BusinessDay

CBN’s currency redesign unlikely to end vote buying, money politics

Nigeria’s politicians are ever keen to grab power at any cost in order to capture the resources of the state. The use of state power to accumulate resources has been the defining characteristic of the Nigerian state since independence.

In order to accumulate resources, they need to win elections and to win elections, Nigeria’s political elite need money; lots of money.

Democracy has always been on sale in Nigeria. Since the return to civil rule in 1999, Nigeria’s electoral politics has been characterised by monetisation through vote buying.

Vote buying and money-based politics have become dominant themes in Nigeria’s electioneering process. This, noted Ovwasa Lucky of the Federal University Lokoja, “is because parties and candidates have shown by their conduct during political campaigns, that good party manifestoes and integrity of candidates jostling for public offices are no longer sufficient to guarantee electoral success. Thus, the resort to Vote-buying. On the other hand, the electorates too have obviously demonstrated cynical electoral behaviour by the readiness to sell their votes to the highest bidder.”

Vote buying is not a fundamentally Nigerian phenomenon though. Gram Matenga of the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) notes that, “nearly 80percent of voters from 36 African countries believe voters are bribed – either sometimes, often or always. Furthermore, 16percent of voters in African countries reported being offered money or goods in exchange for their votes during the last election.”

Mike Igini, a former Akwa Ibom State Resident Electoral Commissioner noted in July that, “The entire sections 114 to 129 under Part 7 of the 2022 Electoral Act clearly identify acts, and conducts that are considered as anathema that are totally prohibited. In particular, Section 1 subsection 21 of the 2022 Electoral Act prohibits the act of buying and selling of votes. This is because a vote is a public good. It’s a citizen’s share of a public franchise. It must not be sold, it must not be bought, in fact, we must stand tall in defence of our democracy and the rule of law.”

Read also: How CBN Naira redesigning may affect politicians’ calculations

Yet, since the return of democracy to Nigeria in May 1999, vote buying has steadily grown in scale and brazenness. This noted a December 2018 Accord Conflict and Resilience Monitor report, has led to the apt description of Nigeria’s electoral politics as “cash-and-carry democracy.”

In late October, Nigeria’s Central Bank (CBN) announced plans to launch new designs to replace high-value naira notes from December 15, 2022.

The bank said it is doing this to have control of the currency in circulation, manage inflation, as well as tackle counterfeiting.

While addressing journalists, CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, said currency management has faced several daunting challenges that have continued to escalate in scale and sophistication with attendant and unintended consequences for the integrity of both the CBN and the country.

“These challenges primarily include: Significant hoarding of banknotes by members of the public, with statistics showing that over 85 percent of currency in circulation are outside the vaults of commercial banks,” he said.

“To be more specific, as at the end of September 2022, available data at the CBN indicate that N2.73 Trillion out of the N3.23 trillion currency in circulation, was outside the vaults of Commercial Banks across the country; and supposedly held by the public.

“Evidently, currency in circulation has more than doubled since 2015; rising from N1.46 trillion in December 2015 to N3.23 trillion in September 2022. This is a worrisome trend that cannot be allowed to continue.”

According to Mr. Emefiele, the move to redistribute the new notes which will ultimately reduce the amount of cash in circulation will also discourage ransom payment as large volumes of money won’t be accessed.

In reducing the amount of cash in circulation, many also hope that the move by the apex bank would also reduce the commercialisation of partisan relations between a political party or a politician and members of the electorate.

The consequences of vote buying, notes the Accord Conflict and Resilience Monitor report are manifold. “In the first instance, it unduly raises the cost of elections thereby shutting out contestants with little finances and promoting political corruption. When victory is purchased rather than won fairly, it obviously leads to state capture. It equally compromises the credibility, legitimacy and integrity of elections. Vote buying undermines the integrity of elections as the winners are often the highest bidders and not necessarily the most popular or credible contestants. It therefore discourages conscientious people from participating in electoral politics and causes citizens to lose faith in state institutions.

“Vote trading equally has the tendency to perpetuate bad governance. It not only compromises the wellbeing of those who sold their vote for instant gratification, but also the future of those who did not sell their votes but are inevitably exposed to bad governance that results from such a fraudulent process. For every vote traded, there are many people who will suffer the unintended consequences when the traded votes make the difference between winning and losing in the election.”

It is unlikely that the decision by the CBN to effect changes to the aesthetics and façade of the country’s currency notes would significantly reduce the exposure of Nigeria’s electioneering process to vote buying.

The dollarisation of the economy as a result of the extremely distasteful management of the nation’s foreign exchange system by the Godwin Emefiele led Central Bank means that the bulk of bribery and inducement of key election officials are undertaken in foreign currencies rather than in the local currency.

The 2022 primary and gubernatorial elections in Nigeria brought to the fore the reality of dollarisation of vote buying in Nigeria .

According to varied news reports, delegates to the primary elections of the two major parties were paid thousands of dollars to induce them to vote for certain candidates.

It is Nigeria’s poor voters; the country’s poor, tired, huddled and wretched mass who are forced to sell their votes for symbolic amounts in naira.

During the recent governorship election in Ekiti in June, election observers and the media reportedthat some voters received between N5,000 and N10,000 each, under a “See and Pay” subterfuge, in which a thump-printed ballot was displayed to a party agent who stood around a polling booth. While the bigger parties allegedly shelled out these huge sums, some smaller parties purportedly offered between N1,000 and N2,000 per vote. The Centre for Democracy and Development

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, a non-profit organisation, said its field observers documented 41 bribery cases in six local government areas of the State. Segun Oni, the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), who feels cheated by the vote-bazaar, has vowed to challenge the outcome of the poll on this score, amongst other reasons.
The situation room in its assessment of the off-season governorship election in Osun state in July, raised doubts over the credibility of the governorship election in Osun State following alleged public sale and buying of votes.

“There was open negotiation of buying and selling of votes well-coordinated by the polling agents in many of the polling units. There were no complaints from any of them against each other. Codes and coupons were used to extract commitments from voters as opposed to the blatant money exchanging hands observed in the Ekiti State Governorship election”.

The Central Bank’s decision to effect changes to the country’s naira notes did not envisage its effect on Nigeria’s dominant vote buying culture. While it might minimalise the use of the local currency to buy votes, the policy is unlikely to make a dent in the unwieldy culture of money politics in the country.