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Ekiti’s vote trading and concerns for 2023 election

With the 2022 Ekiti governorship election done and dusted, many Nigerians have been assessing the performance of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and other stakeholders, as the election serves as a test run for the 2023 general elections.

The returning officer for the Ekiti governorship election, Professor Kayode Adebowale, had on Sunday June 19, declared the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Abiodun Oyebanji, winner of the exercise, having polled a total of 187,057 of all the valid votes cast.

Oyebanji was followed by Segun Oni, a former governor of the state, and candidate of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, who came a distance second, with a total valid votes of 82,211, while the second runner-up, Bisi Kolawole, of the Peoples Democratic Party, polled 67,457 of the total valid votes cast.

Though the election was adjudged relatively peaceful, the process was not without skirmishes with reports of vote buying and selling marring what would have truly been a democratic exercise.

The situation witnessed in Ekiti this weekend is appalling and highly condemnable. Though the 2022 Electoral Act clearly criminalises the act of vote buying and selling, that did not deter both voters and party agents from engaging in such unwholesome act which sadly was supervised by security personnel.

Reports from election observers as well as eyewitness reports suggest case of massive inducements of voters by political party agents across several polling units in the state.

Video evidence circulating across social media shows where voters were seen negotiating prices with party officials as though it were a business transaction. In other instances, votes were traded for foodstuffs such as noodles and vegetable oil, while for some it was exchanged for clothing materials.

An election observer with YIAGA Africa, Mr Paul James, alleged that people sold their votes for as little as N500.

According to him, the practice has further emboldened some political parties who no longer bother to carry-out serious campaign or engage in debates since they now rely on the depth of their pockets to garner votes. What is now the new normal is to outspend each other on election day.

There is also a video interview of a certain Afolabi Martins, a former Oye community youth leader, where he accused a certain political party of sharing N10,000 to voters on the queue in what he termed as last minute attempt to buy their votes, and this according to him was supervised by the security personnel.

In a gross abuse of the electoral process, voters were made to show their already thumb printed ballot paper to party agents before dropping same into the ballot box.

It is sad that the issue of vote trading has continued unabatedly especially after it was popularised in 2014, coincidentally in the same Ekiti state, in a phenomenon then referred to as “stomach infrastructure.” Unfortunately, eight years down the line, INEC has continued to battle with these ugly scenes in every election in the country.

Despite the commission’s attempt to checkmate it by way of criminalizing vote trading, and other legislation such as the ban on mobile phones and other of such device around polling booths, it would seem politicians have found their way around such policy as observed in Ekiti.

Until stiffer punishments are meted out to both buyers and sellers of votes, this menace would continue to surface in every election in Nigeria.

With 2023 general elections just months away, INEC, in collaboration with security agencies and stakeholders, would have to come up with more robust and practicable ways to curb this menace of “See and Buy” as it was fondly called in Ekiti.

The electoral umpire and indeed civil society organizations need to begin massive campaigns on the dangers of voter inducement, as it not only rewards corruption and undeserving politicians, but is also a threat to our fledgling democracy.

Another situation observed in the just concluded Ekiti governorship election is the characteristically low turnout of voters. There seems to be a steady boycott of elections in Nigeria, as more and more people tends to stay away from voting on election days.

Ekiti state, according to INEC, has a total registered voters figure of 988,923, out of which 76 per cent of the registered voters have collected their permanent voters’ cards, PVCs, as of June 14, 2022. This means there are about 237, 342 PVCs yet to be collected in Ekiti state days to the 2022 governorship election in the state. Putting the total number of PVCs collected in the state at 751,581.

However, from the outcome of the elections, it is clear that more than half of the number of voters in the state did not participate in the election. With a total number of vote cast at the weekend set at 360,753; this means 390,828 persons with PVC in the state did not turn up for the election.

The implication is that only 48 percent of the total number of persons with PVCs in the state came out to vote and only about 37percent of the total number of registered persons in Ekiti state participated in this year’s governorship election. That is to say about 628,170 registered voters in the state refused to take part in the 2022 governorship election. 

The figures clearly show the level of voter apathy in the state where more than half (52 per cent) of persons with PVCs refused to turn up for the exercise.

This should not be allowed to continue if we are to make significant stride in our electoral process. We cannot continue to allow the choice of a few to determine who leads us either at state level or federal level.

If this tide is to change in 2023, INEC together with other stakeholders, must do a lot in form of enlightenment and campaigns to sensitise voters on the importance of participating in the process.

It was however not all gloom at the Ekiti governorship election, as some gains were recorded from the exercise.

For instance, INEC should be commended on the successes recorded in the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS.

The BVAS has made for a seamless accreditation process with a higher success rates thereby making for a faster process than when it was done using the card-reader. 

Another aspect worthy of our commendation is the improvement in INEC’s logistics and election administration, especially with the early arrival of election officials and materials at the polling units, leading to early opening of polls.

Another area of success recorded by INEC is in the electronic transmission of polling unit results to INEC’s Result Viewing Portal, IReV Portal, where 45percent of the polling unit results were already uploaded as at 5:00pm on election day.

By 9:00pm, the upload was at 98 per cent with results from 10 of the 16 LGAs fully uploaded.  This is a welcome improvement from what was observed in both the Anambra state governorship election in 2021 and the FCT Area Councils elections in 2022.

If INEC must succeed in future elections, the commission must do its best to curb the tide of vote buying as this is the major cause of voter apathy among the electorate.

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