Elections come and go. But the nature and conduct of these elections will continue to attract attention and dominate commentary across the land. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the electoral body, has since announced the winner and the loser of the recently concluded governorship election in Ekiti State. However, the conduct of all stakeholders in the run-up and aftermath of the election demands introspection.
The fact that elections scheduled for 2019 is in sight, and the current gale of defections in the polity, it places a demand on us that we ask hard and critical questions that allow for self examination of what we want as a people, in view of this sad and hard truth – our elections may appear on the surface to be free and fair, they are, however, short of credible.
The amount of money spent on the day of the Ekiti election calls for serious concern. According to reports, the mainstream political parties turned election to a political bazaar. Money was sprayed on voters to woo their votes and at the end of it all, the highest bidder carried the day. According to statistics, over N1 trillion was reportedly spent to woo voters on the day of the election alone. This is not to estimate the amount spent during electioneering, campaign or even during the party primaries. Compared to N600m which was spent by INEC on the same election, the source of funds and the manner of spending by desperate politicians, call for sombre introspection by sincere citizens of the country.
But this is not new in our brand of democracy. This practice has been with us all along, but we have turned the other eye. In recent times, however, it is fast gaining ground and the glaring influence of money in deciding votes cannot be denied. The other day, it was in Anambra State in 2017. In Ondo State, they termed it ‘di’bo ko se obe’ – ‘vote and cook soup’. In Ekiti, it is ‘see and buy’. The tragedy of our political system has bequeathed to us a brand of democracy: ‘naira-o-cracy’ or ‘money-o-cracy’.
Many wonder why Ekiti people, who are reputed to produce the largest number of professors in the country, would indulge in such atrocious behaviour. Those who sound shocked by the actions in Ekiti, a land that boasts of many academics, are either putting up a public show of purity or are suffering from selective amnesia. While it is easy to pass through the eye of the needle, book sense cannot be upright in the face of extreme hunger, for book sense cannot survive without economic sense. For most Nigerians, irrespective of state, class or creed, abnormality has become the norm. We are quick to justify inanities without proper consideration of the rationality of such action or inactions. “The hood does not make the monk.”
The political class have mastered the art of communal impoverishment; of how to perpetuate penury through insensitive policies and crass practices, thereby subjecting the people to yearn for livelihood. They return at every electoral cycle with crumbs to buy the votes of the hapless electorate. And the gullible electorate can sacrifice commonsense at the altar of what to eat.
Like many of his ilk, Ayo Fayose is a chief here. And that is the deep-rooted reason of all the cross-carpeting being witnessed today. For a government that owes its workers and pensioners backlog of salaries of between six and eight months, only to credit them same paltry N3,000 few hours to the elections is an insult on the sensibilities of humanity.
In an ambience of poverty, it becomes seemingly irresistible to reject such, especially when your legitimate entitlement has not been paid for at least six months. The lure of money becomes irresistible, especially to the abject soul. “A hungry soul cannot listen to the sermon,” states a proverb.
Despite the glaring widespread of the act and the legal consequences for engaging in such act, there has been graveyard silence over the act by relevant authorities. Political parties have turned mute and the electoral umpire is looking the other way. Electoral Act 2010 is unequivocal about the conduct of inducing voters thus: anyone found guilty shall be liable on conviction to a maximum of N500,000 or 12 months imprisonment or both.
Now it is glaring that rapacious realities in our politics, dressed in the wanton emolument and sleaze of elected officials, in the name of security vote and budget padding, are set aside for vote buying and ‘stomach infrastructure’. With the current wave of illegal impeachments and cross-carpeting among the political actors, this is a dress rehearsal of the real act come 2019. The prelude which was acted in 2014 before the general elections is currently being rehearsed as 2019 beckons.
Vote buying is fast becoming the custom. This may soon become a national culture if it is unchecked. For vote buying to be banished from our electoral system, poverty must first be fought. This is not by rhetoric; rather, pragmatic economic programmes must be put in place to set Nigerians free from the shackles of poverty of the mind and pocket. INEC will also need to step up its ante in order to checkmate the scourge of vote buying. Thus, it becomes imperative to educate voters, many of whom are unenlightened about the implications of selling their votes cheaply at the altar of N5,000. In this, the political parties have lost their relevance and significance. It is sad that parties which are supposed to educate the electorate on the need for credible conduct during electioneering are the ones seducing the electorate.
The other day, it was Ondo. This season, it is Ekiti. Who knows who will be the next? Gradually, exchange of money for votes may soon become a culture that will characterise our elections, thereby making a mess of our much mouthed democracy. After all, bribery used to be a thing of shame, but it has since been institutionalised and he who decides not to indulge is seen as ‘an enemy’, whether in the public service or private sector. Today, it has become a part of us with such appellations as ‘egunje’, ‘kola’, ‘10%’.
Osun State election has been fixed for September, the only election before the general election come 2019. Coincidentally, the workers are also being owed their legitimate wages. Time will tell, but as a nation, we cannot continue to mortgage the hopes and aspirations of future generations on the altar of ‘vote and collect money’. This has got to stop.