Since the recent elections in Ekiti and the attendant allegations of vote-buying and vote-selling, I have been reflecting on why people sell their votes in an election. As always, we should start with definitions to ensure we are talking about the same things.
First of all, vote-buying and vote-selling are not peculiar to Nigeria or even the developing world. It happens everywhere. This is not a defence of what is alleged to have happened in Ekiti, but a statement of fact. Politicians make promises. The electorate votes in response.
When a politician promises something that you perceive will benefit you positively (Restructuring, 2nd Niger Bridge, East-West Road, Fighting Corruption, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway) you give them your vote in response. Is this the vote selling we are talking about? No.
By vote-selling, I mean giving your vote to a politician in exchange for personal and immediate gratification, usually CASH. Ekiti State Government was alleged to have credited voters’ accounts with N3,000 the day before the election. APC was said to have paid N4,000-N5,000.
So, why would people sell their votes for cash? Most of the literature on the subject, attribute the phenomenon to two factors:
- Abject Poverty
While we cannot discountenance these factors out-of-hand, it will be prudent to look deeper into the phenomenon.
It is difficult to tell whether everyone that allegedly sold their vote was abjectly poor or whether they did so out of ignorance. I have never been persuaded that our electorate is as ignorant as many people say they are. Poverty and Education count but are not the only factors.
In a perverse way, vote-selling is a sign of a developing democracy. Again, my intention is not to justify but to explain. You see, politicians only need to buy votes when votes start to count. In the bad old days when people just wrote results in hotel rooms, it wasn’t necessary
I believe that people sell their votes when the accountability mechanisms in a society are weak or non-existent. In such situations, politicians only need the electorate every 4 years during elections. The rest of the time, the electorate is treated as if it doesn’t matter.
The system we run gives almost complete control to the politician. Govt money is treated like personal money. The land is in the total control of the governor. Legitimate violence is the right of the State. So, it’s only during elections the politician needs anything from the electorate.
So, when there is no welfare system and there are weak accountability systems, when the wishes of the people are routinely ignored when politicians are seen to be in office mainly to “loot”, it is only during elections that the electorate can extract their “share.”
This doesn’t seem to me to be just an issue of abject poverty or ignorance. Instead, it seems to me to be quite a sophisticated way of expressing displeasure with the status quo. “You refuse to keep your promises to us shei? We won’t trust any future promises. Give us cash NOW!”
However, we can do better than this in a number of ways:
- Don’t believe those that say your vote doesn’t count. It does. If it didn’t, politicians won’t try to buy your votes. Get your PVC. Your PVC gives you something they want: Your vote. You have more power than you think!
- We should start to ask questions about campaign financing. Should we let money be the overriding determinant for getting into public office? How much is needed? Where does the money come from? What chances does the ordinary hard working person seeking public office have?
- How can we hold politicians to account for their promises BETWEEN elections?
- Should we criminalise vote buying and vote selling and treat them as electoral fraud?
- How do we reorientate our people away from short-term pecuniary benefits towards long-term development?
I do not claim to have all the answers, but when the electorate must give its votes, it seems to me it must extract a higher price for them. That higher price is not N4,000 instead of N3,000 or N5,000 instead of N4,000. It is a DEMAND for better governance. My thoughts only.