Over the years, several issues of electoral malpractice have plagued Nigerian elections. Issues of electoral fraud such as vote-rigging, vote-buying, ballot box snatching, bribery and corruption, were rife. Corruption during elections is commonly exhibited through inducement, vote-buying and money laundering of disturbingly large sums of money. A 2020 report by the Centre for Democracy and Development showed that Nigerian politicians spend a lot of money on their campaigns for elections and a ludicrous amount of such monies are contributed by the politicians. Even the expression of interest forms of some parties was tagged at exorbitant prices.
In the U.S, it is estimated that the cost of running a successful American electoral campaign is between 500 million dollars and 1 billion dollars. Comparatively, in Nigeria, it was recorded that in 2015, thought to be the most expensive election to date, both the APC and PDP spent nothing less than five billion Naira each on primaries, delegates, advertising and campaigns alone. A figure arrived at by figures recorded from the media and advertising industry.
Although the cost of running elections in America is higher than that of Nigeria, the sheer difference in the per capita income of both countries is a key factor to be considered when drawing such a comparison. The U.S has a per capita income of about 60,000 dollars per year, Nigeria on the other hand, has remained on a yearly 2,000 dollars per capita income. The US economy is obviously capable of withstanding such high costs. Nigeria, on the other hand, maybe too poor for elections to cost so much.
Recently, the EFCC was under scrutiny on social media. They had been spotted severally attending political parties’ primary elections, and allegations were made that their presence was uncalled for. In response, the EFCC hosted a Twitter space to sensitize members of the public on its role in elections. Additionally, in a recent statement, NIyi Adebayo, the Commander, Abuja Zonal Command of the EFCC, revealed that its presence in the primary elections of parties does not only show the important role of the EFCC in ensuring that elections are free and fair but reiterates its role of prevention of financial crimes. Its presence, therefore, was intended to serve as a deterrent to any electoral fraud.
Read also: EFCC looks on as financial inducement allegations haunt primaries
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is the body charged with eradicating, investigating and prosecuting financial crimes in Nigeria. By virtue of Section 6 (e) and (f) of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (Establishment) Act 2004 (EFCC Act), the EFCC may utilise coordinated preventive and regulatory measures to ensure that financial economic crimes are not committed.
The Commission is also enabled to prosecute offenders who have violated the provisions of the law. Section 6 (b) provides that the Commission has the power to investigate all financial crimes. Section 7 (1) (a) of the EFCC Act also provides that the Commission has the power to cause investigations to be conducted as to whether any person, corporate body or organization has committed any offence under this Act or other law relating to economic and financial crimes. Furthermore, the Act empowers EFCC to prosecute offenders who have violated the provisions of the Act and all other laws which the EFCC is empowered to enforce, including the provisions of the Money Laundering Act 2003 and the Criminal Code or Penal Code.
Therefore, EFCC’s presence in the primaries is not only lawful but necessary. However, despite the EFCC’s presence at the just concluded primaries of some political parties, there are blatant examples of unaddressed electoral malpractice. The scandalous monetization of the electoral process through vote-buying and bribery was actively shown by the aspirants and delegates at the primaries.
Just recently, tales were told of how political aspirants had enriched delegates of their parties, in the hope that they would vote for them, and when they lost, publicly began to demand a refund. One of such aspirants claimed it was a directive by the major stakeholders of the PDP that delegates return the money of unsuccessful candidates. It is ludicrous that such a directive could be openly mentioned and brought to the attention of the public and the financial crime-fighting bodies remain immobile.
The answer may be contained in Section 84 (8) of the Electoral Act 2022, which states that “a political party that adopts the system of indirect primaries for the choice of its candidate shall clearly outline in its constitution and rule the procedure for the democratic election of delegates to vote at the convention, congress or meeting”. The Section is to the effect that only persons that have been democratically elected to vote at the primaries will be delegates for the purpose of voting at any political party primaries.
The old Electoral Act of 2010 provided for two categories of delegates to vote at primaries. These are the statutory delegates which are mainly public office holders who are members of that party, and ad hoc delegates who are persons democratically elected to vote at the primary elections (which the 2022 Act retains). The 2022 Act however excludes the statutory delegates, leaving the power to vote in the hands of the few ad hoc delegates.
The idea behind using only the elected delegates is to enhance the likelihood that the votes will be representative of the people’s choice. It was also intended to ensure that statutory delegates, by virtue of their positions, would not have the chance to wield undue influence over the outcome of the primaries. However, this seems to have begotten another evil, as voting power has been left in the hands of a few, which has turned our democratic process into a money-wielding circus.
It is incredible to witness. Right under the nose of our preventative and enforcement agencies, aspirants in a democratic process are demanding a return of monies given to delegates to purchase their votes, in full view of the nation. What is to be done?
First, our law enforcement agencies must be more proactive; the duty to enforce the laws rests with them. Finally, it is the collective responsibility of all Nigerians to ensure that competent and saleable candidates are pitched to contest for any public office. Without this, we are all to blame for this spectacle.