Ekiti ‘see and buy’ election bazaar

Fayemi casting his vote at his Ogilolo Ward, Isan-Ekiti on July 14, 2018. Photo credit: The Gazalle News

Jide Ojo

“What we are doing is not election. It is money competition. The PDP started it by paying N3, 000 into the accounts of civil servants and pensioners. I am a pensioner and I received an alert of N3, 000 to vote for the PDP. I called the pension office to ask if my pension was now N3, 000. They told me that it was meant for logistics to and fro, that we would meet on the field for the balance.”

– Abiodun Aluko, Accord Party governorship candidate in the July 14, 2018 Ekiti poll

The July 14, 2018 Ekiti governorship election has come and gone with Dr. John Kayode Fayemi emerging victorious at the poll. I join well-meaning Nigerians across the world to congratulate him.  There was a lot of tension ahead of the election given the fact that the state, nicknamed ‘Fountain of Knowledge’ and ‘Land of Honour’, was notorious for election-related violence.  I was privileged to be one of the thousands of accredited observers of the election. My team arrived Ado Ekiti, the capital of the South-West state on Thursday, July 12, 2018. In order to give us a better understanding of the situation on the ground, we had meetings with relevant stakeholders ahead of the election.

Although there were 35 candidates in the election, we could only meet with the candidates of the PDP and the APC.   Other stakeholders we met included the top echelons of the Independent National Electoral Commission, heads of the security agencies led by the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Joshak Habila, as well as some civil society organisations. These meetings afforded us a rare opportunity to have firsthand information on the preparations and conduct of the election.

On the Election Day, my team observed elections in several Polling Units in six out of the 16 Local Government Areas of the state. These are Ado Ekiti, Irepodun/Ifelodun, Ido-Osi, Oye, Ikere and Ekiti South-West. However, there were a lot of positives from the Ekiti election. These include the fact that the election started on time in most of the Polling Units; there was massive turnout of voters; it was largely peaceful; election materials were adequate; the process was inclusive as special interest groups like youths, women and Persons with Disabilities were taken into consideration in the electoral planning. For instance, the bulk of the Poll Officials as well as accredited observers, journalists and party agents were youths and women between 18 and 35 years. Persons with Disabilities were also specifically accredited to observe the election while PWD Official Voting Day Instructions were printed and made available to the Poll Officials.

Unlike in the past where some NYSC members on election duty held the commission hostage by refusing to go to their deployed Polling Units due to allegations of non-payment of their allowances, in Ekiti, INEC ensured that the corps members’ training and transport allowances were paid ahead of the polling day while they were assured of prompt payment of their election duty allowances immediately after the poll. Thus, there was no single incident of protest or refusal to go to work. It was also commendable that INEC ensured that members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers who provided the transport for election materials and personnel did not disappoint as was the practice in the past. The transporters were prompt at their duty posts and also efficient. This made it possible for the election to commence as scheduled. The poll was also well-policed with over 30,000 security agencies made up of the police, Department of State Services, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Nigeria Immigration Service, Nigeria Customs Service, Federal Road Safety Corps and Nigerian Army deployed to provide pre-election, Election Day and post-election security.

Also heart-warming is the fact that INEC officials were able to electronically transmit the results from the Polling Units to a central server using the Smart Card Reader. Laudable is the conclusion of the election on the first ballot. It will be recalled that between 2015 and 2017, INEC was rechristened Inconclusive National Electoral Commission by some critics due to the need for the commission to conduct supplementary elections in some Polling Units where violence caused the nullification of results before a winner eventually emerged. This played out in the last governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states.

On the flip side, there were, however, pockets of violence during the election. I witnessed a fight among party loyalists at Unit 011, Ward 07, St. Peter’s Primary School, Ilawe Ekiti. There was poor crowd control in many of the Polling Units that witnessed large voter turnout. I also observed that the Party Agents Identification Tag was not customised to contain pictures and names of the party agents as was done for those of us who were observers whose affiliated group, name and passport photograph were embossed on our accreditation badges. The horizontal folding technique of ballot papers by voters instead of the vertical folding style was responsible for the bulk of the 18,857 Rejected Votes. I also observed that Persons with Disabilities on wheelchair or crutches had difficulty accessing many of the Polling Units as their locations are not disability friendly. There were also isolated glitches with the Smart Card Reader as the device could not authenticate some voters. It is also disheartening that the outgoing governor of the state, Ayodele Fayose, had to resort to self-help by going on the state broadcast media to unlawfully announce the election results.

But, by far, the biggest dent or minus that blighted the many success stories of the Saturday election was  the prevalence of vote-buying which was ingeniously nicknamed, ‘See and buy’. This newspaper in its Sunday, July 15 edition reported a voter who alleged that the All Progressives Congress agent offered him a bribe of N5,000 to vote for the party. The man who spoke on condition of anonymity was quoted as saying: “I was offered N5,000 to vote for the party but I rejected it. I am a 73-year-old retired teacher. I cannot allow the future of my children to be bought by moneybags.  I don’t know how we descended to this level where people brazenly offer money to people to secure their votes. It was not like this in the past. Will our votes count with this problem?”

Apart from many other observer teams confirming widespread cases of vote-buying during our meeting at the CSO Situation Room meeting held on Saturday night, I personally witnessed the ugly phenomenon at Polling Unit 008 A Sawmill, Ifaki Ekiti in Ido-Osi Local Government Area.  This heart-rending phenomenon has become a recurring decimal in our polity with allegations of widespread vote-buying reported in all the elections held in this Fourth Republic, since 1999. It will be recalled that there were similar reports of vote-buying under the euphemism of ‘Stomach Infrastructure’ in the same Ekiti State in 2014 as well as the more recent Ondo and Anambra elections.

Unfortunately, while Sections 124 and 130 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended criminalise voter inducement, bribery or vote-buying  with penalty ranging from N100,000 and N500,000 fine or 12 months imprisonment, no one, to the best of my knowledge, has been prosecuted for this electoral crime. While the police claimed to have effected some arrests in Ekiti, it remains to be seen if these new catch will have their day in court and get the maximum punishment. Many analysts have wrongfully accused INEC of failure to act on this issue but beyond the power to monitor party finances and campaign funds, the commission lacks the statutory power to arrest and investigate; it only has power to prosecute. For me, the way out of this menace is voter education and enforcement of the extant legal provisions against vote-buying. This is the more reason the National Assembly needs to expedite action on the Electoral Offences Commission Bill before it so that it can come into force before the 2019 general elections.  This election bazaar must stop!




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