24th July, 2022
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), said speedy passage of the National Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal Bill by the National Assembly will checkmate vote buying.
The bill, meant to provide the legal framework for the investigation and prosecution of electoral offences for the general improvement of the electoral process in Nigeria, on June 30, passed the second reading in the House of Representatives.
The Senate had in July 2021, passed a similar bill, which had seven parts and 48 sections, and sought to take the “burden” of prosecuting electoral offenders off INEC.
INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Lagos State, Mr Olusegun Agbaje, told NAN on Sunday that if passed, the bill would ensure a speedy trial of electoral offenders.
He said that if electoral offenders, including vote buyers and voter sellers, were arrested and quickly prosecuted, there would be more sanity in the 2023 general elections.
Agbaje, however, said that the battle against vote buying in whatever shapes or forms must be fought to a standstill by all stakeholders in Nigeria.
“There are so many issues to this matter. The judicial aspect is there, security agencies are there. INEC cannot monitor all these offenders.
“There is no way we can be conducting elections and at the same time, watching people that are buying the conscience of voters with money, food or other things.
“That is why the commission has been asking the national assembly regularly to finish its work on the electoral offences commission and tribunal bill to become law.
“When we have this, it will be just like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, to monitor and investigate the menace of vote buying and other offences.
“It will be like a security agency for INEC. Their job will be purposely for this and they will be all out on election day.
“The vote buyers and sellers are giving INEC a bad name, however, it is not the duty of INEC to monitor this,” he said.
Agbaje advised that all stakeholders should engage politicians on vote buying ahead of the 2023 general elections, and talk to them as actors sponsoring and encouraging this menace.
The REC decried the delay in prosecuting electoral offences in Nigeria, describing it as frustrating.
“When we see this kind of thing, we get frustrated. The judiciary also has to do something. What is the court waiting for in some of these electoral offences?
“In fact, in Kenya and other countries , within two hours, an electoral case will be judged.
“If people are jailed for electoral offences, I am sure by 2023, everybody will be careful; but because there is no punishment, people just feel they can do anything.
“So, it is not just between INEC and political parties, judiciary also has a role to play. They must assist us to ensure that whatever case is brought is promptly judged to serve as deterrent ,” the INEC boss said.
According to him, if a case that is simple and can be judged within two weeks is left for three years, and people do not see any action, they feel that if they do it again, nothing will happen to them and that their godfathers will also protect them.
He explained that the security, judiciary, INEC, national assembly, political parties, NGOs and other critical stakeholders had roles to play in fighting vote buying and vote selling.
Agbaje said that it remained an offence for any voter to display his or her ballot after casting vote for anyone to see, saying: ” If we have that agency we are talking about, that is their job to position officers to monitor all these.”
The INEC chief added that even before elections, every illegal transfer of money to thousands of voters would be monitored and investigated by the agency.
According to him, INEC will intensify efforts in situating polling booths in such a way that it will not allow voters to display their ballot paper after voting to vote buyers, so as to get paid for voting their party.
He, however, pointed out that in the 2023 general elections, INEC would discuss with members of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) on ways to fight the menace.
Agbaje, however, urged Nigerians and politicians to change their orientation about elections, saying in countries like the Republic of Ireland, elections were not monitored by policemen or party agents at the polling booths on election day.
He said that with the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), the 2023 elections will be better and more credible, adding that votes would count in Lagos.