Cash And Carry Democracy: The Carbuncle Of Vote Buying In Nigeria.

By; David Nwaenyi (DCN)
The proponents of democracy believe that if an election is 'free,' it means that all those entitled to vote are rightly registered and are totally free to make their choice of candidate without imposition or inducement. Perhaps, this cannot be said of elections in the country, where the inducement of voters by political parties and politicians has somewhat become the order of the day.

As a young boy, I enjoyed attending bazaar with my father at Obodoukwu. During the service, I pay little or no attention to the preacher or the proceedings of the service. I was only waiting for the 'main' thing: the 'going, going, going - gone!' sound of the bell; which is a refrain commonly used to herald the determination of the highest bidder of an item being sold on auction. The sound of the bell is usually preceded by a lengthy and interesting auctioning, and sometimes, signs and eye contact with the auctioneers. 

As it used to be done during bazaar in my Obodoukwu church, the process of presenting items for bid, taking bids, and then selling them to the highest bidder aptly encapsulates a questionable practice that has permeated Nigeria’s recent electoral experience: vote buying. However, vote buying is not fundamentally new to Nigeria’s electoral process. Even if we forget the bags of money being moved to politicians' houses at the eleventh hour, to make them change their minds, we will not forget how some greedy and desperate politicians' moves to secure another term in office has escalated the cost of election and inducement of voters, which has also made some politicians sudden billionaires. 

In Nigeria, democracy is on sale. Yet our citizens are chanting “we want change, we want change!”. 'Change' is not what you get after the sale of democracy. Our electorates are only seeing elections as means of gaining money and being blinded to the outcome of the choice they make regarding who they elect into power. How do you  expect change to occur when you have traded in your power to bring in change for few pieces of dollar? How can change happen if money has made you give power to the 'wrong' person?

Vote buying, which is completely antithetical to the ethos and norms of democracy, has become a common feature of party primaries and general elections conducted in recent years in Nigeria. For example, the just concluded PDP presidential primary saw aspirants do the "going, going, going - gone" with the delegates. There was a 'showers of dollar' upon the delegates. Delegates were seen receiving (some) $35,000, $25,000 and $15,000 each from the presidential aspirants. This means that some aspirants may have spent over #2b, just at the primary stage. 

As the 2023 general election draws near, we have seen some ugly signs that 'vote buying has eaten too deep into our electoral system'. 
Since politicians and political parties have begun buying their ways into victories, electorates are beginning to find their voting power useless and are instead trading it for material things. Not only are electorates seeing it as a means to gain money or other things of monetary value, some are referring to it as a means to also eat in the national cake that politicians are enjoying.

The rampant spread of vote buying is acting as a catalyst for the destruction and death of democracy in Nigeria and also acting as a hindrance to the possibilities of good governance in the country. Political parties that can’t provide capable candidates that can govern the country but can afford to buy votes are now using this means as a way to buy their candidates into power. The obvious outcome is that there is the highest possibility those position falls into the wrong hands.

As a result of vote buying, the electoral process has become very expensive. Candidates now think that without money and their ability to pay their way into people’s hearts one way or the other, they wouldn’t win elections. As a result of this, candidates that are likely to succeed at governing the country better give up on the thought before they even try. But for candidates that can afford the monetary implications of contesting for a political position, they get into power and see it as a means to get the money they lost during the electoral process and in the process, they forget to do what they have been elected into power to do.

It is pertinent at this juncture to remind the electorates that vote buying is a criminal offense. Article 130 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, states that:
"A person who — (a) corruptly by himself or by any other person at any time after the date of an election has been announced, directly or indirectly gives or provides or pays money to or for any person for the purpose of corruptly influencing that person or any other person to vote or refrain from voting at such election, or on account of such person or any other person having voted or refrained from voting at such election; or (b) being a voter, corruptly accepts or takes money or any other inducement during any of the period stated in paragraph (a) of this section, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N100,000 or 12 months imprisonment or both."

Notwithstanding its criminalization, vote buying continues to be a widespread practice in Nigeria’s recent elections. Recently, experiences show that vote buying takes place at multiple stages of the electoral cycle and has been observed eminently during voter registration, the nomination period, campaigning and election day. It is more predominant during election day, shortly before or during vote casting.

Major Causes of Vote Buying in Nigeria:
The impunity of vote buying is becoming the norm in Nigeria’s electoral politics with political parties trying to outwit each other in the amounts paid to voters. 

a. Politicians engage in vote buying because of the promise of enormous power and wealth they hope to gain once they enter government. 

b. Fear among many politicians that if they do not engage in the act, their opponents will still do so and gain electoral advantage. This dilemma has thus made vote buying a race of sorts especially among the “big” political parties.

c. Complacency and complicity of security agents and election officials add to the problem. In order to seal their protection and loyalty, security agents are usually the first to be compromised by the political parties or candidates. Hence vote trading often takes place in the presence of security agents who appear unable or unwilling or too compromised to deter such electoral offences.

d. Weakness of the rule of law. The fact that those who engage in the act are never arrested and prosecuted encourages many others to adopt the strategy.

Consequences of Vote Buying:
a. Vote Buying unduly raises the cost of elections thereby shutting out aspirants with little finances and promoting political corruption. When victory is purchased rather than won fairly, it obviously leads to state capture.

b. Vote Buying compromises the credibility, legitimacy and integrity of elections. Vote buying undermines the integrity of elections as the winners are often the highest bidders and not necessarily the most popular or credible contestants.

c. Vote Buying discourages conscientious people from participating in electoral politics and causes citizens to lose faith in state institutions.
d. Vote Buying has the tendency to perpetuate bad governance. It not only compromises the wellbeing of those who sold their vote for instant gratification, but also the future of those who did not sell their votes but are inevitably exposed to bad governance that results from such a fraudulent process. For every vote traded, there are many people who will suffer the unintended consequences when the traded votes make the difference between winning and losing in the election.

Vote buying prevents the best many times from getting to lead a people. Democracy should naturally come with some freedom and when inducements come in, the entire process has been defeated. I reckon that the major pre-condition for selfless government is that elections must be conducted without inducements. If politicians pay through their noses to get to power, it’s logical to recoup their money and rape more to meet our needs in coming elections. It becomes somewhat a mutual hostility.

I call on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Nigerian Police Force (NPF), all the law enforcement agencies, as well as the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), as a matter of urgent necessity, should collaborate, to educate the electorates, and (where education is refused) arrest, investigate and diligently prosecute those involved in this ignominious act.

We have all the required resources to develop this country, yet we sell our future for financial aid. If this is allowed to continue, our democracy will soon be sold off to the highest bidders. And, in as much as vote buying exists, we will never be able to compete with other countries of the world, because only incompetent leaders offer to buy vote. 


David Nwaenyi is a doctorate student of Legislative Studies. Holds a Masters degree 📜 in Legislative studies, from the University of Benin. He is a Legislative Practice and Procedure expert and a public policy analyst.

Post a Comment

Share your thoughts with ANN..

Previous Post Next Post