In Nigeria, the drumbeat of electioneering is fast getting louder. Politicians are strategizing, but voters are expectantly cynical and carefree. Political office holders have been jolted from their slumber. They have been retrieving forgotten and lost promises from the memory drive, and amending them to suit extant circumstances pending presentation as fresh manifestoes. They have remembered that they have to partake in electoral exercises to maintain their majestic positions. Aspiring political office holders have started “declaring” their intentions to contest and making bold political statements or election promises. The “elders” and “leaders” are not left out. The sofa in their living rooms had to be dusted for the new flow of traffic to the houses of these otherwise neglected or forgotten generation of opinion leaders.
The erstwhile lost political sons and daughters have started going back to their localities to pay homage to their leaders. Social media trolls are not far behind the politicians. They have become energised. They are making comments, spreading rumours on social media. In this political climate, political office holders and aspirants are logistical, local politicians are anticipatory, “good boys” are raring to go, civil servants are preparing or finalising plans to commission “project” at the last minute, while the electorate have mixed perspectives – cynicism and carefree hopefulness. Notwithstanding the cynical state of mind of the electorate, they are intent on exercising their “voting power” to determine the direction of governance by electing new “rulers.”
It is ironic that this is the time that politicians distribute the dividends of democracy and some electorate have a sense of belonging by accessing the dividends of democracy. These dividends of democracy include: spraying cash; distributing kitchen grinders, tricycles, motorcycles, clothes, food; and other assorted goods.
It is not uncommon to hear voters talking about voting power but how realistic is this voting power. It is a truism that voters have inalienable rights to vote in Nigeria but the question is: do voters actually exercise their power in the present scheme of electoral affairs in Nigeria? The answer is, No. Voting power is a fallacy arising from mistaken presumptive consequence of the right to vote. The notion that the overall right to vote determines election outcome and thereby amounts to voting power is a fallacy of composition. Election malpractice, or what politicians perceive as strategies, determines primary and general election results. Election malpractice has its own trajectory. It has developed along a continuum since the inception of representative governments, pseudo or otherwise, in Nigeria.
Undoubtedly, Nigeria’s elections have historically been fraught with varying forms of malpractice. Politicians have insightfully adapted to election agencies attempts to combat election malpractices. Resultantly, the forms of election rigging have continually move from a more coercive or even violent methods in the early-stage of the country’s democratization process to a more co-opting methods in the latter stage democratization. Thus, the prevailing election malpractice is a reflection of our position in the democratization process. In the early days of democratization, the rigging strategies used by political parties included: falsifying election results, snatching of ballot boxes at polling centres or collation centres, and diverting election materials from distribution centres to private residence for thump-printing to mention a few. However, in the last two decades the blatant and more violent election rigging methods have receded. In the past, election rigging occurred before, during and after the actual election. In the present day, it is to greater extent limited to before and during elections. The modern day rigging strategies are more subtle, shrewd and savvy.
The strategies include: registration of under aged voters, multiple registration, bribing agents of other political parties, bribing enforcement agents and election agencies’ officials, distribution of goods, particularly food, and vote-buying.
The Independent National election Commission (INEC) have attempted to combat election malpractice in general but regrettably, vote-buying that is considerably the most cancerous form of election rigging strategy has been total disregarded. Politicians pay lip service to the “monetization” of elections in Nigeria.
Vote-buying is described as monetization because it is transactional. In the transaction, votes are treated as goods that can be bought from voters directly or indirectly in exchange for cash payments.
In the south west of Nigeria, politicians use slangs like “jeun soke,” and “edibo esebe” to patronise the voters. Vote-buying has taken centre stage. It has become the most effective manipulative election strategy or rigging method in Nigeria. Politicians employ vote-buying methods during primary and general election. They implement vote-buying before or during elections through various forms of vote-buying strategies such as, “door-to-door” and “see and buy”. Political office holders and aspirants dedicate substantial funds for primary and general elections. The implicit costs of vote-buying to politicians are enormous and it is increasing astronomically because of the cutthroat competition in the election market. The inflationary rate of the costs of vote-buying is consequently exorbitant and unsustainable.
The phenomenon of vote-buying was traceable to the Nigeria’s Armgate scandal of 2015 and other instances of diversion of public funds to private purse.
Vote-buying equally has grave consequences for vote-sellers. It distorts democratic selection by enabling incompetent and roguish politicians to win elections to public offices, and thereby mismanage and misdirect public affairs.
Vote-selling leads to insensitivity to the needs and expectations of the public by political office holders. It is not unusual for political office holders to act insensitively and unresponsive. In extreme cases, they would express that the populace should be thankful to them for performing, albeit incompetently, their supposedly civic responsibilities.
In essence, political office holders’ inherent perception of their position is based on the premise that they bought and paid for it. This perception invariably impacts on their attitude in respect to the discharge of their social responsibilities as public office holders. Vote-buying affects public policies and forms the basis of all forms of corruption in public offices.
It has knock on effects on infrastructures and public services. Ultimately, the populace including vote-sellers complain about bad governance without regard to the fact that they are equally complicit to the adverse consequences of electing incompetent representatives to public offices.
The time has come for both vote-buyers and vote-sellers to realise that buying and selling of votes is not in the overall interests of the politicians who buy votes and the voters who sell their votes. It is high time we joined hands together to combat vote-buying by educating the public that voting power becomes powerless whenever votes are sold. We cannot properly exercise our voting rights unless we cast our votes for our own preferred choices. It is only then that our voting rights can translate to voting power. Politicians will continue to employ vote-buying as an election strategy until and unless the voters say, No! “Ko le work.”