When veteran politician Ayo Fayose contested — and gained — the June 2014 gubernatorial elections within the southwestern Nigeria state of Ekiti, he mocked Kayode Fayemi, the incumbent who had misplaced. “Individuals don’t need highway infrastructure; they need abdomen infrastructure,” Fayose mentioned.
In a single day, he launched a brand new lexicon for a decades-old follow and triggered an outsized give attention to the sale of votes, or vote buying and selling, as a essential problem to election integrity in Nigeria.
Certainly, elections within the nation have repeatedly been marred by allegations of votes being purchased and bought. If the speed was allegedly between $8 and $13 a vote when Fayemi got here again to energy in 2018 in Ekiti, the stakes are even greater nationally.
As Nigerians put together for one of many nation’s most decisive and divisive elections since 1999 to choose their president, vice chairman and members of parliament on February 25, many imagine that vote buying and selling will play a figuring out position.
In spite of everything, the primaries of the 2 major events, the governing All Progressives Congress and the primary opposition Peoples Democratic Get together, have been significantly contentious in 2022, with allegations of delegates receiving as a lot as $25,000 every to vote in favour of these paying them.
But the give attention to vote buying and selling obfuscates far deeper issues with Nigeria’s electoral democracy, and dangers masking up for these flaws.
To make certain, vote shopping for is a serious menace to Nigeria, one that’s not new. In truth, it’s a part of Nigeria’s historical past of transactional politics and elections, the place votes are exchanged for meals, favour and money. Earlier than “abdomen infrastructure” there was “democracy of the abdomen” coined by Ozumba Mbadiwe, a federal minister within the years simply earlier than and after independence from the UK.
The issue can be not distinctive to Nigeria: No less than 165 international locations have legal guidelines in opposition to vote buying and selling. Like Nigeria, votes are influenced by funds or allurements in lots of different growing world democracies.
Tackling this menace isn’t simple. When the Central Financial institution of Nigeria (CBN) introduced in October 2022 a transfer in direction of a cashless financial system and declared that present notes can be not legitimate within the days main as much as the presidential election, many concluded that the transfer, partly, was focused at politicians and their money stockpiles used for vote-buying. But days later, the central financial institution governor Godwin Efemiele discovered himself within the crosshairs of allegations from the federal government that he was concerned in financing terrorism, prices that many impartial analysts don’t purchase.
Regardless of the deserves of the allegations in opposition to Efemiele, the big query stays: Are Nigeria’s electoral issues basically about vote shopping for?
Immediately there are 133 million Nigerians in multidimensional poverty; dwelling on or under the nationwide poverty line of 376.50 naira ($0.51) in earnings a day.
When votes fetch a number of instances that quantity, voters should not illogical to promote. They’ve delayed gratification, between one election cycle and the subsequent, and should not swayed by narratives of future accountable governance and public items they’ve by no means recognized. Cash, meals and jobs are concrete and full the calculation, hardwired into Nigeria’s political tradition, that the chicken in hand is the one chicken. Nigeria’s political financial system is extractive and transactional – and monetary imperatives are constructed into each course of from the emergence of get together candidates to securing judgments at election tribunals.
The Unbiased Corrupt Practices Fee, an autonomous company arrange by the federal government in 2000, estimated that 9.4 billion naira ($26 million) have been exchanged in bribes for beneficial judgements in election-related circumstances between 2018 and 2020 alone. Voters know this murky actuality and count on their reduce on the polling unit.
This explains why vote buying and selling prevails regardless of the rising sophistication of scripted ‘”do-not-sell-your-vote” messages in pidgin and different languages, and a proper ban in opposition to the follow. And if Nigeria’s corrupt electoral system is to be really reformed, the eye that vote-buying attracts should be put in context.
No politician can repay 50 % of Nigeria’s 93 million registered voters. Vote-buying methods work when there are fewer folks to pay and when politicians can affirm, or persuade voters that they will affirm, whom they really voted for.
This requires at the very least three issues: low voter turnout organized via pre-election and election day violence; amplified narratives concerning the energy of vote buying and selling in figuring out elections to dissuade “unsold” voters from bothering about going to the poll field; and politicians’ entry to voters’ ballots.
Merely put, rising voter turnout, checking violence and sustaining the secrecy of ballots deserve extra consideration than vote buying and selling. The 2019 presidential election, as an illustration, noticed an abysmally low voter turnout — simply 34.75 %.
These elections additionally noticed a return to poll field snatching and different violent disruptions, significantly round vote collation centres. Had politicians perfected vote buying and selling, they might not must depend on different methods to compromise elections. Certainly, collation centres are the black gap of elections in Nigeria and eliminating violence there and bettering transparency of collation will enhance voter confidence. And if politicians don’t know the way folks have truly voted, it would cut back the effectiveness of vote buying and selling, since voters can take the cash and but vote as they want.
To give attention to vote buying and selling on the expense of those extra basic issues with Nigerian elections is self-defeating for these searching for reforms. It discourages all however those that have entry to bullion vans and public funds.
In truth, there may be purpose for hope. Peter Obi, the businessman-politician who was governor of Anambra province, is main all presidential polls regardless of his in style slogan, “we no dey give shishi” (we give nothing), an allusion to the transactional nature of Nigerian politics.
This is a sign of a maturation of Nigeria’s political tradition that democracy and election integrity advocates ought to recognise. However it will solely occur with the acknowledgement that it’s meaningless to speak about vote buying and selling with out first addressing the deeper rot in Nigeria’s electoral practices.
The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.