“Corruption impacts the poorest and most vulnerable in society the hardest. It is ordinary citizens who suffer most when the corrupt steal funds intended for public services like infrastructure, healthcare and education, or take back-handers to award lucrative contracts to their cronies. One in four people around the world say they have had to pay a bribe to access public services in the past 12 months. But, when ordinary people fight back against corruption, they can make a real difference”

– Transparency International on the occasion of the International Anti-Corruption Day 2018.

Last Sunday, December 9, 2018 was commemorated across the world as the International Anti-Corruption Day 2018. The theme of this year’s commemoration was, “The Power of the People’s Pressure”. The United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, observed that “One trillion dollars are paid in bribes annually, while another $2.6tn is stolen; all due to corruption.” It is such a global scourge that the UN this year reported that, “Every year, trillions of dollars – equivalent to more than five per cent of the global GDP – are paid in bribes or stolen through corruption.” The UN recognises corruption as one of the biggest impediments to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

According to the UN Chief Scribe, corruption does six things, namely, it robs schools, hospitals and others of vitally needed funds; rots institutions, as officials enrich themselves or ignore criminality; deprives people of their rights and drives away foreign investment and despoils the environment; breeds disillusion with government and governance – often at the root of political dysfunction and social disunity; can be a trigger for conflict; and, drives and thrives on the breakdown of political and social institutions.

There is no gainsaying that the main source of Nigeria’s underdevelopment is corruption. Corruption scandals are not new in Nigeria. It has been part of the reasons given for military interventions in the country’s government and politics since 1966. Unfortunately, the military itself has been enmeshed in large scale corruption both during its political leadership of Nigeria and even during the civilian administrations. Today, millions of dollar of Abacha loot are still being repatriated into the country. In this Fourth Republic alone, we have heard of Siemens’ bribery scandal, the Malabu oil deal scandal, fuel subsidy bribery scandal, the $2.1bn “Dasukigate” allegedly orchestrated by the immediate past National Security Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan and the “Dezianigate” where a whopping $115m was allegedly funnelled to different stakeholders in the electoral process by a former petroleum resources minister towards compromising the last general election.

There are different forms and shapes by which corruption manifests in the electoral process. One of such is the ugly phenomenon of vote-buying. Interestingly, just on Monday, December 10, 2018, a one-day public hearing was organised by the Joint Committee on INEC of the National Assembly, themed, ‘Vote-buying and improving electoral processes in Nigeria.’ At the forum, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, observed that, “Since 1999, we have heard several confessional statements by willing partisan actors on how our electoral process is subverted and voters as well as election personnel are induced through the use of food items, kitchen utensils, automobiles, electrical appliances, clothing, toiletries, sandwich and so on, on an election day.”

The INEC boss said the commission had witnessed instances of vote-buying, including aspirants who induced party delegates to get elected as candidates from the ward to local government and state levels. He said the candidates would in turn buy votes from the electorate to win elections. “It is a chain, it is a spiral that we need to break… It is systemic,” he stated.

Yakubu identified other ways by which voters are induced to include party agents getting the voters to show them who they voted as a precondition for payment; buying agents of other political parties, and getting them to compromise against their political parties on election day as well as surrendering the Permanent Voter Card to middlemen as a precondition for assessing government amenities and facilities.

The INEC boss noted further that “vote-buying is illegal, undemocratic and morally poignant and a threat to the sanctity of the ballot. It debases our electoral democracy, enthrones unaccountable leadership, denies citizens quality representation, deprives the nation of the opportunity to address the challenges of development and harms the nation with a bad name internationally.”

I must state that vote-buying is not the only act of corruption that takes place in the electoral process. Akin to that is the abuse of state resources, especially by political office holders. The misuse of coercive powers of the state such as the police, Department of State Services, and the military; the use of anti-corruption agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, the Code of Conduct Bureau to victimise and persecute members of opposition political parties and denial of access of opposition political parties and candidates to publicly owned media are all forms of political corruption. It is incontrovertible that in the run-up to the 2019 elections, government institutions are being used against opposition political parties and candidates. Recent developments in Akwa Ibom State are pointers to these.

Sudden charitable actions of government too close to election can also be framed as voter inducement. Take for instance the slash in the cost of forms for some terminal examinations like the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, organised by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, the West African Senior Secondary School Examination conducted by the National Examination Council, as well as the Basic Education Certificate Examination with effect from January 2019 are all perceived by some sections of the public as “executive inducement” aimed at gaining unfair advantage during the elections.

In order to win the anti-corruption war in our electoral process, there must be strict enforcement of the laws against electoral corruption. Sections 124 and 130 of the Electoral Act criminalise vote-buying; Section 100 (2) of the same Act says “State apparatus including the media shall not be employed to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate at any election.” I therefore enjoin law enforcement and regulatory agencies saddled with the implementation of the electoral code to do their job professionally. If the police and the DSS will be unbiased, vote-buying will be drastically reduced.

INEC also needs to ensure that the allowances of its ad hoc staff are paid promptly as agreed with those recruited. There have been cases in the past where some youth corps members deployed for conduct of election refused to go to their duty posts owing to non-payment of their entitlements. Police officers deployed for election duty also have to be paid their Duty Tour Allowance before their deployment so that they will not have to wait on politicians for their feeding and comfort. The abuse of state administrative resources currently being witnessed should stop. Law enforcement agents must be dispassionate and professional in the discharge of their duty irrespective of whose ox is gored. Lastly, INEC and civil society organisations need to step up their voter education campaigns in order to educate the public on the evils of electoral corruption.

– Follow me on Twitter @jideojong

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