Vote-BuyingA shout of “Mr. Man, wetin you dey do? Why you dey snap your ballot paper?” drew our attention to the voting cubicle. A security personnel was seen grabbing the trousers of a voter and trying to collect his phone when I got closer to the scene. When questioned, the security personnel claimed that he had seen the young man taking a picture of his ballot paper and he was trying to find out why. The man he grabbed kept insisting he had a right to take pictures of his ballot paper that it was his ballot paper and no one else’s. As the APO/VP, I knew it was my job to diffuse the tension that was starting grow among the queued electorates as they had also started shouting about how it was his right to do whatever he wanted with his ballot paper and the party agents weren’t helping matters either, with their “leave him alone now! He can snap his ballot paper if he wants!” shouts. I calmly explained to the crowd that it was wrong for a voter to take pictures of his/her ballot paper, especially after voting. Although it was called an open-secret ballot system, it meant that they would cast their votes in the presence of other people in other to avoid claims of rigging, but whoever they voted for was to be known to them alone.
After my explanation, another man stepped forward and told me he understood what I was trying to say that but I should also understand that it was the young man’s only proof to the party agents that he had voted for their party. He said that that was the only way he would be able to get the money that had been promised him by party agents of the party he voted for. I was surprised to see other people in the queue nodding their heads in agreement. Baffled thoughts danced around my brain till we ended the election and I got back home. “I knew vote buying has been happening for a while but when did it become something so open?” was the thought in my head.
It wasn’t a surprise when the results were announced and a lot of people began insisting the election had been rigged. That was the obvious outcome, some people had exchanged their votes for material benefits, the results would definitely have been in favour of the party that could afford to do that. It was through this experience I realised just how much of a menace vote buying has become to Nigeria’s political system.
The obvious outcome of vote buying is that it is gradually becoming the bane of democracy in Nigeria. For a country that is using a democratic system, the electorates are slowly losing their voting power by exchanging it for money and other material things. And by so doing, there is a big distortion and hindrance to the idea of a free and fair election that ensures that the electorates elect the leaders they deem fit to rule them. “Why person go vote with clean when some people dey wey dey collect money from politicians come dey vote for them? No be waste of time? Make me sef use opportunity take chop my own now,” was one response that an electorate gave that stuck to my head that day. I was shocked to witness such cynicism. I could understand though, people had begun to witness how seemingly useless it was for them to wholeheartedly vote without the influence of anyone while others voted for political parties that had paid them certain amount of money and those parties were always gaining power.
Since parties have begun buying their ways into victories, people are beginning to find their voting power useless and are instead trading it for material things. Not only are they seeing it as a means to gain money or other things of monetary value, some are referring to it as a means to also eat in the national cake that politicians are enjoying. The rampant spread of vote buying is acting as a catalyst for the destruction and death of democracy in the country and also acting as a hindrance to the possibilities of good governance in the country. Political parties that can’t provide capable candidates that can govern the country but can afford to buy votes are now using this means as a way to buy their candidates into power. The obvious outcome is that there is the highest possibility those position fall into the wrong hands.
As a result of vote buying, the electoral process has become very expensive. Candidates now think that without money and their ability to pay their way into people’s hearts one way or the other, they wouldn’t win elections. As a result of this, candidates that are likely to succeed at governing the country give up on the thought before they even try. For candidates that can afford the monetary implications of contesting for a political position, they get into power and see it as a means to get the money they lost during the electoral process and in the process, they forget to do what they have been elected into power to do. For a country whose citizens have been chanting “we want change”, vote buying has been acting as a veil that is blocking their eyes from reality. They are only seeing a means of gaining money and being blinded to the outcome of the choice they make regarding who they elect into power. How do expect change to occur when you’ve traded in your power to bring in change for money? How can change happen if money has made you give power to the wrong person?
As much as vote buying is a cancer that is slowly burrowing its way into the country, it is serving as an eye opener to those who want it to be. Like cancer that begins to spread through the body due to an infected tissue, vote buying has obviously began due to corruption among electoral officers. Some of them have seen elections as a means to make money and thereby allow corrupt practices before and during elections. It is saddening to realise that people still don’t learn their lessons from the outcome of previous elections. After selling their votes and voting in the wrong people power, they are governed wrongly and the country witnesses a backlash on the choices they made when they sold their votes. It is quite unfortunate to see that this has still not opened their eyes to the problem vote buying is posing on their country. As the 2019 elections draw near, all I can hope for is that people can see how badly vote buying is burrowing into the political sphere of the country and can try to avoid the plague. People should be educated on what democracy is, the power they wield due to democracy and how this power can effect the “change” they have been craving for. Because politicians have seen how poor some people are and how desperate poor people can be, they have relied heavily on vote buying by targeting people who would do anything for money. People should however realise that with good governance comes good policies, with good policies comes a strong economy and with a strong economy comes enough money for everyone in a country.
- Akintayo is a graduate of English from the University of Ilorin, Kwara State