Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to direct appropriate anti-corruption agencies to identify and arrest politicians who were allegedly buying permanent voter cards (PVCs) from poor Nigerians.
SERAP also asked President Buhari to ensure that the politicians and their sponsors, who were suspected to be involved in this grave electoral and human rights crimes are named and shamed, regardless of their political affiliations.
The civil society organisation, which made the call in an open letter dated December 17, 2022 and signed by its deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, stated that if the illegal act is not checked, it will completely compromise the legitimacy of representative government.
The CSO also maintained that buying of PVCs from poor Nigerians is a threat to fair and representative elections, as it amounts to vote buying, undue influence and improper electoral influence.
It further said that the allegations that politicians and their sponsors were buying PVCs from poor Nigerians are grave violations of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended), the Electoral Act, and the country’s international anti-corruption and human rights obligations.
SERAP noted that the right to vote is central to the enjoyment of other basic human rights but the right will have little meaning if politicians and their sponsors continue to buy PVCs and get away with their crime against the Nigerian people.
The letter reads in part: “We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall consider appropriate legal actions to compel your government to comply with our request in the public interest.
“No body politic worthy of being called a democracy entrusts the selection of leaders to a process of auction or barter. Inducing poor Nigerians to sell their PVCs intrudes on their freedom to make up their own minds.
“The buying of PVCs from poor Nigerians and the resulting deprivation of the right to participation would completely compromise the legitimacy of representative government.
“Investigating, identifying, naming and shaming those suspected to be involved in these criminal acts of vote-buying and undue influence, and bringing them to justice would promote the people’s right to vote, and public trust and confidence in the electoral process.”
SERAP also pointed out that the Nigerian Constitution provides in Section 14(1)(c) that, ‘the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.’ Sections 121 and 127 of the Electoral Act prohibit electoral bribery and undue influence before, during and after any election.
The organisation also stressed that similarly, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance guarantee the right to political participation, including the right to vote.
“These human rights treaties also require states parties including Nigeria to promote the establishment of the necessary conditions to foster citizen participation.
“Buying of PVCs is a variation of vote buying and undue influence. It would undermine the ability of INEC to effectively discharge its responsibilities under Section 153 of the Nigerian Constitution and paragraph 15(a) of the third schedule of the Constitution, and the Electoral Act 2022.
“It would lead to disparate and discriminatory treatment of poor Nigerians, encourage poor governance, and weaken citizens’ capacity to hold their ‘elected officials’ accountable for their actions,” it added.
SERAP pointed out that when politicians and their sponsors decide to buy the support of the people rather than contest fairly for their votes, there are possibilities that such politicians will show utter disregard for democratic rules.
“Acting swiftly to address the brazen impunity and allegations of politicians purchasing PVCs from poor Nigerians would also send a strong message to politicians that your government would not tolerate any infringement of the electoral process ahead of the 2023 general elections,” SERAP stated.