The major distinction between electoral democracy and electoral authoritarianism builds upon the common affirmation that democracy requires elections, but not just any kind of elections. The idea of democratic self-government is incompatible with electoral farces. In common phrasing, elections must be “free and fair” in order to pass as democratic.
Under electoral democracy, contests comply with minimal democratic norms; under electoral authoritarianism, they do not. In an electoral democracy which is the aspiration of Nigerians, a free and fair election is indeed a sine qua non. No polity can be adjudged democratic if elections do not pass such litmus test.
The snag however is that in Nigeria and several other African countries, elections are far from being free and fair. One of the major palpable factors aside from electoral violence is the menace of vote buying. This political malady is indeed pervasive in Nigeria as evident in both Ondo and Ekiti States’ elections recently. Paradoxically, money itself has become a dominant factor.
It is unfortunate that money seems to have taken the centre stage in the political process in most countries and in Nigerian politics; it is, sadly, now playing an increasingly critical role. It even appears to be so dominant in the electoral process to such an extent that the word ‘money politics’ with a pejorative connotation, has crept into the country’s political lexicon.
Undoubtedly, it is now a critical variable when assessing the level of political corruption in the country. The concomitant effect of vote buying in electoral contests is that “elections are not for the poor. It is an extremely expensive enterprise. Vote buying, in its literal sense, is a simple economic exchange. Candidates “buy” and citizens/electorate “sell” votes, as they buy and sell apples, shoes, or television sets.
The act of vote buying by this view is a contract, or perhaps an auction in which voters sell their votes to the highest bidder. This is why money bags venture into politics with ultimate ambition of capturing power with ease. Public offices have become chattels with rich politicians becoming mercantile too. Elections all over have proven to be an expensive business for everyone concerned. Aspirants have needed to spend liberally in order to secure the party nomination in the first place.
Then, in the run-up to the polls, when constituencies are to be visited, voluntary donations just have to be made to one good cause or another. During the campaign itself, the candidates have to visit all nooks and crannies, accompanied by a large entourage of retainers who have to be housed, fed and transported.
The candidates usually ‘greet’ the chiefs at every port of call, which typically involves the purchase of schnapps and the presentation of gifts which, however token, certainly add up. Though, legal limits may be fixed on what and how much should be spent on electioneering campaigns, strict enforcement and compliance may still be problematic most especially in Nigeria where data gathering accurately for that matter is a mirage. In a chart with an International Federation of Election Systems (IFES) official, Craig Donsanto, he identified three conditions that make a polity conducive to vote buying viz:
1. Close competition between political factions within the jurisdiction for an important office;
2. Excruciating poverty, while rich people, the privileged among us, do not sell their votes; and 3. Apathy. When you get all these three conditions working together, this is the grandest fertiliser for the vote buying to happen and among several other lots, these three are the major predisposing factors to vote buying in Nigeria.
Cashing-in on the poverty of the people, Nigerian politicians are well known for distributing foodstuffs and other consumable materials to voters shortly before the elections and sometimes on Election Day, contrary to the provisions of the extant electoral law that prohibits such practice. Instances abound too, when candidates threw some money into the air during campaign rallies, making people to scramble for it and getting injured in the process. One can easily recall that in the Ekiti governorship election recently, the two major contending political parties tried to outdo each other in the act of vote-buying.
Few days to the election, Okada riders were asked to queue up for free fuel at designated filling stations. This wasn’t a philanthropic gesture but rather a conscious effort to swing the votes. If it were to be in a sane clime, the party and its candidate that did that ought to have been disqualified from participating in the election to serve as deterrent for others in the nearest future.
But alas! Nigeria being a weak state where laws are made but either selectively enforced or out rightly ignored, the electoral umpire pretended as if nothing happened. Be that as it is, any polity where voters are not completely or as much as possible insulated from undue outside pressures, most especially money, they cannot choose freely. In the words of Andreas Schedler, “if power and money determines electoral choices, constitutional guarantees of democratic freedom and equality turn into dead letters. This is why concerns about the “clientelist control” of poor voters tend to arise whenever electoral competition unfolds in context of glaring socioeconomic inequality.
The concomitant effect of this is simply that wrong choices are made in terms of candidates who are political merchants or reluctant moneybags that may not be able to impact positively on the democratic development of the polity. No doubt, this phenomenon must have been responsible for the direct primary experimentation in the choice of governorship candidate in the state of Osun.
The deadly fear was that indirect election where delegates are to elect candidate(s) for election, the ballot becomes cash and carry and the highest bidder gets the trophy. The elected candidate may be a demagogue who has deep pocket. If not for the swift intervention of governors who worked on their candidates from their respective states, today President Buhari could not have emerged as the APC candidate at the Lagos convention when American dollars exchanged hands with party delegates returning and smiling to the banks.
When this (vote buying) percolates to the legislature, where money becomes language of politics, the quality of legislation becomes nothing to write home about. Legislators who are supposed to be an effective check on the executive compromises themselves. Bills are rushed. Budgets are passed without needed scrutiny and appointments are equally ratified not after thorough screening of the candidates. Without gainsaying, any electoral system that thrives in vote buying will definitely not midwife a transparent government.
Whereas, the imperative of transparency and accountability cannot be over-emphasised in any democratic system. Where candidates have invested much before being elected or appointed into public office, simple economic rationality will impel it on them to make the money they have invested in as many folds as possible. Where that is the case, accountability and transparency known to be one of the hallmarks of good governance and democracy becomes jettisoned to the detriment of the system.
Finally, good materials that are capable of making positive impacts on the system are completely alienated from the democratic processes simply because they cannot afford the cost. Many senior civil servant retirees and academics that have garnered sufficient experiences during their long years in public service which should position them for effective leadership in the polity they rather shy away from partisan politics for being poor or not financially strong enough to withstand the ‘cost’.
Their services are thus completely lost to the system and the country keep on wallowing in arrested development simply because political vampires are holding sway. Those who desperately source fund elsewhere, when elected they become political weaklings because the political financiers that doubles as godfathers dictate to them what they should do, with pubic treasury.
The popular aphorism applies here that “he who pays the piper dictates the tune”. Be that as it may, Nigerians require a reorientation of societal values that everything is not money. The kind of materialistic instinct, which pervades the society for now, is uncalled for. Not only that the extant electoral laws may be amended to put a ceiling on how much can be expended on electoral contests but with monitoring mechanisms to detect infringements.
Where, such is detected, a candidate may be disqualified. Likewise, sourcing funds from outside the country either directly or indirectly may be discouraged too as such practice compromises the sovereignty of the country as foreign compradors who may desire to have a say and financial returns may sponsor candidates, this technically may truncate the efficacy of the sovereignty of the country. Political parties may have to be organized in such a way that all members would contribute to the cost of running both the party and funding of election campaign by candidates. Where politicians go all out to fund their campaigns alone, they can go to any extent to get money. Party officials should be trained on how to manage electioneering campaigns in which candidates have a well thought out manifestoes.
Unlike in the Second Republic when major political parties glaringly articulated their cardinal programmes, the case is not so for now. Voters are as confused as the politicians themselves. Finally, the mass media has a role to play in sensitizing voters to know their primary responsibilities in electing credible candidates.
Where the media is celebrating moneybags, the phenomenon of money politics may continue unabated. Political parties are not getting their acts right. The richest may not be the best in terms of electoral contest. The good thing with the electorate though few of them is the fact that if you offer money or any other form of inducement, they gladly accept but vote otherwise.
●‘Gbade Ojo Ph.D is an Associate Professor of Comparative Politics, University of Ilorin currently serving as Chief of Staff to Oyo State Governor.
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