I am greatly delighted to address you at this Public Hearing on Vote-Buying and Improving the Electoral Processes in Nigeria, organized by the National Assembly Joint Committee on INEC and Political Parties Matters. This is one of the most topical issues of the moment which should be addressed before the conduct of 2019 general elections.
2. Elections are so attractive that even pretentious democracies lay claim to holding elections just in order to confer some aura of legitimacy on their rule. But not all elections are democratic elections. It has been said that for elections to qualify as democratic, they must be competitive, periodic, inclusive and definitive. Free, fair, credible and transparent elections therefore, is the very basis for translating the consent of the governed into governmental authority. It is democratic elections that have propelled true democracies since the 17th Century.
3.Indeed the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in our Constitution envisages that Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of Democracy and that sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria, through which government derives its authority, powers and legitimacy. Therefore, any form of contrivance by any person or authority to unduly influence the choice of the voter is condemnable as it is patently an assault on this constitutional guarantee.
4. Undue influence of voters have always existed in different forms all over the world. However the recent phenomenon of direct pricing and buying of votes as if in a market square is very disturbing. It is one of the highest forms of corruption.
5. The high prevalence of vote-buying in the electoral system of the country is, without any doubt, of great concern to all Nigerians and members of the global community who truly love democracy. It is disheartening that this absurd phenomenon has assumed alarming proportions in recent times. As citizens, we must not surrender to this criminality as we cannot do so and still expect honour. When political office holders defy the law and corruptly assume office, they will always operate as if they are above the law.
6.Vote buying and other sundry criminal manipulation of the electoral process in Nigeria have left our citizens in a state of unmitigated disaster. As a result, we have been married off to a mob. A mob that rules us by the example of their power nor by the dictates of law. A mob that rules by fear as an inalienable tool rather than by courage. A mob that accepts the status quo rather than challenge it. Mobs don’t grow others, they only destroy others in order to grow themselves. We follow the Mob because we must, not because we are receiving any sense of significance for our own lives from them. Our democracy has stagnated and will sadly remain so until we eliminate all sham elections which have the effect of throwing up the worst of us to lead the best of us. I hope we can now see why today’s event is compellingly urgent.
7. It is instructive to note that the Electoral Act anticipated and captured most forms of electoral fraud including inducement and vote buying. I hope we will have the courage at this event to address the distribution of cash to the public very close to general elections by public officials. I am afraid that such endeavors no matter how noble the intentions behind them may fall within the all encompassing provisions of S. 124 (1)(a);(b);(c); and S.(124)(2)(4)(5) and S. 130 of the Electoral Act. Although penalties are not stringent, there is also lack of political will to implement the laws as it is even if it were to offer feeble deterrence to violators. Arrest are hardly made and even where arrests are made, prosecutions are unheard of.
8. A more worrisome dimension to vote buying is the alleged use of the officials of the electoral umpire, INEC, and officers of security agencies to induce, or intimidate and coerce voters to vote for particular candidates. Such absurdities have been widely reported in the media and confirmed by some local and international observers in respect of the recently concluded governorship elections in Osun State. As expected, all lovers of democracy worldwide rose to condemn these despicable incidents. Condemnation is not enough, it will amount to hypocrisy, if we don’t take the bull by the horn by taking concrete steps to eliminate these evils that make mockery of our hard worn democracy.
9. The essence of this Public Hearing, therefore, is to enable all of us interrogate these issues and proffer the way out. We must not leave here before we have proffered practical steps to be taken in order to ensure that each vote counts in our elections and our elections henceforth will qualify as democratic elections not the kind of sham elections usually organized by totalitarian regimes.
10. Let me seize this opportunity to call on all people of goodwill in our country to rise in condemnation and denunciation of vote-buying and all forms of electoral malpractices. Indeed, electoral fraud is one of the worst forms of corruption, and should be treated as such. This is the only way we can guarantee the stability and growth of our democracy.
11. At this juncture, I want to urge all of us present here to freely express our views and proffer solutions to curtail this menace. We expect that recommendations from this hearing will assist in the entrenchment of globally acceptable electoral processes in Nigeria and procure the confidence of all our citizens in our electoral process. I wish us all very successful deliberations.
12 . Thank you all. God bless you and may God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.