Schaffer explains that vote buying is a simple economic exchange, wherein voters sell their votes to candidates, sometimes to the highest bidder, in an election.
Prior to now, rigging devices such as ballot box snuffing and snatching, outright manipulation of election results as well as electoral violence used to be a major bane of the electoral process in Nigeria. But that seems to have changed now. Considering the fact that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) came up with certain technologically induced electoral reforms that have made rigging and other such electoral malpractices unfashionable, the ever resourceful Nigerian politicians have since come up with another ‘ingenious’ contrivance to checkmate INEC and circumvent the process.
Now, they have taken the route of vote buying! Frederic Schaffer, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, describes vote buying as a monetary compensation a person receives for voting in a particular way. Schaffer further explains that vote buying is a simple economic exchange, wherein voters sell their votes to candidates, sometimes to the highest bidder, in an election.
Though the issue of financial inducement in the electoral process has always been with us, of late it has assumed a worrisome dimension. The Ekiti Governorship Election of July 14 particularly brought this phenomenon to the fore more than ever before. According to reports, during the said election, vote became a commodity that was openly bargained for.
In the Ekiti model, the operational mode is complex and simple. After a bargain has been struck, the voter stylishly displays his ballot preference to the paymaster who watches from a vintage position, grin satisfactorily and the voter gets his pay thereafter. The other formula is a bit complex, at least for the uneducated as it involves a bit of technology. The voter goes to the voting booth, casts his vote and snaps his preference on his phone to show the paymaster as a proof before payment is made. In the September 22nd Osun State Gubernatorial election, the trend took a more bothersome dimension. In His famous work, Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe wrote: “Eneke the bird says that since men have learned to shoot without missing, he has learned to fly without perching.” Since INEC barred the use of mobile phone phones and other such devices that could facilitate vote buying, politicians swiftly came up with other fool proof methods.
Thus, vote buying transactions were wrapped up on days preceding the election. Marketers were sent out to canvas for votes at reasonable prices while names and other relevant details of interested voters (sellers) were carefully taken and compiled. To really ensure that the process is given an extraterrestrial clout, in some cases, oaths were sworn before a deal is struck. Amounts involved ranged from N500 to N5,000.
Without a doubt, this ugly trend portends a great danger to democracy in our nation as the choice of leadership no longer depends on the capability, preparedness, integrity and manifestoes of political parties and their candidates. As it stands, what we now have can at best be described as a ‘Cash and Carry Democracy’.
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This is rather pathetic as it tends to rubbish competence on the altar of cash. In the Osun gubernatorial election, for instance, in the debates that were organized prior to the election, Senator Ademola Adeleke was conspicuously absent. But then, as the election results started coming in, it became obvious that he was a leading candidate. It is doubtful if PMB also took part in any of the debates preceding the last presidential election. One is, then, bound to ask: “Of what use is a political debate to the outcome of an election? Is it really of any use?
This growing trend has grievous implications on the prospect of democracy in the country. For one, it ensures that that leaders who attain political power via financial inducement rule over the nation. Second, because such leaders get to power through commercial transaction, they tend to espouse self-seeking agenda while in office. Third, it makes it nearly impossible for credible and competent candidates who lack required financial resources to compete for political offices. Furthermore, it makes elected political leaders unaccountable to the people since they did not, in the real sense, derive their coming to power through legitimate means. Also, it makes it a bit hypocritical for those who voted based on financial enticement to criticize those they elected through the same process. As it is often said, ‘you cannot eat your cake and have it’.
Now, how did we really get to this point? At what point did we mortgage reason for vanity? How did we become so overtly materialistic that we no longer care a bit about who earn our vote? For one, there is extreme poverty in the land. The sheer willingness of voters to trade their votes is, perhaps, a reflection of the depth of poverty Nigerians contend with. Many are so impoverished that daily survival has become a gruesome experience. So, they don’t seem to see any big deal about selling their votes to the highest bidder. After all, the votes they had cast out of free will have yielded little or no dividends. Thus, it is now a case of a bird in hand is worth 20 in the bush This brings us to the whole question of good governance in the country. Over the years, Nigerians have had to endure one form of bad government to the other, hoping against hope that somehow and someday things will change for the better. Sadly however, they have had to tolerate diverse forms of impunity from succeeding governments.
However, irrespective of the genuineness of the argument, it is not right to take to vote trading. Taking part in the electoral process is an enormous responsibility that places the destiny of the nation in the hands of the electorate. It must, thus, be carried out with every sense of honour, dignity and patriotism. It is a sacred task that must be performed with utmost diligence and patriotism. This is because any slipshod choice that is made at the polls could portend great danger to the polity. The destiny of this nation and that of future generation lies in the hands of the electorates.
Ogunbiyi writes from Lagos