In less than three weeks, Nigerians would troop out to various polling units to cast their votes for the presidential and national assembly candidates. Two weeks after that, they will troop out once more. This time, to choose among a diverse crop of governorship and state assemblies’ candidates. As the Election Day approaches, all stakeholders are involved in a beehive of activities. Campaigns have taken every possible form, with various candidates making fantastic promises. With the perceived gullibility of many voters, some would wonder whether Nigerians are wired with an intrinsic ability to deceive themselves.
Recently, I had a conversation with a fellow Nigerian voter. As we discussed, he emphatically asserted, “Nigerians are hypocrites”. When asked to explain his accusation, he said that Nigerians expect politicians to spend huge sums of money during campaigns, and think that those monies would not have to be recouped when they get into office. “Until Nigerians change their orientation”, he continued, “There would be no change”.
Voter inducement is technically illegal but many Nigerians do not see anything wrong with it. The pervasive high poverty level has clouded the reasoning of many persons. In addition, many persons wrongly believe that the best (only) time to gain something from politicians is during elections. The belief is that politicians would forget the electorates after the elections.
As voters expect “something” during elections, politicians are pressured to get funds to “empower/mobilize” voters. The huge capital requirement tactically pushes many of the “honest” contestants out of contention. Only those with high-worth godfathers or unfettered access to public funds can raise such money.
Electoral campaigns in Nigeria transcend mere publicity and clear elucidation of candidates’ manifestos. Envelopes have to be shared before, during or after political rallies. A good number of attendees at political rallies are essentially “paid for”. They go where the money is. Branding has gone to another level, as food items, drugs, umbrellas, mugs etc., are adorned with party/candidate brands for distribution to voters. It is all part of the “empowerment” required by many voters. No wonder “stomach infrastructure” is fast becoming an acceptable phrase in Nigerian politics.
What many Nigerians do not realize is that by expecting money or other inducement for their votes, they give up their right to accountability. The huge funds spent during elections would have to be recovered. What better recovery means exists other than inflating contracts, awarding contracts to cronies, direct theft from the treasury and other forms of misappropriation and embezzlement? It is a simple case of cause and effect.
The commonly cited reason for requesting inducement—“politicians do not keep their promises”—stands on broken legs. Even if voters were to collect ₦100,000 each (impossible!) in return for their votes, does that sum equal the accruable democratic dividends of four years? It is a case of foolishness, selling one’s birthright for a pot of porridge. If politicians pay for votes, they would have no incentive to work for the good of the electorates, whereas, if they had to convince the electorates to vote them in, they would know that failure to fulfill their promises would make the electorates to vote them out at the first available opportunity.
As Nigerians, we have to decide what we want. Do we want good governance for four years? Alternatively, are we ready to sacrifice four years’ worth of democratic dividends in return for money, a bag of rice, or some other item that would last for less than one year? If we eat tomorrow’s yam, we must be ready for future hunger. The choice is ours to make. Like the Bible would say, “This day I set before you good governance and inducement. Choose good governance that you may live”. Let the hypocrisy cease!