various political parties across the country with expressions of hope, optimism, despair, and fear by citizens concerning the preparations, campaigns, conduct, and anticipated outcome of the 2023 general elections, which many refer and see as a critically vital and decider elections on the fate, political, economic and social trajectory of Nigeria moving forward.
Thus, the yearning and expression of concerns by Nigerians across political, ethnic, and religious lines and divide to get it right and chat a new path of hope and socioeconomic progress for the country or get it wrong and dare to face the consequences that abound.
Vote buying or ballot trading encompasses all acts, moves, processes, and means of coercing, manipulating, enticing, and luring prospective electorates with money, goods, and gifts items by political parties, political aspirants, party agents, and their stooges of the electorate(s) to cast their votes in favour of the party or parties of choice of the vote buyer at elections.
Vote buying is a weak link, a lacuna, a vacuum in our electoral process which most political aspirants now explore to win elections. Hence, urgent, proactive, and practical efforts should be made to close this gap before the 2023 general elections.
In a move to overhaul and strengthen the electoral system, especially with the latest deployment of BVAS in elections across the country, voter inducement remains a major setback in our electoral system that we should do everything possible to stop and expunge If we must get it right come 2023 to democratically elect people of proven character, integrity, competence and capacity to deliver on the much expected democratic dividends.
Vote buying or ballot trading is perpetrated at different phases and degrees:
1) Pre-election phase vote buying: This happens when corrupt politician(s) procures the Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) of prospective electorates prior to and long before the commencement of an election(s) in a move to mop up PVCs and disenfranchise eligible prospective voters in an upcoming election in an opposition or opponent dominated locations. Less common form.
2) Intra-election phase vote buying: As the name implies, this happens during a scheduled election(s). This is the most common phase of vote buying.
3) Post-election phase vote buying: PVCs are bought by prospective aspirants in a calculated attempt to disenfranchise prospective eligible voters in an opposition-dominated location to fraudulently win future elections. This is the least common phase of vote buying.
DEGREES OF VOTE BUYING:
1) 1st-degree vote buying: Here, political aspirants directly induce eligible prospective voters with money and gift items to buy their votes. This is the least common type of vote buying as the aspirants are careful to avoid being caught and their integrity questioned.
2) 2nd-degree vote buying: This is perpetrated by political party agents and representatives at or around the polling units during an election in a bid to secure the most valid votes.
3) 3rd-degree vote buying: This is perpetrated by person(s) who is/are neither known political aspirants nor party agents but by people who are delegated and designated by political parties at and around the polling units solely for vote buying on election day. This is the most common form of vote buying as the perpetrator appears to be faceless and neutral but on a mission to deliver on set goals.
4) 4th-degree vote buying: This may be perpetrated by compromised election support staff, indirectly working for political parties. This is the most dangerous and most difficult form of vote buying to curb because the perpetrators also appear to be neutral and faceless.
The electoral system, structures, and institutions in Nigeria over the years have undergone diverse forms of rebranding, rebuilding, taxonomy, nomenclature, legislative changes, and innovations in a bid to strengthen our democracy, entrench and build confidence in our electoral institutions and encourage citizens participation in electoral processes, which are all still a work in progress as Nigeria is yet to arrive and dock at her democratic Eldorado, but surely, we shall get there and soonest.
The recent amendments to the Electoral Act, which gave legal muscle and backing to INEC and the deployment of modern technology and innovations by INEC in a bid to strengthen our democratic institutions and make our elections more credible, free and fair, have brought some electoral equity, ethics, and sanity into our democratic field and changed the modus operandi for political parties, political aspirants and the electorates.
But every sane mind can deduce that despite the recent legislative amendments to Nigeria’s Electoral Act, and the deployment of cutting-edge technology and innovations by INEC will not solve all our democratic bottlenecks, common and known electoral vices such as thuggery, snatching, and destruction of election materials, voter coercion, intimation, vote buying, attacks on election officers and observers, harassment and intimidation of political opponents and more, because desperate political aspirants will always devise means and ways to subvert and undermine the electoral process in their quest and thirst to win elections dubiously at all cost.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has made significant progress in closing the gaps and strengthening the electoral process to conduct free, fair, and credible elections, especially with the introduction and deployment of modern technology such as the BVAS and the abolishment of manual accreditation which in the past was bedeviled with voter impersonation, over voting, multiple ballot papers thumb printing, ballot box stuffing, and result falsification. But despite the innovations introduced by INEC, vote buying and voter inducement remain a big threat to our democratic freedom ahead of the 2023 general elections, hence we must mobilize all available modalities and resources to squarely combat vote buying which is a democratic cancer, especially in the face of harsh socioeconomic conditions in the country, which can be weaponized by desperate political office Seekers and political parties to win elections.
The Herculean task of curbing vote buying should not and cannot be handled and combatted by INEC alone, it is the collective responsibility of everyone who dreams of free, fair, and credible elections come 2023.
