The Nigerian political mindset and landscape are changing, the problem is whether it is for the better or for worse. This is evident in the recently concluded Ondo State gubernatorial elections. But please, do not let us be lulled or deluded into thinking all was well a hundred, or even eighty percent with that election. Far from it!
But first, we must commend the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for seemingly getting it right this time and doing a very good job considering the intimidating circumstance and the outgoing Ondo State Governor Olusegun Mimiko for his maturity in congratulating the victor and all the candidates for displaying rare sportsmanship in the history of Nigeria elections.
Prior to the election, at each of the parties’ Primaries, we saw some desperation on the parts of the contestants; do-or-die politics; nasty name-callings and abuses; money-politics, and of course, the usual Nigerian political pastime and speculation of fanning embers of disunity within the parties.
It would serve the observers well to come out and tell us the election was free and fair (I seriously doubt this is any Nigerian election, as of now), peaceful (yes, apparently, I did not hear of thuggery, ballot snatching, intimidation, beatings, cutlass, and gun attacks, etc.) and smooth (all seemed to go well)
But we all know the hindering that the PDP candidate went through before he eventually got the ticket to contest, just mere days before the elections. This, let’s be fair, must have greatly impacted on the performance of his party and the final results he got, as he had barely any time to campaign like the rest of his co-contestants. And what or who do we blame? First, his party, which was riven apart by the two factions with incessant court appearances and unintelligible and varying court orders. Secondly, the justice system of this country, which has once again proven its incompetence, bias and corruption.
Not a pretty sight or thought!
But my concern, despite all the above virtues of a peaceful, so-called, or doubtful free and fair election, is the money politics. The rampant and open buying and selling of votes by agents of the parties, with the main offenders being the PDP that currently controls the state and the APC that is in power at the federal level. Rumour abound that even the winning candidate’s party was “spreading” so much money around to buy votes, it was mind-boggling. With this, I cannot but show my disappointment and disenchantment with Barrister Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, (alias Aketi) the governor-elect, and his political party, the APC, assuming (and of course he will do a disavowal, if asked) that he knew what was going on – the blatant and open buying of votes.
Incidentally, the noted, respected, and debonair Barrister was at my church in Ibadan, two Sundays before the election as the Distinguished Guest of Honour (and he deserves this honour a hundred percent) of the Church’s Harvest Thanksgiving Service. He made every attempt to attend, and though he came a bit late, the congregation used the opportunity to pray for his success at the polls. In fact, our Venerable Reverend was of the belief that Aketi has already won the election. I prayed for him too and believe he would win.
Now, for me, and for many other sincere and discerning Nigerians, we should not see this election as a victory for democracy alone; we should learn lessons from it, and improve on it. Again, I will not subscribe to the general trance that the election was not flawed. It was! The suspicion that money was used to buy votes (allegedly, but we all know this was true) has besmirched the result of the elections in my mind and eyes. I cannot accept that the election was not flawed with vote-buying accusations and rumours flying about.
Financing politics is a good investment in Nigeria. Once a godfather elects his protégée, return is guaranteed. Corruption in financing politics in the country permeates every level of the government and takes many forms. It is no wonder then that political parties are among the three most corrupt institutions, according to governance surveys in Nigeria. However, the problem has not yet received deserved attention.
Take money out Nigerian politics (before your slam me, yes, I know, even the United States elections consume a lot of money, but we all know there is a difference in the way election funds are used, regulated, and accounted for in that country) and what you have are great, conscientious, sincere, honest, and good leaders at all cadres or levels of government and the society emerging at every election, which will be truly free and fair. It is then that Nigerians will truly enjoy what we like to term as “dividends of democracy”.
In a society, such as ours, submersed and immobilised by greed, selfishness, deceit, deception, fraud and corruption, this venture of regulating and accounting for election funding might sound very optimistic and impossible, but as with everything, all it takes is a little bit of altruism and sincerity of purpose from our leaders and of course, awareness, watchfulness, speaking-out, resistance and protection by the general public and society, .
The poverty, ignorance and dispirit in the land are so considerable, and have constituted a formidable barrier to any positive thinking and action from all sections of the society, as well as a daunting barrier to good leadership and good governance.
With such an environment, lies in wait unscrupulous and evil opportunists and political jobbers who emerge, crawling out of the woodwork, virtually unchallenged at every electoral exercise, brandishing wads of money and pretending to love their people, by spending money they have stolen from the people in the first place. In Ekiti State, a new term for this emerged – stomach infrastructure.
The result is the scuppering of the ideals of democracy, political evolvement, and good governance. When this happens, of course, as we are now seeing, feeling, and experiencing, it is bad news, very bad news for the people/masses – the people, the society, the country suffers.
Any reward given to a person for voting in a particular way or for not voting can be called vote buying. Vote buying is a corrupt election practice. A vote buying bribe is that having a monetary value. The practice of vote buying is banned in most democratic countries. Vote buying is a threat to the conduct of fair elections. Vote buying is an offence when a person knowingly or wilfully gives false information or conspires with another individual for the purpose of encouraging his false registration to vote or illegal voting, or pays or offers to pay or accepts payment either for registration to vote or for voting.
Vote buying is an electoral fraud, it is an electoral malpractice, electoral corruption and election manipulation, or vote rigging and is illegal interference with the process of an election.
Since 1999’s new democratic dispensation in Nigeria (I will leave out 1979 for now), we have had a political campaign finance system that is corrupt and increasingly controlled by stolen money and godfathers, and I fear very much that, in fact, government of the people, by the people, and for the people is really not being practiced in Nigeria.
We cannot allow that to continue to happen. When scrutinised critically, those who were buying the votes did so in their pursuit for such power and wealth that would come their way once they enter government. This is the only logical conclusion; what else? And why do they want to enter government? To loot the treasury.
Let’s be truthful and admit it: this is a political system in which a handful of opportunists and special interests will determine who gets elected or who does not get elected. That is not what democracy is supposed to be about.
Getting unwanted, looted and free money out of politics is vital, if we truly want a democratic country that will be beneficial to “all of us, and not some of them” but much more needs to be done to sustain our democracy. Notably, we must ensure that all Nigerians are guaranteed an effective right to vote, and their votes MUST count. A nation in which all people, regardless of their income, can participate in the political process, can run for office without begging for gifts from some political godfathers.
We need to get money out of politics and restore our democracy to combat a corrupted political system controlled by rich crooks, thugs and special interests, whose only interests are themselves and what they will gain from the system.
There is no doubt that money politics and vote buying have serious threats to democratic governance in Nigeria. To combat this resonating threat, electoral and other institutional reforms should be effective, and this can only be done by our elected officials, if they are sincere enough. Anti-corruption, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies as well as electoral authorities need to work together with banks and other financial institutions to monitor the movement of cash before and during elections.
It is also essential that we change and imbibe a culture of democratic citizenship that begins with an electorate ready to insist on credible and transparent elections. Voters, and in this case, the poor suffering Nigerian masses, should be useful adequately to engage and transplant moral oppositions to vote buying.
Tell the Truth always!!!
Akintokunbo A Adejumo wrote from London, United Kingdom.