Nigeria’s democracy has been fragile and fluctuating since independence. Nigeria’s democracy has a long and troubled relationship with its military. For almost half of its existence as an independent state, Nigeria has been under military rule instead of civilian administration. Nigeria officially became a democracy upon its independence from Britain in October 1960.
Dr Leena Koni Hoffmann (Associate Fellow, Africa Programme) and Jon Wallace (Digital Creator) in an explainer article for Chatham House on “Democracy in Nigeria”, wrote that despite Nigeria attaining independence in 1960 and starting democratic rule under civilians in 1999, it is still said that Nigeria is not currently a true democracy due to its entrenched corrupt political class, its dwindling electoral participation, popular suspicion of the ruling class, shrinking civil liberties, and weak democratic institutions.
Adebowale Olorunmola in a commentary report for Westminster Foundation for Democracy, commented that regular conduct of free, fair, and credible elections, in which people can vote to choose their leaders, is a major indicator of democracy. The Nigeria 2023 general elections held in February/March 2023 were the 7th since the country returned to democratic governance 23 years ago. However, all seven elections conducted have been tainted by some form of controversy.
Elections in Nigeria’s fourth republic have been regular, although controversial as to its fairness, and credibility, although this varies considerably by region and election cycle. Violence is a lingering feature of elections in Nigeria. Voter turnout has steadily decreased as voters have become disillusioned by the recycling of political candidates, the lack of internal democracy in political parties, the failure of the government to deliver real progress and most recently, vote buying.
Vote Buying as a phenomenon
Vote buying is a situation where politicians (seeking a post at an election), in a bid to secure victory at the polls, offer monetary incentives to voters in exchange for their votes. This practice is not only unethical but also undermines the credibility of the electoral process. According to Oyewole Akande, a guest writer at The Cable (You Say blog), Vote buying is perhaps one of the hottest topics in Nigeria ahead of the 2023 general elections.
Premium Times reported in June 2022 that vote buying has become an obscene phenomenon that increases in every election in Nigeria without any decisive official response to counteract it. Even though Nigeria’s electoral law frowns at this menace, the inability of INEC and relevant agencies to bring culprits to book in the past is a major cause of its continued existence. For instance, during the 2011 and 2015 general elections, the electoral body reported 870,000 and 900.000 cases of vote buying, ballot box stuffing and snatching, and thuggery respectively. However, roughly 200 cases only were prosecuted in each of these electoral cycles.
However, Ameh Ochojila reported for The Guardian in August 2022 that the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) has been so rattled by the vote-buying phenomenon that it has recommended that the National Assembly legislate for a life ban for any politician or political party caught in the act of vote buying.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was designated by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to conduct and oversee all activities related to elections for various political offices in the country. To address the issue of transparency, credibility and fairness that have always plagued elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) adopted the Biometric Voter Accreditation System (BVAS). The BVAS was introduced by INEC in line with Section 148 of the Electoral Act, which gives INEC power to make guidelines and regulations to ensure the full effect of the law.
The BVAS a game changer?
The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) is an electronic device created to read Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), identify, accredit, and verify the voter holding the card by using his/her fingerprints and facial recognition before voting. This means that only voters whose biometric information matches their records can vote.
The adoption of this system was believed to be a significant step towards ensuring that the electoral process is free and fair. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was believed to be on the right path by insisting on the use of modern technology, particularly the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the Election Result Viewing Portal (IReV) amidst the several outcries of some groups.
According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the BVAS was used for the accreditation and authentication of voters during the 2023 general elections in Nigeria. The introduction of the BVAS elicited hopes and trust that it will help curb electoral violence and vote-buying during the 2023 general election in Nigeria, says Ben Ebuka in a news report for F2FAfrrica.com.
However, following the conclusion of the elections, several reports of incidences of vote buying in various forms are widespread. Punch, Premium Times, Vanguard, Daily Trust, The Cable, and Channels, among other several other national and international reputable platforms all reported cases of vote buying despite the use of BVAS.
Premium Times reported that The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission said it arrested no fewer than 65 persons over alleged vote-buying, across the 28 states where governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections were conducted. The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) had on February 25 arrested nine vote-buyers in Osun, Ondo, Borno, Akwa Ibom and Sokoto States during the Presidential and National Assembly elections.
The Center for Democracy and Development in its publication released on March 18 reported increased violence and vote buying in the general elections. The report reads “Those who are participating appear to be more open to inducement for casting their ballot, with vote trading being undertaken by all political parties across Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones”. Yiaga Africa, another civil society organisation, said it recorded and confirmed 15 cases of vote buying and bribery across eight states during the governorship elections.
Jide Ojo in a report for Punch reported: “Vote trading during the 2023 General elections”. He said “In the lead up to and during the February 25 and March 18 general elections several means were devised to induce voters by desperate politicians. Apart from monetary or cash gifts, many were influenced by gifts such as food items, clothing materials, and sudden acts of charity by the political class.”
While the use of BVAS might have been effective to curb the issue of multiple voting, buying of PVC and ensuring that only eligible voters can vote. It seems ineffective in curbing vote buying in all forms.
The 2023 general election was largely marred by incidences of violence and vote buying per multiple reports. This is relevant to the observation made by the Brain Builders Youth Development Initiative (BBYDI) pre-election observation report that “the gains recorded by the recent technological innovations are lost to the increased rate of vote buying.”
Vote-buying has become a national emergency as it threatens the existence of our democracy and as such it requires the involvement of all to enlighten the citizens about the adverse implications of vote-buying on the future of the nation. The relevant agencies should work effectively to bring culprits to book in line with the appropriate law.
The solution to vote buying lies in increasing the prosperity of Nigerians. The 2023 general election has revealed that solutions such as currency swaps and restrictions on cash in circulation are blunt tools that can be circumvented by intelligent minds. The long-lasting solution, proven in other countries, is to make the voters too rich to be brought over.