The prevention, control, and mitigation of vote buying and voter inducement is a shared, collective responsibility, thus we must all do our best to get rid of it in our democratic sphere through concerted, purposeful, and patriotic effort, if we are willing to change the narratives in 2023 to put Nigeria on a pedestal and trajectory of hope, optimism, success and reap the dividends of good, effective and efficient democratic governance.
Thus, combating and curbing vote buying and voter inducement is an all-inclusive task through multi-faceted approaches as stated accordingly below:
1) Individuals: Vote buying is perpetrated at an individual level, one on one contact and proposal by vote buyers to make to prospective eligible voters within and around the polling units.
To everyone reading this piece, as we go into the 2023 general elections, know that it is the collection and aggregation of individual votes that make a million votes, hence your single vote counts, your individual vote is what makes the difference, your vote is what is required come 2023 to rebuild and reposition Nigeria on a path of economic recovery and success. Thus, perish that false sense justificatory assumption that your vote doesn’t count, every vote counts.
Please, know that the good roads, hospitals, security of lives and properties, good public schools, and economic development expected across all tiers of governance in Nigeria that you long for and desire, are all embedded in your PVC.
It is your right to vote for any political party of your choice, no matter the financial or material inducement, always cast your vote in clear conscience, devoid of political, religious, and ethnic sentiments.
Also remember, economic hardship, insecurity, and unemployment does not respect political, religious, or ethnic affiliations. Don’t sell your vote, and don’t jeopardize your future, your vote is your voice. Do what is right and just, in clear conscience to achieve that perfect Nigeria you envisage. Free, fair, and credible elections begin with you, act right, vote right.
2)Families: The family is the most powerful functional and structural unit of every society. Decisions at the family level are critically important in the life of every nation and Nigeria is not an exception.
Heads and leaders of families should sensitize eligible voters, who are members of their families on the dangers of buying and selling votes.
Every ballot-eligible member(s) of the family should vote for political parties of their choice without being coerced, in the clear conscience of their perception and knowledge about the competence and capabilities of political aspirants to deliver democratic dividends.
Vote buying and selling is a huge threat to our democracy, thus every household should do what is right by voting for political parties and candidates of their choice without financial or material inducement.
3)Traditional Rulers and Community Heads:
As we edge closer to the 2023 general elections, at a time Nigeria eagerly longs for exceptional democratic governance, Traditional Rulers and Heads of Communities cannot take the back seat in our democratic space. They have vital roles to play in strengthening and deepening our democracy to meet the expectations of Nigerians.
This is an appeal and call to our traditional class, institutions and Rulerships, to educate and sensitize their loyalists and followers on the dangers of ballot trading.
Traditional Rulers and Heads of Communities should mobilize their followers on advocacy against vote buying and selling without being partisan, devoid of religious and ethnic sentiments at the community level to drive home the needed progress in our country.
The importance and responsibility of Traditional Rulers and Heads of Communities in the conduct of free, fair, and credible elections come 2023 cannot be over-emphasized.
Traditional Rulers and Heads of Communities are the custodians of the political wards and polling units, the most critical political components of our electoral system.
Remember, we may be ethnically diverse, but we have just one nation, one Nigeria, let’s unite and get Nigeria working again. Say no to buying and selling of votes, come the 2023 general elections.
4)Religious Leaders: The influence, power, and command that religious leaders wield on their followers is unfathomable, and if properly harnessed and deployed to curb ballot trading, it can make impactful improvements in voter enlightenment, behavioural change, and bring about the needed result in combating vote buying and selling.
Religious leaders are important stakeholders in the advancement of democracy in Nigeria, and thus should take the front seat in the education of their members against vote buying and selling in their religious jurisdictions.
Religious leaders should endeavor to use religion as a tool to foster unity, peace, and progress, which are vital ingredients for the stability, growth, and development of a nation.
Religious leaders must resist every move and attempt by the political class to use religion as an instrument of division and political exploitation for selfish political gains.
Religious leaders should utilise every opportunity and avenue to enlighten their followers on the demerits of ballot trading, and strongly advocate for their followers to vote for political Aspirants and parties of their choice, based on credibility, capacity, proven track record, and competence for the elective office being contested for. Putting religion before the capacity and competence of political Aspirants and parties ahead of the 2023 general elections will amount to religious suicide.
The dividends of bad democratic governance do not respect religious delineation, hence it is time to put aside our religious differences and elect people whom they strongly believe possess the requisite competence for elective offices.
5) Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC): INEC should be commended for the improvement, upgrade and revitalization of our electoral system, especially with the deployment of modern technology and innovations into our democratic space.
Though INEC has achieved significant success in strengthening, and rebuilding trust and confidence in our electoral system, the job is yet to be completed.
INEC needs the support of everyone to conduct free, fair, and credible elections, thus, should be given the requisite assistance by all.
For the successful conduct of the 2023 general elections, combating vote buying and selling circumferentially is vital. Thus, more is still expected from INEC, hence INEC should review and restructure the settings, set-up, and voting process at the polling units to curb vote buying during elections.
