By Tonnie Iredia
Some years back, one easy way of knowing those involved in a particular unwholesome political behaviour was to look out for those who are loudest in condemning the act. In the case of vote- buying which is the latest election rigging device, it is quite difficult identifying the perpetrators as everyone is busy loudly condemning the act by the day.
Put differently, vote-buying in Nigeria is in reality a game everyone is playing at varying degrees. But because the malpractice largely depends on resources, the major political parties that are better positioned to perpetuate it are its major culprits.
Candidates of the smaller parties who are equally guilty often draw attention to this. In 2017, Osita Chidoka, a former Corps Marshall of the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC who contested the Anambra State governorship election as the candidate of the United Progressive Party (UPP) had to publicly decry vote-buying. Even his ardent supporters were not excluded by in his poetic statement that “while our message resonated with the people, they voted for the highest bidder.”
Ahead of the 2019 elections, a professor of Theatre Arts and Drama, Iyorwuese Hagher who was a presidential aspirant on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) argued that “the desperate attempts by incumbent to retain power at all cost could fatally derail the freedom of the voter and one-person one-vote and the electoral value.”
The situation attained its climax after the Ekiti governorship election which made the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC to devise a strategy to address the malaise. A few days to the Osun governorship election, Professor Yakub Mahmood, chairman of INEC announced that in order to curb vote-buying and vote-selling, cameras and other recording devices would no longer be allowed into polling booths. Unfortunately, the amount of vote-buying associated with the use of cameras and phones is quite little compared to other methods in operation.
What this implies is that there are more fundamental sources of the malaise. The suggestion a few days ago that INEC should trace the origin of vote-buying is essentially distractive because contrary to the claim by Adams Oshiomhole, Chairman of the All Progressive Congress APC, that the malaise was introduced by former President Goodluck Jonathan, there were tales of how candidates distributed food items to induce voters as far back as the first republic.
Indeed, three years before Jonathan’s so-called vote-buying episode in the south-west, Oshiomhole had himself raised an alarm that some people were buying voters cards in his name as governor of Edo State. He then ‘mobilized’ the police to deal with the people concerned which ended in the arrest of a few of the governor’s opponents who allegedly bought voters cards with no one identified for selling to them. Besides, a few weeks to the election in 2012, the governor who was seeking reelection provided huge sums of money to corps members in the state who were to officiate in the election. The money was called hazard allowance.
In the perception of the public, there is hardly any motivational difference between Oshiomhole’s inexplicable hazard allowance and the sudden payment of long-standing salaries to Osun workers at the eve of the governorship election in the state last September. Thus, vote-buying takes many shapes and the token which many politicians part with through agents at voting centres is neglible even though an offence. In fact, the reason an average politician dislikes congresses, conventions and primaries is to conserve his resources for vote-buying at the election proper, otherwise, he would need to buy votes all through the process. Hence, we now have what is known as automatic ticket – a new device in Nigeria’s home-grown democracy. Even the latter is hardly gotten on a platter of gold as those involved usually transfer to party officials what they would have paid to delegates. In Imo state for instance, the several magical stories about party officials are instructive.
During the last APC congress in the state, Governor Okorocha related to Nigerians how some party officials were escorted to a house by the police in search of nomination forms. On getting there, the officials simply vanished. This was repeated during the governorship primaries as the chairman of the officiating team from Abuja vanished again on arrival in Owerri, the state capital.
Vote-buying goes beyond general elections to other matters such as mobilising legislators to impeach an opponent. The person to be impeached does not have to have done anything wrong. The number of deputy governors impeached since 1999 shows that in Nigeria, money can convert political dissent into an impeachable offence. The same is true of the newly introduced mobilisation of voters to recall a legislator who disagrees with his governor as noted in the case of Kogi’s Senator Dino Melaye. The point must also be made that vote-buying, another term for political inducement is not just about politicians.
Other segments of the society are actively involved. The unending stories of how several staff of the electoral body have been convicted or are being tried for electoral malpractices belong to the larger body of vote-buying, so is the case with endorsements of candidates by many royal fathers. We have also seen in the media how security agencies are mobilised to help perfect vote-buying as well as scenes of the operatives themselves openly soliciting gratification. Justice for sale in election petitions is indeed, strategic vote-buying
Any serious effort to address vote-buying must therefore begin with a critical examination of the conditions which encourage it, the most important being the lucrative nature of Nigeria’s political system. Our politicians earn too much; yet they have so much power to abuse their offices to add to their bogus pay. If the system is made less enticing, vote-buying will reduce.
Added to this is the life-style of our political class which makes politics the attraction of everyone. Those who cannot make it do all they can to extract as much as possible from the average politician. The political system itself lacks accountability hence the politicians have successfully turned Nigeria into the world’s centre of poverty which enables them to exploit the common man.
Therefore, all the arguments about the irrationality of the poor selling their vote would make no meaning to a people so deprived that the only token they get from their leaders comes only through vote-buying.
After all, the greatest buyers are those in government which establishes beyond reasonable doubt that the money for vote-buying is sourced from the public treasury which ironically belongs to the people. So, Nigerians need to know that politicians who raise alarms about vote-buying may have just bought some and as such deserve no vote.