By Soni Daniel
The acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Ibrahim Magu has described electoral corruption as the worst form of corruption as it undermines the will of the people and invests power in illegitimate hands.
According to Magu, a government that pays its way into power is hardly expected to be accountable; its priority upon assumption of office would be how to recoup its investment. That is the open sesame to corruption in public life, a phenomenon that has held us down as a nation.
Magu who spoke through the Secretary of the Commission, Ola Olukoyede at the National Policy Dialogue on Eradicating Electoral Corruption (Vote-Buying) at the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria on Tuesday, described the timing of the dialogue as apt.
He said the dialogue was critical to “our collective aspiration to clean up the institutions and process of election management for the good governance of our nation”.
He said: “It was in appreciation of the damage, which the incidence of vote buying does to the integrity of our electoral processes that we resolved to play a more active role in stemming the practice in the just concluded general election. The EFCC’s intervention was moderated by our understanding of the pattern of vote buying in the elections that were held in two states, Ekiti and Osun states, in 2018.
“To stem the ugly practice, the Commission decided to employ a combination of preventive and enforcement strategies. Before the political actors became aware that the commission had become unusually interested in the electoral processes, the EFFC held sensitization meetings with critical stakeholders in the financial sector, impressing on them the need not to lend their institutions to be used as vehicles to subvert the will of the people. Some of the stakeholders included bankers and Bureau De Change Operators.
“Our engagement with them was informed by our knowledge of the roles which some of them played during the 2015 general election, helping politicians to move huge sums of money which were intended to be used to compromise election officials and other actors in the electoral process”.
He further explained that the Commission had to engage with law enforcement agencies with anti-money laundering mandate in neighbouring countries to check incidence of illicit financial flows before, during and after the general elections.
He said: “Additionally, we stepped up surveillance of financial system, to track suspicious cash movement which led to some arrests. These measures, we believe, helped to reduce the amount of cash available to politicians for vote buying.
“But the intervention that was most visible to politician actors and the electorates was the unprecedented step to physically police all the polling stations and collation centres to deter prospective vote buyers and sellers. From Birnin-Kebbi to Ilorin, from Sokoto to Awka, from Kano to Abeokuta, from Lafia to Port Harcourt, officers of the Commission were massively deployed across the country to polling units and collation centres to disrupt vote buying and arrest offenders. Some of the officers were kitted in customized EFCC jackets while many wore plain clothes.”
He said the officers made some arrests and seized money running into several millions of Naira.
He said: “While prosecution of a number of offenders are currently ongoing, we have secured the conviction of a local government councillor in Gombe State for vote buying and also finalizing arrangement to file charges against more offenders and those arrested for vote buying and others with large sums of money which purpose they could not explain.
“But beyond the arrests, the presence of EFCC operatives at polling stations and collation centres was a major deterrence to vote buyers. We believe that the fear of possible arrest by the commission dissuaded many who would have turned such voting centres into trading posts for votes.”
The EFCC acting chairman said the EFCC’s intervention was driven by passion to do something to engender public confidence in our electoral process, drawing from our experience of financial infractions in previous elections. It was not the product of any structured blueprint or policy. This is why I welcome this initiative by the ICPC.
He further said: “No doubt, there is a lot that the law enforcement community in Nigeria can benefit from such a blueprint, which should also clearly spell out rules of engagement agencies in the electoral process. Such blueprint when formulated will, hopefully address some of the criticisms against the participation of security and law enforcement organisations in the electoral process.”