Vote buying is perpetrated at the polling units through direct or indirect voters thumb printed ballot papers public and visible display to the watchful Eyes of political party Agent(s) for confirmation and validation of vote for his or her party before the voter(s) finally inserts the ballot papers into the designated ballot boxes and heads to a specified location to be financially or materially rewarded. In some cases, confirmation and validation for a political party is done in connivance with a compromised election-supportive staff at the polling units, especially for elderly, aged, visually impaired, and formally uneducated voters, who may depend on the assistance of election support Staff for identification of party logo and guidance on thumb printing ballot papers, election support Staff in most cases take advantage of the deficiency and ignorance of such voters and mislead them into voting a political party they abinitio never intended voting for.
There are millions of voters, who may require the support of election support staff for identification of their chosen party logo and thumb printing of ballot papers, the pertinent question is, will all Adhoc Staff do what is right and just by giving voters who may need their guidance to exercise their franchise without coercing and misleading such aged or visually impaired voters in voting against their political party of choice?
These are some of the gaps and grey areas INEC should proffer solutions to, moving into the 2023 general elections and beyond.
In curbing vote buying at the polling units, INEC should restructure voting cubicles and booths, to prevent the open display of thumb-printed ballot papers by voters to political party Agents prior to insertion into designated ballot boxes.
The way and manner the polling units are structured and the process of thumb-printed ballot papers for the view of everyone or most persons at the polling units make it easy for vote buying to be perpetrated. The secret ballot system as a voting process is truly not secret, thus a thorough review of the process is required prior to 2023 general elections to curb vote buying.
INEC should also consider the use of technology, such as self-capturing and recording body cameras for Adhoc Staff who may be delegated to assist elderly, aged, visually impaired, and formally uneducated voters, who may require the support of Adhoc staff for identification of party logo and thumb printing of ballot papers.
A simulation to review and restructure the settings and setup of the voting process at the polling units is critical to the success and conduct of free, fair, and credible elections, as most political Aspirants now bank on vote buying as the only hope to win elections.
Remember, all the preparations, technologies, and innovations acquired thus far to strengthen our democracy will be put to test on election day at the polling units, hence a simulation is important to identify gaps and take proactive steps for an optimal and successful outing.
6) National Orientation Agency (NOA): The NOA has played very pivotal roles in voter advocacy, enlightenment and education on a national scale.
The NOA should up its game and deploy effective strategies on voter education against ballot trading ahead of the 2023 elections, especially at the grassroots to support the effort and progress made by INEC to conduct free, fair, and credible elections as important partners.
6) Security Agencies: The supportive and protective role played by the Nigerian security architecture during elections is highly commendable.
The responsibility of the security outfits in the conduct of free, fair, and credible elections cannot be over-emphasized.
This is also a call on our security outfits to step up action in curbing and stemming vote buying and selling at and around polling units during elections.
Hence, we appeal to various security agencies to adequately strategize, mobilize and specifically deploy anti-vote buying outfits across polling units to thwart, frustrate and stem the tide of vote buying which is now the only hope and last resort of unpopular political office Seekers to fraudulently win elections.
7) Civil Liberty Organizations(CLOs):
Civil Liberty Organizations are important partners in nation-building, they act as organs of social checks and balances in every component of our social and democratic existence.
The vast and vital roles played by CLOs past and present in deepening and strengthening our democratic process is highly commendable and should be given the needed support to operate within the ambit and caprices of the law in strengthening our democratic process.
As the 2023 elections beckons, CLOs and NGOs should intensify their campaigns, clamour, and calls against vote buying and selling, which is a threat to the conduct of free and fair elections, and a major weak link in our electoral system, capitalized and preyed upon by desperate political office seekers to win elections and get elected at all cost, ballot trading is unhealthy and harmful to our democratic process as incompetent and corrupt political Aspirants, who have the financial acumen will coerce voters and buy most votes and deny the ability of other Aspirants with good intentions the opportunity to get rightfully elected.
Thus, this is a call to all CLOs and NGOs to intensify and expand
their advocacy against vote buying and selling, especially at the grassroots where it is highly perpetrated.
We should all strive to do our bits to support INEC, to conduct free, fair, and credible elections, and elect people who truly deserve to be elected through the collective choice and will of the people and not unelectable people who buy their way into power and in turn, give the electorates the bitter pills of bad democratic governance to swallow.
Nigeria must get it right come 2023.
Volunteer today to stop vote buying and selling, and become a National Alliance Against Vote Buying (NAAVoB) Ambassador, as we embark on massive, intense, and vigorous advocacy and campaign against vote buying and selling across all 36 states, the FCT and 774 Local Government Areas of Nigeria in January 2023.
NAAVoB is also currently working on anti-vote buying and selling technology, which will be unveiled soon.
Let’s take it down to the grassroots, join and support NAAVoB.
Together, let’s get it right at the 2023 general elections.
Say no to vote buying and selling, every single vote matters and counts.
VOTE RIGHT 2023
Scripted by: Dr. Inenyo Esinte (Convener, National Alliance Against Vote Buying, NAAVoB).
For inquiries: 08123650260