During a visit to the corporate headquarters of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) last June, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Paul Arkwright, harped on the need for the anti-graft agency and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to collaborate in preserving the integrity of the electoral process. Specifically, Arkwright drew attention to the need for EFCC not to side with any political party in the upcoming 2019 general election and along with INEC ensure that there is no rigging of the election or buying of votes.
On July 14, 2018, the people of Ekiti State went to the polls to elect a successor to Governor Ayodele Fayose in a keenly contested election that pitted the flag bearers of the two major political parties – the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Although the conduct of the election was said to have been violence-free, observers comprising local civil society organisations and foreign observer groups were unanimous in the their verdict that the outcome was marred by widespread vote buying by the major contestants.
Arkwright summed up the impression of the election observers when he spoke of the impact of voting. “I was there in Ekiti to monitor elections and I heard a lot of reports of alleged vote buying and we are convinced that some vote buying went on. I condemn it. Vote buying is illegal; it is against the law, it is just as vote rigging, it is just as bad as ballot stuffing,” the high commissioner said of the conduct of the exercise. Similar unequivocal reports of vote buying were also made by all the other election observers and such was the perceived impact on the outcome that a group of the observers called on the National Assembly to enact a law criminalising vote buying.
When he spoke June during his visit to the offices of the EFCC, Arkwright may have been clairvoyant without knowing it then. The reality of the Ekiti election is that beyond the seeming peaceful atmosphere of the voting, its integrity was corrupted by the toxic ambience of vote buying just as ballot snatching, ballot box stuffing and outright falsification of results in previous elections also smeared the outcomes. As rightly pointed out by the British high commissioner, Nigeria’s electoral process is now confronted by a huge challenge that if not tackled portends a serious danger to the forthcoming 2019 general elections.
Again, as Arkwright stated, it was down to EFCC and INEC to collaborate and combat the emerging spectre. It requires a truly independent and professional organisation to drive the process of conferring integrity on our elections and by the performance of both agencies in Ekiti State, there is no cause for optimism. This pall of pessimism was further reinforced by the drama that surrounded the defection of some Senators and members of the House of Representatives across party lines where the EFCC did not cloth itself in honour with its role. EFCC’s conduct in the seeming attempt to prevent the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremmadu, from attending plenary on the day scheduled for the decamping of some members is ominous and disturbing.
Despite the uninspiring performance of the anti-graft agency, we cannot give up on the demand for a credible platform for the conduct of the 2019 elections. Indeed, it is an irreducible minimum expectation of any government – to give the people every cause to not only be positive but enthusiastic on the machinery for the coming elections.
There is no alternative to getting it right since democracy is all about obeying the will of the people and serving them. The 2019 election is already attracting intense attention and scrutiny from the democratic and developed world and we cannot but demand that the federal government, especially President Muhammadu Buhari owe it a duty to the people to be statesmanly and allow the institutions for delivering a credible election to operate without political interference.
A lot of resources have been ploughed into creating a platform where credible elections can be conducted. A major facet of this is the money invested in acquiring card readers and other technology-driven processes for free elections. For the 2019 elections, President Buhari has already tabled a budget of N232 billion for its conduct. Although the figure is subject to vetting and approval by the National Assembly, not much may be cut from the cost estimate as every stakeholder is desirous of having a credible poll in 2019. For all these monetary and human resources to be made meaningless by unbridled vote buying where the ruling party is as involved, perhaps more deeply so, as the opposition parties will amount to a grand betrayal of the people.
By now, EFCC ought to have swung into gear to unravel and prosecute the persons and groups involved in the vote buying saga in Ekiti. Sadly, there is not much expected of the agency under the circumstance where agents of the ruling party played a central role. But Nigerians demand and deserve no less. It is down to the government to live up to their solemn responsibility.