Vote buying: Saraki, Dogara tackle security agencies

Senate President, Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, descended on security agencies and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) over election malpractices, ahead of the 2019 polls.

They specifically frowned at cases of vote buying reported in recent elections, in different parts of the country.

While Saraki alleged that security agents were beginning to “emerge as major clogs in the election process,” Dogara, on his part, claimed that the “nation must not surrender to this criminality of votes buying.”

The duo spoke at a one-day public hearing on ‘vote buying and improving the electoral process in Nigeria,’ held at the National Assembly complex, yesterday.

Rejecting the use of Incident Form to bypass the lawful process of accreditation, Saraki said “it is all too clear that security agents are beginning to emerge as major clogs in the election process. Reports of collusion with political actors to disenfranchise voters is very worrying indeed.

“We cannot, under any circumstances, militarise elections because that defeats the purpose of free, fair and credible polls. In an election, access to the polling units for the purpose of casting one’s vote is the bare minimum. Once a voter is denied the opportunity to vote through bullying, intimidation and other forms of harassment, then, vote rigging and electoral malpractice have free reign. “Let me, at this point, mention that our major concern should be entrenching global best practices in our electoral process, and ensuring that these are backed by legislations to make them sustainable and permanent. For example, the use of Incident Form to bypass the lawful process of accreditation and voting is not good for the country. We must do away with it.”

Saraki, however, admitted that Nigeria cannot, at this time, fail as the world is looking forward to what happens in the 2019 elections and also, considering the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari is the chairman of Economic Community of West African States and INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu is the head of Electoral Commissions in West Africa.

On his part, Dogara said: “The recent phenomenon of direct pricing and buying of votes as if in a market square is very disturbing. It is one of the highest forms of corruption.

“The high prevalence of vote-buying in the electoral system of the country is, without any doubt, of great concern to all Nigerians and members of the global community who truly love democracy. It is disheartening that this absurd phenomenon has assumed alarming proportions in recent times. As citizens, we must not surrender to this criminality as we cannot do so and still expect honour.

When political office holders defy the law and corruptly assume office, they will always operate as if they are above the law. “Vote buying and other sundry criminal manipulation of the electoral process in Nigeria have left our citizens in a state of unmitigated disaster.

“As a result, we have been married off to a mob. A mob that rules us by the example of their power nor by the dictates of law. A mob that rules by fear as an inalienable tool rather than by courage. A mob that accepts the status quo rather than challenge it. Mobs don’t grow others, they only destroy others in order to grow themselves.

“We follow the mob because we must, not because we are receiving any sense of significance for our own lives from them. Our democracy has stagnated and will sadly remain so until we eliminate all sham elections which have the effect of throwing up the worst of us to lead the best of us. I hope we can now see why today’s event is compellingly urgent.

“A more worrisome dimension to vote buying is the alleged use of the officials of the electoral umpire, INEC, and officers of security agencies to induce, or intimidate and coerce voters to vote for particular candidates. The essence of this Public Hearing, therefore, is to enable all of us interrogate these issues and proffer the way out.”

But, Yakubu differed. He explained that the Commission does not sell or buy votes.

The INEC chairman, warned that it should not be allowed to define the nation’s election, as such aberration is not acceptable.

He acknowledged that such developments deny the citizens quality representation and gives the nation a bad name before the international community.

He also argued that rather than holding a public hearing, it would have been better if a confessional hearing were conducted by the lawmakers.

Yakubu called on the lawmakers to pass the Electoral Offences Tribunal Bill into law, as recommended by Uwais, Lemu and Ken Nnamani electoral reform committees.

He said: “Vote buying is not acceptable, it must never be allowed to define our elections. It is illegal and morally wrong. It denies citizens quality representation and give us bad name internationally. It does not give us a good representation.

“We talk too much as a nation. We should stop talking and move on as a nation. We need a confessional hearing rather than this. We should call the people and asked them how they do it. INEC does not buy or sell votes.

“The problem has been with us for a long while and it has become an international phenomenon. It is not just a Nigerian problem.

“In order to address this, we need to break the chain of voter inducement. We have so many instances where aspirants induced electorates and candidate induced voters.”

He noted that challenges behind vote buying are impunity and poverty, and lamented that when voters chase vote buyers, “it becomes a serious problem.”