Now that you have got your PVC

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AS the 2019 general elections draw near, several individuals, public and private organisations have been carrying out sensitisation campaigns to ensure qualified voters obtain their Permanent Voter cards (PVC) by way of getting registered.
Truly, the level of sensitisation is amazing. More Nigerians, it seems, now know that beyond complaining and lamenting about bad politicians and bad governance, their only way to turn things around is through the enormous power inherent in the PVC.
It seems also that they now understand that the major aim of producing PVCs isn’t for purpose of using them to fill certain forms or perform transactions in banks but to vote out bad leaders and vote in good ones.
The media, including the internet is agog with illustrations and write-ups calling on those who are up to 18 years and have not registered before to go out and do so and also obtain their PVC.
If Nigerians are able to get their PVCs handy and ready to use them come 2019, that would be one part of the major electoral problems solved. The other part which is more worrisome and more like a greater evil is issue of cash-for-vote.
In Nigeria’s quest to always ensure a free, fair and credible election at all levels, this issue of cash-for-vote has been enormously ignored, while so much is concentrated on preventing ballot box stuffing and snatching.
Today, no political party in Nigeria, especially those who occupy positions at every level can deny that they have never been involved in exchange of vote for cash. This anomaly is viewed as ‘fight of the fittest’ as only political parties and candidates with sufficient financial muscles get involved.
According to Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mahmood Yakubu, while speaking earlier this month at a stakeholders meeting in Ado Ekiti ahead of the July 14, 2018 gubernatorial election in Ekiti State, “the elections in Edo, Ondo and Anambra States were largely monetised. We are aware of this. It was see and buy, but we promise you, it won’t happen in Ekiti.”
Professor Yakubu who spoke through INEC National Chairman in charge of Oyo, Ekiti, Osun and Ondo States, Mr Solomon Soyebi, said of the 286 polls conducted by INEC since 2015, only 28 were nullified, due to parties’ poor internal democracy.
“It was N5,000 per vote in Ondo and Anambra States. We are working with security agencies not to allow it to happen again. We even seized some cash in Anambra State.”
This is almost the first time a concrete statement has been made about cash-for-vote and the INEC helmsman even went further to state what and how the commission will curb the evil.
“In Ekiti election, we won’t allow any vehicle to come near the polling units because the politicians use to keep the money in the booth. With this, it will reduce because politicians can’t carry large amount in their pockets.”
To be fair, that is a move in the right direction, but truth remains that until the right awareness and campaign is created, politicians will continue to dangle crispy notes before the electorates, who are sure to take the bait, given the level of illiteracy and poverty in the country.
Money is a domineering and determining factor in Nigeria’s politics. Very low income earners are induced with cash and or other commodities to vote for a candidate or political party other than that of their choice because their limited means makes them susceptible to material inducements, including offers of basic commodities or modest amounts of money.
In vote buying transactions, voters are usually offered money, commodities such as food or pieces of cloths.
According to Spurgeon Ataene, a lawyer, best way to eliminate issue of cash-for-vote is through provision of good governance. He opined that people who stand out in their various areas of endeavours and choose to run for elective positions are already known because of their philanthropic and altruistic activities.
“If you live such an exemplary lifestyle, you don’t need to buy anybody’s vote. But if you are not grounded and you’re not a grassroots politician and you want to run for an elective position, of course you will need to do more than just campaigning because people don’t know you and you don’t have any antecedent. You will do that because you are unpopular and unqualified.”
In other words, collecting money to vote for a candidate is an admission that the candidate is unpopular.
The way to stop monetisation of the electoral process is to alleviate poverty to such a degree that people will have self-esteem. When people are hungry, they will take money from politicians to vote for them.
Political parties and politicians who indulge in cash-for-vote should be made to face the law.
For Chief Mike Ozhekome, “buying of votes is not an issue we can address overnight because the culture has come and it is staying with us. It has become the ritual especially in the rural areas, suburbs and other places that are difficult for government officials and agencies to monitor. Some (politicians) give cash; some give materials.
We need to fight poverty. There is poverty everywhere. So, how do we fight poverty, which has been our bane, overnight?
However, some people are not really poor but they are greedy. How do we also make somebody without the fear of God to have it overnight?”
INEC and other government agencies cannot tackle the problem of buying votes alone. It is a question of time and good leadership. We need our leaders and political elite to lead exemplary lifestyles of not giving bribes. If money is not available to buy votes, people will vote according to their choice. Buying votes is bribery. For me, it is a tall dream to solve this overnight.
However, we have to be preaching against it. People should be able to choose their leaders based on their ability and capacity and not based on primordial factors like money. When leaders are elected, people no longer have access to them except in public functions or when they are passing by.
So, voters, especially the lowly, believe selling their votes is the only opportunity for them to get their pound of flesh from the leaders.”
Another way to fight buying of votes is to seriously criminalise it such that anybody found – both the buyer and the seller – should be arrested and prosecuted. If it is a candidate himself, that should be a ground for disqualification.
If it is done by an agent of the candidate with the consent of the candidate, it should also attract some kind of punishment or disqualification. All hands must be on deck to stop buying of votes.
According to Nigeria Electoral Act, 2010, Article 130: “A person who— (a) corruptly by himself or by any other person at any time after the date of an election has been announced, directly or indirectly gives or provides or pays money to or for any person for the purpose of corruptly influencing that person or any other person to vote or refrain from voting at such election, or on account of such person or any other person having voted or refrained from voting at such election; or (b) being a voter, corruptly accepts or takes money or any other inducement during any of the period stated in paragraph (a) of this section, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N100,000 or 12 months imprisonment or both.”
While vote buying is subject to punishment, the attainment of compliance to this legal provision remains a challenge.
Nigeria has made significant gains in enhancing the legal framework to guide against vote buying through the Electoral Act 2002, 2006 and 2010. However, there is need to address some of the notable inconsistences and potential loopholes in the Electoral Act. For instance, while section 91(9) of the Electoral Act states that “no individual or other entity shall donate more than one million naira to any candidate, section 93(2)(b) in contraction gives political parties leverage to receive unlimited amounts above the threshold. Furthermore, there is need to enhance oversight and enforcement mechanisms of the law.
The proposed establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission which will have authority to investigate and prosecute breaches of relevant electoral provisions including vote buying will be a critical milestone in addressing electoral malpractices. The Commission should be effectively capacitated to enable it to execute its mandate.
A lot of people believe that if those involved in buying and selling of votes are punished according to the law, it will go a long way in curbing the crime. The laws are there already but its implementation is a huge task.
If the same gusto, awareness and campaign put into obtaining of PVC is put into this issue of cash-for-vote, especially on social media then Nigeria might just be on her way to getting it right.

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