Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Vote buying: Nigeria’s worst kept secret

“PDP, APC primaries: Dollar, Naira rain for delegates” was the screaming headline on the front page of Saturday Punch of December 13, 2014. In the elucidating new story, the newspaper reporters across the country gave graphic details of how party delegates that voted in the 2014 political party primaries were heavily induced with money to influence their choice of candidates.   According to the newspaper, amount ranging from N100,000 to $7,000 were shared out to some of the delegates. It reported that “The delegates that participated in the just concluded primaries of the ruling People’s Democratic Party and the opposition All Progressives Congress across the country have been laughing to the bank following the huge amount of money some aspirants reportedly paid to them.”

The newspaper reported that the aspirants sent some of the money to the delegates through the leaders of their parties and that apart from the money, incentives such as promise of automatic employment, among others, were also deployed in wooing the delegates. It further stated that its investigation revealed that “It was celebration in Kwara State as delegates to the APC presidential primary got $7,000 each.” It revealed further that “The 800 delegates that participated in all the PDP primaries in Cross River State raked in over N500,000 each.”  The news medium also asserted that “The PDP in Akwa Ibom State was said to have paid each of its delegates N1m.” While the Adamawa State Governor, Mr. Bala Ngillari, promised the 678 PDP delegates in the state automatic employment if voted as the party’s flag bearer for the governorship election in 2015. This promissory note seem unconvincing to the delegates as he lost the ticket.

If Nigerian politicians are spending this kind of humongous amount to get their party’s ticket, having previously spent millions of Naira purchasing their Expression of Interest and Nomination Forms, it is better imagined how much they would have spent in total by the time of general elections in February 2015. The story does not end there, some of them will still spend mind boggling sums of money at the election petition tribunals to retrieve or defend their mandate.

The implications of monetized politics are very grave. It leads to political corruption. These resources being deployed to winning elections are in many instances loans, proceeds from sales of assets of the political contestants, sponsorship from political godfathers, etc.  In short, they are high stake political investments meant to yield multifold financial and other benefiting returns. A former Senate President in Nigeria openly admitted that much in a newspaper interview that some of them have to sell off their possessions to contest elections with a hope of recouping their investment when they assume power. This heavy political investment is partly responsible for resort to violence by political aspirants and candidates. The stakes are far too high that Nigerian politician do not want to brook failure hence they are willing to deploy both fair and foul means including bribery and violence to capture power. After all, Niccolo Machiavelli in his masterpiece book, “The Prince” did say that the end justifies the means.

By the time they assume power and in a bid to recover their investment they think less of development but more of self-aggrandizement. They embark on looting of public till. While that goes on, citizens’ welfare, developmental projects and general good governance takes backseat. Such is the sad narrative of Nigeria’s and indeed Africa’s politics of underdevelopment.

It is not as if the laws are not there to curb and control the corrosive use of money in politics, however, they are observed in breach. Not only did the law prescribe how to raise money for politicking or campaigning it also highlights permissible and non-permissible expenditure including placing a cap on how much a candidate is supposed to spend in contesting for a particular office. Indeed, Section 124 of the Electoral Act 2014 criminalizes vote buying and spell out penalties which include fines of N500,000 and or 12 months  jail term. Even the code of conduct for political parties (2013) forbids  political parties and their agents from engaging in corrupt practices including buying votes  or offering any bribe, gift, reward, gratification, or any other monetary or material consideration of allurement to voters and electoral officials. It also prohibits offering any form of inducement to a person to stand or not to stand as a candidate or to withdraw his or her candidature.

It behooves political parties to assist in sanitizing the electoral environment. If they will not enforce their own codes on vote buying then they should realize they’re doing a great disservice to national development. Likewise, the Independent National Electoral Commission owes it a duty to enforce all campaign finance and indeed political finance laws and regulations, failure of which such electoral outcomes cannot be said to be free, fair or credible. .

Jide is the Executive Director, OJA Development Consult, Abuja