By Dr Ugoji Egbujo
I had a chat with some youths in Orodo, my home town, recently. Orodo is in Imo state. The bulk of them were unemployed and under employed. We talked about the coming elections.
They had no faith in any of the leading governorship candidates in Imo. They were in the youth groups of the leading governorship candidates. Some of them, promiscuously, belonged to two or more groups at the same time. Politics for them was some kind of business.
They thought Uche Nwosu was the handiwork of an ambitious emperor. My people of Owerri zone think it’s abominable to keep power in Orlu zone . Rochas’ Orlu zone has had it for 16 years since 1999. So even those of them working for the APC and for Rochas Okorocha thought the idea of Uche Nwosu was reckless self indulgence by the Imo governor.
They were hesitant about Hope Uzodimma and Ararume. They said they didn’t understand their past. I didn’t want to ask them too many questions. They said some people, even in a Banana republic, should not be allowed to occupy certain public positions. I reminded them that it could be misleading to swallow rumours—hook, line and sinker. They said they were not looking for saints. But wanted people whose life stories, rumours inclusive, would inspire the youths. I gave up.
They didn’t think Ohakim was in the race.
They said they had seen Ihedioha. They would have wanted the PDP to bring someone refreshing. Ihedioha, they felt , lacks imagination. They said he would be like the rest. The youths looked disillusioned, they sounded bitter.
But there was a glint in their eyes whenever they spoke about the elections. That glint didn’t match the cynicism they oozed.
I asked them whom they thought would win the Imo governorship. They said it would be a straight fight between the four leading candidates. But that glint of mischief remained in their eyes. There was something they weren’t saying.
So I took them down the valley, to vote buying. I wanted to know if they would sell their votes if they were approached, on election day. They sneered collectively at my ignorance. They said I was out of touch, aloof. They said that though they were working for some of the main candidates but they would give their votes to whomsoever paid the highest fees on election day.
I wasn’t surprised. I was only shocked by the size righteous indignation with which they said it. They made it look that it would be stupid not to sell their votes.
So I asked them how much they thought would be enough to grab their votes. They hadn’t thought about it. So I asked them if 10,000 naira would be enough. Their eyes lit up. They said they would sell for 5000 naira. But would monitor events at other centres.
What is shaping up in Orodo will rule Rivers and Lagos. And could decide the elections. So pundits and forecasters should take a collective deep breath.
I told the youths that selling their votes would make them young Esaus. How could they so cheaply accept one plate of porridge and give up their birthright? They said they would be happy to give the birthright to any of the uninspiring Jacobs who offered them 10,000 naira.
They said that their attachment to any of the governorship candidates was not worth 1000 naira. They said they were sure they wont get 10,000 naira benefit from any of the candidates in four years.
It was a startling revelation. Those who had sworn that they would never vote for the APC because of their membership of the proscribed IPOB were also willing to take money and vote even the APC or the Action Alliance.
It’s now five weeks to the election. Everywhere I turned, I tried to find repugnance against vote buying and selling. I found none. What I found amongst the youths, rather, was an eagerness to cash in on the opportunity and make some cash. The future they explained was a luxury which only the rich could afford to look out for.
The present they lived in, their immediate circumstances, they insisted were too hopeless, too suffocating and left them no such room. They said, for them, tomorrow was always a little too far, a little too unpredictable.
I know INEC has made arrangements with the security agencies to curb the new scourge of vote buying. I hope INEC understands the enormity of the problem. My feelers at the local level indicate that the main parties and their candidates are preparing for a bidding war on election day.
If so much cash makes it to the polling booths, then it would be difficult for everybody. INEC has found it difficult to contain the scourge even when it conducted single state elections in Ekiti and Osun. INEC would be spread thin on general election days.
The parties must join INEC in a determined fight against vote buying. Religious bodies should join the fight. INEC and the security agencies will be overwhelmed if the leading parties have chosen to win at all costs, literally.