The 2019 general election is less than four months ahead. Yet there are fears that the electoral process may not be free, fair and credible. Elections can only be adjudged as free, fair and credible when the consciences of the electorate are not tempered with in any guise before the election.
That the Nigerian electoral system has suffered a mess over the years is just to state the obvious. Our conduct of elections has severely, severally brought us to ridicule in the eyes of the international community.
Since Nigeria got her independence in 1960, it is on record that an incumbent president had not lost an election to the opposition until that jinx was broken in 2015. Many thanks to a man who exhibited a large of political sportsmanship. The then president, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan lost a Presidential election to the now incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari. Dr. Jonathan had called to congratulate Buhari even when the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC had not officially announced the winner. He reiterated his powerful quote that "my political ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian".
With that singular act of an incumbent losing and congratulating the opposition, Nigerians' dying confidence in the electoral system was, once again, rekindled. The Nigerian populace, especially those that fall within the voting age, breathed a breath of fresh air. The thinking was that the problems of electoral violence, ballot snatching and vote buying had become history. The electorate thought votes would begin to count and the wishes of the people would begin to reflect in the outcome of every election.
Going forward, these wishes and hopes of the Nigerian electorate were further boosted by the supposed "integrity" of the then incoming President Muhammad Buhari and his party who promised Nigerians heaven and earth about everything including the electoral system. With Buhari on the saddle, the people thought that never again would the phrase, electoral irregularities, be mentioned in any part of the African most populous black nation. But little did my people know that they were only day-dreaming. It was mere wishful thinking. The situation has rather grown worse going into the 2019 general elections. Our electoral system is still fraught with all kind of irregularities.
However, observations from most recent elections across the country show that there is a shift from the most notorious electoral malpractices, which are multiple thumb printing, ballot box snatching and writing of fake result sheets. What is now in vogue is the case of votes buying. This may be as a result of the Card Reader technology introduced into the electoral system by INEC. The card reader identifies the owner of a voter's card and captures his thumbprints without which he or she cannot vote. The new technology introduced by the immediate past administration has rendered multiple thumb printing and ballot snatching of no use.
Therefore, vote buying has become the most veritable instrument for perpetuating electoral fraud. The menace of vote buying reared up its ugly head so conspicuously during the two most recent governorship elections held in Ekiti and Ushun states in western Nigeria. It happened in Ekiti where each vote sold for between N5,000 and N10,000. But that was a child's play compared to what transpired in Oshun state. Recalled that the Oshun gubernatorial election was inconclusive. Elections were rescheduled for seven poling units. In those seven units, it was a rain of naira as each voter was wooed by political parties with the sums of N50,000 to N100,000. The outcome of such elections in a poverty stricken nation like ours does not need any soothsayer. The victory, let the highest bidder take.
In case you don't know, vote buying also takes place in primary elections across political parties. In Bayelsa state for instance, it will marvel you to hear that an aspirant into the Bayelsa state house of assembly lamented that he lost over N4 million during the just concluded primaries. He cried fowl, complaining bitterly that he used the money to woo deligates of his party to vote for him but lost the election to the highest bidder.
In all, vote buying in an election generally, portends great danger for our fledgling democracy. If not curbed during the 2019 general election, the already weak Nigerian economy will further plunge into full recession following the trillions that would be wasted by the federal, state and local governments across the country so as to buy votes for their respective parties. The independent national electoral commission in collaboration with the Nigerian police can manage the situation to a barest minimum by mounting serious ckecks on the political parties before, during and after the elections. The electorate should realize that a vote sold is a conscience sold and a future mortgaged.