How poverty shapes elections in Nigeria

A story is told of a gruesome act attributed to a former Soviet leader, Josef Stalin which describes him purportedly plucking a live chicken in order to demonstrate “how easy it is to govern stupid people.”

Stalin was said to have ripped all the feathers off a live chicken as a lesson to his followers. He then set the chicken on the floor a short distance away. The chicken was bloodied and suffering immensely, yet, when Stalin began to toss some bits of wheat toward the chicken, it followed him around. He said to his followers “This is how easy it is to govern stupid people; they will follow you no matter how much pain you cause them, as long as you throw them a little worthless treat once in a while.”

The above illustration appears to capture how the Nigerian hapless voting masses are being treated by the ruling class.

Today, politicians and their parties appear to have adopted vote-buying as a very easy way to compromise the electoral process and achieve victory.

It appears to be a regular feature in Nigeria’s election, and taking place in the full glare of security agents.

Although electoral fraud has been in the country for many years, observers say that it is increasingly getting worse. It is believed that political office holders deliberately deny the people good governance and the fabled democracy dividend, waiting to buy their way into office on Election Day, latching onto the unfortunate level of poverty in the country.

Since the general election 2019, the incidence of vote-buying appears to be getting worse in subsequent elections. It featured prominently in the September 19 gubernatorial election in Edo State, and increased in tempo in the just-concluded Ondo election.

Speaking on his observation in Ondo, Samson Itodo, executive director, YIAGA Africa, an election monitoring group, said: ‘It shows that they (politicians) are not lifting anybody out of poverty. So, the only way they could keep winning is to make people poor and to use vote-buying to secure victory at all cost.”

According to Itodo, “The thing happened in the full glare of security agents, and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that is part of the electoral process, were just watching and nobody is being arrested; I am yet to hear about any prosecution by the EFCC. What we are seeing today is either procured massive turnout or procured votes.”

The YIAGA boss noted that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) aspresently constituted lacked the power to prosecute electoral offenders, urging the National Assembly to make necessary legislation in that regard.

“What we see in some places as large turnout is actually made possible by the token doled out. The electorates collect such handout in exchange for the fabled democracy dividends,” an analyst, who craved anonymity, said.

Among the major issues that characterised last Saturday’s gubernatorial election in Ondo State was vote-buying by politicians and their agents.

In its preliminary report on the conduct of the Ondo governorship poll, election observer group, the Centre for Transparency Advocacy (CTA), had said that there was large scale vote-buying by politicians, especially among the two leading parties, while warning that stakeholders in the electoral process should come out with modalities to address the menace.

“Regrettably, our observers reported that vote-buying is becoming more brazen and was a major feature of this election. INEC, the security agencies and other stakeholders need to work out measures to effectively address this ugly phenomenon,” Faith Nwadishi, CTA’s executive director had said.

Over the years, vote-buying is not new to elections in Nigeria, however, the trend has exacerbated in recent times largely due to desperation to win election at all cost by politicians and the high poverty rate among Nigerians and the electorates.

Though, political watchers say that the lack of punishment for offenders and culpability of security agencies had fuelled the trend.

Though last Saturday’s election may have been won by the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate and incumbent Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu who polled 292,830 votes, while the People’s Democratic Party candidate, Eyitayo Jegede, got 195,791 votes, and the Deputy Governor, Agboola Ajayi, of the Zenith Labour Party, came a distant third with 69, 127 votes, the election may have been relatively peaceful across the state, observers say that the recurring trend of vote-buying in elections in Nigeria calls for serious concern among Nigerians, leaders and the electorates.

Ondo, a Niger Delta State blessed with crude oil, receives a significant amount from the revenue sharing formula by the Federal Government. But despite the huge income, a large percentage of the indigenes of the state live in poverty.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics’ Nigerian Living Standards Survey (NLSS) published earlier this year, over 82.9 million Nigerians are living in poverty and the poverty headcount rate in Ondo State is 12.52 percent.

There is no doubt that the high poverty rate among Ondo indigenes played a role in influencing the pattern of their voting last Saturday. This is largely due to the monetary enticement they got from politicians; oftentimes the electorates often vote against their conscience.

Reports say the major political parties were sharing money openly to willing voters who would accept to vote for their candidates even in the presence of security agencies.

However, what is obvious is that Nigerians politicians understand the poor economic state of Nigerians and the voting population and are often out to exploit the situation and influence their voting pattern to their favour.

Though INEC had promised to initiate a mechanism to check vote-buying in previous elections, what is obvious is that such measures if it was ever initiated had failed.

Festus Okoye, INEC chairman of information and voters education, told BusinessDay recently that the commission was aware of the challenge posed by vote buying to the electoral system and would deal with it.

According to him, “We are aware of the problems vote-buying poses and we are adopting new strategies to deal with it. We appeal to political parties and the candidates to steer clear of our polling units as the commission will not condone buying and selling of votes or voters cards in any of the polling units.

“We shall collaborate with security agencies to stamp out vote-buying,” he said.

Some days prior to the Ondo election, the Resident Electoral Commissioner in the state, Rufus Akeju, had said it was putting measures in place to curtail vote-buying and violence during the election through voter education across the state.

“I want to assure you that the INEC is more than ever before, committed to the con­duct of free, fair, credible, conclusive and acceptable election in Ondo State, come Saturday, October 10, 2020 in line with international best practices.

“Furthermore, the commission is working very hard towards eradicating the ‘do or die’ attitude, vote buying menace as well as the high level of apathy associated with the electoral process,” Akeju had said.

Observers also said that most times, it was poverty that drove some youths to act as thugs for politicians.

“If you look at most of the boys that act as politicians’ thugs, they look unfed and generally unkempt. Many of them do not even have good accommodation. So, they depend on the handouts by politicians who prey on them,” a pundit said on condition of anonymity.

However, observers say that the lack of legislation to check vote buying and the lack of powers by INEC to punish election offenders was a major problem that must be dealt with if the ugly trend is to be checked ahead 2023 election.

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