The monetization (vote buying and selling), violence and other forms of electoral malpractices that characterized the off-cycle election in Bayelsa, Kogi and Imo states over the weekend point to institutional failure, a threat to democracy and stand highly condemned.
We firmly believe in the principles of free and fair elections as the cornerstone of a democratic society, and we express our deep concern over the erosion of these principles due to these reprehensible acts. The involvement of state and non-state sponsored violence, and reported anti-democratic practices disenfranchise the electorate and also result in apathy, with outcomes far from the wishes of the electorate despite billions of public funds committed to conducting these polls.
Across the three states, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) reportedly arrested 14 suspected vote buyers and recovered a total sum of N11,040,000, N9,310,000, N1,730,000 in Kogi, Bayelsa and Imo states, respectively. This is probably a reflection of deeper monetization acts conducted weeks before the elections.
Prior to these polls, the Center, in a bid to promote transparency in electoral financing, called on candidates to publicly disclose their sources of funds. However, none of the major political parties and candidates made this disclosure. It’s therefore not surprising that these same parties and candidates engaged in widespread vote buying, ultimately mortgaging the future of their respective states. Vote buying remains a direct assault on the democratic ideals of transparency and equality. It compromises the integrity of the electoral system by undermining the principle that every citizen’s vote should carry equal weight.
Indeed, electoral violence undermines the very foundation of democracy, depriving citizens of their fundamental right to choose their representatives peacefully. Such acts not only jeopardize the integrity of the electoral process but also threaten the stability and harmony of the entire nation.
Additionally, other malpractices that marred the polls such as voter intimidation, ballot stuffing, and other fraudulent activities tarnish the credibility of elections and erode public trust in the democratic system. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must conduct thorough investigations into these reported malpractices and take appropriate measures to penalize perpetrators.
As a nation, we must be wary of shifting the responsibility of deciding the outcomes of polls to the courts, rather than the electorates; hence, the need to strengthen electoral processes and the capacity of the electoral umpire. Away from convention, authorities must take swift and decisive action against those found guilty of engaging in vote buying, and we call on political parties and candidates to commit to fair and ethical campaigning that upholds the dignity of the electoral process.
Given our current electoral dynamics, civil society, the media, and the public must work more collaboratively to ensure the restoration of a free and fair electoral environment. We encourage active citizen engagement and vigilance in upholding the principles of democracy and fostering an atmosphere where every eligible voter can freely exercise their right to vote without fear or coercion.
The Center commits to promoting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. We stand with the people in their pursuit of a democratic process that is free from violence, corruption, and malpractices.