Take responsibility, end vote buying impunity now, SERAP tells INEC
Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, has been implored to “take responsibility and end impunity for vote buying and undue influence in Nigeria’s elections by promptly ensuring the arrest and prosecution of suspected perpetrators of these criminal acts in the Osun State governorship election.”
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) made the call over “reports of a brazen pattern of vote-buying and electoral bribery in several polling units particularly by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during the Osun Governorship election conducted on Saturday 16 July 2022.”
Vote trading was witnessed in several polling units, it stressed.
In a letter dated 16 July 2022 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “INEC seems to have furthered a general policy of impunity for vote buying and undue influence in elections by refusing to prosecute suspected perpetrators and their sponsors.
SERAP said, “INEC has quite an impressive portfolio of powers of its own to curb and punish vote buying, and need not wait for other agencies before meting out its own effective means of prevention and prosecution.
“Nigerians rely on INEC to curb vote buying, electoral bribery and undue influence in elections but nothing will ever change if INEC won’t pursue charges against suspected perpetrators and their sponsors.”
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“The acts of vote buying, electoral bribery and undue influence are clearly contrary to the express provisions of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], the Electoral Act, and international standards.
“If INEC fails to act, vote buying, electoral bribery and undue influence would remain a permanent feature of Nigeria’s elections because corrupt politicians and their sponsors would continue to engage in these criminal acts with impunity.
“This would encourage others to follow suit, and the long-term consequences of such a culture of impunity for the 2023 general elections cannot be underestimated.
“We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall consider appropriate legal actions to compel INEC to comply with our request in the public interest.
“Impunity for vote buying, electoral bribery and undue influence will continue unless INEC can show leadership by satisfactorily carrying out its constitutional and statutory responsibilities to wipe out the stain of electoral bribery which now attaches to Nigeria’s elections.
“If INEC is to live up to its aspiration as an independent body that is committed to free, fair and transparent elections in the country, now is the time to end impunity for vote buying, electoral bribery and undue influence in elections.
“By immediately taking responsibility to ensure the arrest and prosecution of vote buyers and their sponsors, INEC would be sending a powerful signal to politicians across the country that it will not tolerate the practice of vote buying, electoral bribery and widespread serial criminality in the country’s elections.
“The consistent practice and widespread serial reports of vote buying, electoral bribery and undue influence in elections suggest the failure of INEC to wake up to its constitutional and statutory responsibilities to prosecute suspected perpetrators and their sponsors.
“SERAP also urges you to ensure the prompt, thorough and effective investigation of the roles played by the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the reports of vote buying, electoral bribery and undue influence, identify those involved, and ensure that they are brought to justice.
“Vote buying, electoral bribery, and undue influence undermine the ability of INEC to discharge its responsibilities under Section 153 of the Nigerian Constitution and paragraph 15(a) of the third schedule of the Constitution, and the Electoral Act 2022.
“The Nigerian Constitution provides in Section 14(1)(c) that, ‘the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.’
“Sections 121 and 127 of the Electoral Act prohibit electoral bribery and undue influence before, during and after any election. Section 145(2) provides that, ‘a prosecution under this Act shall be undertaken by legal officers of the Commission or any legal practitioner appointed by it.” Under section 2(b), the commission “shall have power to promote knowledge of sound democratic election processes.’
“Similarly, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance guarantee the right to political participation, including the right to vote. These human rights treaties also require states parties including Nigeria to promote the establishment of the necessary conditions to foster citizen participation.
“When political candidates and their sponsors decide to buy the support of the people rather than contest fairly for their votes, there are possibilities that such candidates will show a disregard for democratic rules and a disposition to adopt illegal means becomes inevitable.
“Vote buying encourages poor governance and weakens citizens’ capacity to hold their ‘elected officials’ accountable for their actions.
“SERAP is concerned that the failure of INEC to rein in vote buying, electoral bribery and intimidation is illustrated by the fact that the body has not seriously addressed similar incidents in previous elections.
“Any failure to prosecute perpetrators of vote-buying, electoral bribery and undue influence during the Osun state governorship election would be entirely inconsistent with constitutional and international standards, and the Electoral Act.
“According to our information, there are reports of a brazen pattern of vote-buying and electoral bribery in several polling units during the Osun Governorship election conducted on Saturday 16 July 2022.
“The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room said codes and coupons were used to extract commitments from voters in the election, as opposed to the blatant money exchanging hands in the Ekiti election of last month. Vote trading was witnessed in several polling units.
“Voting cubicles in many of the polling units were not positioned to ensure secrecy of the ballots, making it possible for voters to flash their votes to other people. There was open negotiation of buying and selling of votes well-coordinated by the polling agents in many of the polling units.
“Politicians and political parties had before the election reportedly devised new strategies of inducing voters to avoid being caught by security and anti-graft agents.”