INEC and its previous crusade against vote buying
With final pre-election activities assuming a frenetic pace in the build up to the much anticipated 2023 general elections, major stakeholders campaigning for credible polls have had to put on their thinking caps. Notwithstanding the possibilities offered by the electoral process for around 90 million Nigerians registered as voters to express their democratic preferences, there remain serious challenges of political violence and the threat of vote buying, which could undermine the credibility of the outcome, while constraining the robust participation of a diversity of marginalized groups in the elections.
Given the mind boggling level of violence so far witnessed in the campaign period, it is apparent that the law enforcement agencies have to step up efforts to keep elements with sinister machinations in check. Ironically, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has become one of the prime targets of perpetrators of violence in the build up to the polls. Last week, the Commission released several infographics, which put into context the reality of the various attacks, which have been visited on its facilities across the country.
The data showed that INEC facilities in 15 different states came under not less than 50 attacks states in the last four years. Imo is reported to have recorded the highest number of attacks on INEC facilities with 11 incidents, followed by Osun, seven; Akwa-Ibom, five; Enugu, five; Ebonyi, four; Cross River, four; Abia, four; Anambra, two; Taraba, two; Borno, one; Ogun, one; Lagos, one; Bayelsa, one; Ondo one; and Kaduna one. The breakdown further revealed that in 2019, INEC was at the receiving end of eight attacks; 22 in 2020, 12 in 2021, and eight in 2022.
Apart from the attacks targeting INEC, the use of violence by political actors to achieve certain unstated political objectives appears to be a prominent feature in the electioneering towards the 2023 polls. Threats of violence and actual attacks have been used by rival political camps since by ban on campaigning was lifted. In October, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar decried an attack on a PDP rally in Kaduna State. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Presidential candidate lamented that his supporters were attacked by hoodlums. Again on November 10, the Atiku/Okowa campaign raised alarm that its convoy in Maiduguri was targeted by hoodlums. Although that account was disputed by the Police, which insisted that the campaign activity went on peacefully, the law enforcement later announced the arrest of a hoodlum holding a stone, which was apparently meant to harm rivals at the rally.
By far the most tragic of the acts of violence and bloodletting connected to the 2023 polls is the killing of Mrs. Victoria Chintex, the Labour Party Women Leader in Kaura Local Government Area of Kaduna State on November 28. The dastardly assault on the life of the popular female politician drew widespread condemnation from Nigerians, especially at a time the globe was marking the 16 Days of Activism to galvanise action against the pandemic of violence against women and girls. Top officials of Labour Party have also decried the killing of their supporters in various parts of the country. On December 19, LP Presidential candidate, Peter Obi denounced the killing of the Labour Party candidate contesting for the Onuimo Constituency Seat in the Imo State House of Assembly. National Secretary of the party National Secretary of the party, Umar Farouk Ibrahim, said that the intimidation of Labour Party members had become pervasive especially in a state like Kaduna, where supporters of its governorship candidate Jonathan Asake have allegedly become everyday victims of perpetrators of political violence.
He said: “Our great party has noticed with dismay in recent time, the spate of killings of our party supporters in Kaduna state. The killings are happening in Southern Kaduna which is one of our strong holds and the constituency of our gubernatorial candidate Hon Jonathan Asake. Just last week, our great party lost eight members in Kaura and Zangon Kataf Local Government Areas respectively. These series of killings within such a short time are highly condemnable and insensitive, especially in this festive period. We cannot continue folding our arms seeing our members killed on daily basis. As such, we call on the Kaduna State Government to do all it take to bring the perpetrators of this heinous act to book.”
Given the frightening level of violence, which has blighted the final build to the 2023 polls, close watchers of the electoral process have observed that the reality was long foretold. Several months to the start of preparations for the polls, groups observing the process had forewarned security agencies and other concerned stakeholders about the risk factors, which could fuel violence. The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) as far back as September, CDD released a detailed report, which addressed some of the weaknesses and risks, which would precipitate instability in the build up to the poll. The report stressed that: “insecurity remains a critical issue, particularly in the northwest and southeast. The role played by the security agencies, and subsequently by the judiciary, may be as crucial in determining the credibility of the election as that of the election management body. “Nigeria is currently facing an epidemic of insecurity. The violence led by bandits, terrorists and secessionists has been recorded across its six geo-political zones, further dividing the country along ethnic, religious and political lines. Holding credible polls in this context that guarantees the security of voters and INEC personnel will be a major challenge.”
How Stakeholders Are Working To Tame Influence of Money
However, beyond the pervasive risk of violence, there is the other massive problem, which is the influence of money in the elections. As seen in the primary elections of both the ruling and main opposition parties, hefty sums could be used to sway voters and undermine the credibility of electoral outcomes. With the highly anticipated 2023 polls drawing nearer however, there have been various talk shops and reflection sessions by INEC, the security agencies and civic groups, which have shown great commitment to curbing the pervasive effect of money in the polls, especially in the area of vote buying. One such reflection workshop is the one day stakeholders meeting organised by INEC in collaboration with CDD. At the parley, INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu bemoaned what he described as the “deleterious influence of money in elections, particularly the diabolical purchase of Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) from voters ahead of the election.” According to the INEC Chief, the measure taken to deter influence of money and vote buying focused more on the slight reconfiguration of Polling Units to bring the ballot boxes closer to the voting cubicles to discourage the exposure of the marked ballot papers by voters to vote buyers. The Commission similarly banned the use of smart phones and photographic devices by voters in the voting cubicles. With the realisation that those measures recorded limited success over the years, the Commission decided to change strategy as the 2023 polls beckon.
According to Prof Yakubu, successful steps to curb the influence of money and vote buying would involve mobilising every relevant national institution to support the effort. His words: “We must rely on the professional and other capacities of cognate agencies in our determination to improve electoral administration in Nigeria. That is why we appreciate the collaboration with the Police, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as well as the regulatory bodies such as the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON).” INEC equally stressed the need for citizens to play their role in sanitising Nigerian elections by rejecting inducements to sway their votes through vote buying. “They must also engage effectively in stopping the negative use of money in our electoral process generally by reporting cases to INEC and other agencies. In addition, civil society organisations should make this a major plank of both their pre-election and election observation activities. Financial institutions, religious organisations, traditional institutions, the media, civic bodies and, above all, citizens must also join in this fight.”
On its part, the Joint Delegation of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) in its most recent pre-election observation report surmised that election campaigns in Nigeria are often characterized by leading parties spending substantial amounts of money and resources for their campaigns. The delegation stressed the urgent need for the Electoral Act 2022, which mandates that political parties submit their financial reports to INEC at specified intervals. Similarly, the delegation weighed in on important issue of the candidacy of women, youth and people with disabilities. It noted that despite the upsurge in registration of young people, there remain major obstacles for young people and other traditionally marginalized groups to participate in the electoral process as candidates.
It said: “The overall percentage of women running for elections has declined from 13 percent in 2019 to 8.9 percent in 2023. A disappointing development for Africa’s largest democracy, these percentages fall far below the requirement of 35 percent representation for women across all government positions included in Nigeria’s National Gender Policy.
“Youth candidacy has also decreased, from 34 percent in 2019 to 28 percent in 2023. The delegation heard that there are only 31 candidates with disabilities contesting in the elections. There are still significant financial barriers that prevent or limit the participation of candidates who identify as marginalized groups,” the delegation said.