The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), says speedy passage of the National Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal Bill by the National Assembly will checkmate vote buying.
The bill, meant to provide the legal framework for the investigation and prosecution of electoral offences for the general improvement of the electoral process in Nigeria, on June 30, passed the second reading in the House of Representatives.
The Senate in July 2021, passed a similar bill, which had seven parts and 48 sections, and sought to take the “burden” of prosecuting electoral offenders off INEC.
INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Lagos State, Mr Olusegun Agbaje, told NAN on Sunday that if passed, the bill would ensure a speedy trial of electoral offenders.
He said that if electoral offenders, including vote buyers and voter sellers, were arrested and quickly prosecuted, there would be more sanity in the 2023 general elections.
Agbaje, however, said that the battle against vote buying in whatever shapes or forms must be fought to a standstill by all stakeholders in Nigeria.
“There are so many issues to this matter. The judicial aspect is there, security agencies are there. INEC cannot monitor all these offenders.
“There is no way we can be conducting elections and at the same time, watching people that are buying the conscience of voters with money, food or other things.
“That is why the commission has been asking the national assembly regularly to finish its work on the electoral offences commission and tribunal bill to become law.
“When we have this, it will be just like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, to monitor and investigate the menace of vote buying and other offences.
“It will be like a security agency for INEC. Their job will be purposely for this and they will be all out on election day.
“The vote buyers and sellers are giving INEC a bad name, however, it is not the duty of INEC to monitor this,” he said.
Agbaje advised that all stakeholders should engage politicians on vote buying ahead of the 2023 general elections, and talk to them as actors sponsoring and encouraging this menace.
The REC decried the delay in prosecuting electoral offences in Nigeria, describing it as frustrating.
According to him, if a case that is simple and can be judged within two weeks is left for three years, and people do not see any action, they feel that if they do it again, nothing will happen to them and that their godfathers will also protect them.
He explained that the security, judiciary, INEC, national assembly, political parties, NGOs and other critical stakeholders had roles to play in fighting vote buying and vote selling.
Agbaje said that it remained an offence for any voter to display his or her ballot after casting vote for anyone to see, saying: “If we have that agency we are talking about, that is their job to position officers to monitor all these.”
The INEC chief added that even before elections, every illegal transfer of money to thousands of voters would be monitored and investigated by the agency.