By Musa Adamu and Ikechukwu Okaforadi
President of the Senate, Sen Bukola Saraki, said vote buying and election rigging by whatever means, remains one of the contemporary challenges that mar our electoral process.
Saraki, who spoke at the one day public hearing on vote buying and improving electoral processes in Nigeria, organised by Joint Committee on INEC, further said Nigeria cannot afford to lower the standard it sets in 2015.
He said doing so would have impact on the continent and serves as a representation of Africa on the global stage.
He said the major concern to Nigerians should be entrenching global best practices in the electoral process, and ensuring that these were backed by legislations to make them sustainable and permanent.
He said stakeholders should demonstrate the fact that a credible and transparent election was far better and more important than who wins that election.
He said: “We cannot afford to send the wrong signals with our actions or inactions as we prepare for the next elections. The world must take positive cues from us that we are ready to improve on our process, and make our electoral process more transparent and commendable. This is because perception matters, as you all know. Perception is, in fact, the reality.
“At this point, it does seem to me that the onus is on INEC to demonstrate its independence. It should be pro-active and take bold decisions. And this is necessary because the responsibility to conduct a credible poll is solely that of The Commission. This is elemental to retaining the confidence of the electorate.
“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.”
Also speaking, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, said for elections to qualify as democratic, they must be competitive, periodic, inclusive and definitive.
He said free, fair, credible and transparent elections was the very basis for translating the consent of the governed into governmental authority.
He said any form of contrivance by any person or authority to unduly influence the choice of the voter was condemnable as it was patently an assault on this constitutional guarantee.
He said: “Undue influence of voters have always existed in different forms all over the world. However 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.”
On his part, INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakub said vote buying was a global phenomenon, arguing that restricting it to Nigeria or one dimension might to lead missing the point.
He said there was need broaden the perspective so that when once solution was found in Nigeria the rest of the world would benefit from it.
He said: “In Nigeria, voter inducement has many faces and dimensions, ranging from party primaries to the general elections. Vote buying does not only take place at the polling untits. It is systemic.’
He listed impunity, pervasive poverty and cash economy as some of the enablers of the menace, adding however, that INEC was not resting on oars to defeat the challenge.
“Some of the measures we have put in place to curtail the menace is the ban on the use of phone in the polling booth, ease of reporting fraud to the INEC and introduction of some security features in our ballot papers.
He called on the national assembly to legislate on the recommendation of setting up Electoral Offences Tribunal by Uwais, Lemu and Nnaman Electoral Reform Committees.
“Let me assure this nation that we are fully committed to free, fair and credible election in 2019 because it is a recipe for peace.”
In his oppening address, Chairman, Joint Committee on INEC, Suleiman Nazif, said the essence of the hearing was for the critical stakeholders to analyze and to understand the seriousness of the danger of vote buying.
He said: “In recent time vote buying has become endemic and assuming dangerous dimension without recourse to respect for the law. Hence, the national assembly has requested the stakeholders to partner with it to find a solution to this.”
He said the national assembly amended the Electoral Act Act to make vote buying punishable under the law, however its noble intentions had been frustrated by the decline in assent by the executive.