Ojeifo, an Abuja-based journalist, writes via [email protected]
Now that we have heard from both sides, it is very important for the public to read between the lines and try to decipher the origin of vote buying, the very problem threatening to rubbish the little progress we have made as a nation in our democratic journey. It’s alright if you have not followed the debate on who actually introduced the buying of votes in the country’s electoral process. Never mind as I will bring you up to speed with the animating exchanges between the former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, and the current national chairman of the governing All Progressives Congress, APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
Perhaps, it is better to start by saying that vote buying has become the most effective strategy adopted by political gladiators to win elections in our country in recent times. What many people do not understand is that the idea of wooing voters with gifts and sundry materials had been with us as far back as the First Republic. During that era, it was unusual then not to see the leading parties like the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, NCNC, the Northern Peoples Congress, NPC, and the Action Group, AG, presenting uniform clothing materials to rural women.
In the Second Republic, the ill-fated Third Republic and the beginning of this Republic, political parties and their candidates had become more brazenly sophisticated by providing food like bread sandwich and even sachet water to quench the thirst of voters queueing under the scorching sun. It was even rumoured that some Naira notes were cleverly tucked in between slices of bread to influence voters.
However, in these days, there is no need for any shade of discretion at the polling centres in vote buying. It is now done in the open. Even policemen whose presence is supposed to deter such transactions are said to be drawn in and, in some cases, they facilitate the ugly act by providing perpetrators with cover. All that an intending vote-seller needs to do is vote, snap his ballot paper with camera phone or raise the ballot paper for the buyer at the polling centre to see and get paid. See and pay, that is! That is how bad it has become, if you don’t know. Other methods are also used as long as desired results are achieved.
Back to the spat between the former president and the APC national chairman: Oshiomhole had accused Jonathan of introducing the plague of vote buying into the electoral process in 2015 in his desperation for reelection. Jonathan fired back, saying Oshiomhole started it with the 2016 governorship election in Edo state, even though he did not present material particulars to prove his claims. He even went personal in clear demonstration of argumentum ad hominem, attacking Oshiomhole as being psychologically unstable. I give the former president thumbs down for that indiscretion.
Indeed, when two big men fight, the poor drags his chair closer, grabs a pack of popcorn and watch while munching away. Yet, the matter at stake is such a serious one and should not be reduced to another Nollywood drama. The risk posed to our democracy by vote buying is so serious that an urgent solution is needed. That these two prominent leaders are talking about it is a fine place to start. Yes, it is necessary to locate where the rains of vote buying started beating us if, indeed, we are ready to know how to end it. From the governorship elections in Edo through Ondo to Ekiti states, allegations of vote buying have been rife, so rife that they have tended to diminish the majesty of the victories of the eventual winners of those elections.
As Osun state goes into the governorship election on Saturday, September 22, 2018, allegations and counter allegations of plans to buy votes have already been raised. The alarms by the various parties should put security agencies and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on their toes. Proactive and preventive measures would be salutary to forestalling or reversing the trend.
Whereas, it is a bit difficult to point accurately to the intersection where vote buying began to trend in our electoral process, it is perhaps safe to agree with Oshiomhole that the desperate conduct of former president Jonathan helped to entrench it. In 2015, Jonathan was really desperate. So desperate was he that there are accounts now in the public domain that the central bank, as it were, was literally emptied to fund his presidential election in his failed bid to secure victory.
With projections of defeat from different and credible pollsters staring him in the face, it seemed that the only strategy left for Jonathan was to spend and spend. Consequently, obscene amounts were allegedly withdrawn illegally from the public coffers and handed over to campaign coordinators in all the states of the federation to buy up votes. Even many traditional rulers were allegedly not left out in the bazaar that was the failed 2015 bid to reelect Jonathan. Unfortunately, as he was spending and spending, many of his party leaders were diverting and converting the money to personal use.
While it is easy to wish away these allegations against Jonathan and his party, the PDP, the truth is that huge sums of money are said to have been recovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in its investigation into the Jonathan-led PDP campaign financing in 2015. As a matter of fact, many of the party stalwarts are still standing trial in court over their roles in the looting of the nation’s treasury in the name of prosecuting the 2015 general election.
There is no need to mention names here; but, the public is well aware of some politicians who have confessed to the EFCC that they indeed received money either from the detained former national security adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki, retd., on behalf of Jonathan or from their party before the election. No less a person than the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, had painted a lurid picture of the obscene nature of the looting for vote-buying allegedly supervised by Jonathan.
Precisely on March 19, 2018, the vice president was reported to have said that: “In one single transaction, a few weeks to the 2015 elections, sums of N100 billion and $295 million were just frittered away by a few.” This is apart from the $2.1b purportedly meant for arms and ammunition to fight Boko Haram insurgency that was allegedly misappropriated in the process of prosecuting the presidential election and for which Dasuki is standing trial.
My take away from the Jonathan/Oshiomhole spat over vote-buying is the realisation, together with the obligation that the ugly trend must be arrested to make our elections credible hence. The Osun governorship election can be a good starting point. Last week, the acting chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, in his interactive meeting with some editors in Abuja, hinted that he was working hard together with INEC to stamp out this criminality going forward.
Magu noted how illicit financing of elections by politicians in 2015 had led to unconscionable looting of public funds and perverted the political cum electoral process. He, however, promised that with what EFCC had achieved, so far, tracking election funding, politicians would be more circumspect going into the next general election. That is quite assuring, coming from Magu, but then he must rise above partisanship in the pursuit of that critical task of mitigating the scourge of potential vote-buying as well as heavy and criminal monetization of the 2019 general election.