The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a civil society organization, has requested in an open letter dated December 17, 2022, that President Muhammadu Buhari direct the relevant anti-corruption institutions to find and detain politicians who are reportedly buying permanent voter cards (PVCs) from impoverished Nigerians. SERAP also requested that President Buhari publicly call out the names of any politicians as well as their sponsors who are suspicious of being engaged in these severe electoral and human rights offences.
According to the letter, which was signed by Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization’s deputy director, if the illegal activity is not stopped, it will significantly harm the validity of the representative government. The CSO further said purchasing PVCs from poor citizens constitutes vote buying, unlawful electoral interference, and disproportionate influence. It added that the accusations that politicians and their supporters were purchasing PVCs from underprivileged Nigerians constitute significant breaches of the Electoral Act, the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended), and the nation’s international duties in the fight against corruption and also human rights.
SERAP vows to compel the government to comply with its request.
Voting is a fundamental human right, as SERAP pointed out; yet, if corrupt politicians and their backers are able to buy PVCs and keep getting away with atrocities against the people of Nigerians, then perhaps the voting right will be meaningless. Within 7 days of receipt and/or publishing of the letter, they requested action be taken as outlined in the letter. When that deadline passes without a response from the government, SERAP said it would explore possible legal options to force the government to respond to their demand in the interest of the public.
Moreover, no government deserving the name democracy uses an auction or barter system to choose its leaders. Persuading impoverished Nigerians to trade their PVCs violates their right to make their own decisions. Buying PVCs from poor Nigerians and denying them their democratic right to vote would undermine the credibility of representative government. The right to vote as well as public confidence and trust in the election process, would be advanced by looking into, exposing, naming, and condemning individuals suspected of being involved in these illegal actions of vote-buying and improper influence, then bringing such to justice.
People must be granted their electoral rights and privileges.
Section 14(1)(c) of the Nigerian Constitution states, “the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution,” as SERAP noted. Before, during, and after an election, bribery and disproportionate influence are strictly forbidden by sections 121 as well as 127 of the Electoral Act. Furthermore, the group emphasized that the freedom to political engagement, including the freedom to vote, is guaranteed by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance.
State parties, such as Nigeria, are obligated by international human rights treaties to work toward promoting conditions where citizens can actively participate in government. PVC purchases are a form of undue influence and vote buying. It would be difficult for INEC to effectively carry out its obligations under Section 153 of the Nigerian Constitution, Paragraph 15(a) of the third schedule of the Constitution, as well as the Electoral Act of 2022. It added that It would encourage bad governance, treat poor Nigerians differently, and make it harder for people to take their “elected officials” responsible for their deeds.
Government should take swift action ahead of the 2023 election.
SERAP cautions that politicians who accept financial support from special interests rather than competing fairly for voters’ votes may behave in a way inconsistent with democratic norms. Prior to the general elections in 2023, SERAP clarified that taking swift measures to remedy the blatant impunity and alleging that politicians were buying PVCs from disadvantaged Nigerians would send a clear message to political elites that the government would not condone any interference with the electoral process.