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How much is a vote?

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I remember one of my first ever election experiences in the 80s.

Impressionable teens in boarding school saddled with the task of electing a class captain.

There had been no candidate campaign promises as the bulk of the position was to take down names of noise makers.

As for the electorates, it made sense to lobby for and elect either a good friend who would conveniently be hard of hearing to your noise during the compilation of the list.

Another way around, if you were one for the greater good, was to elect a noise maker with some conscience who wouldn’t be able to submit names as he would need to have his name top the list.

Election for me has always been about an exchange – an exchange of “something” for my vote.

The question remains unchanging through various election seasons, the question: “How do we curtail the natural selfish desires and prevent that “something” from being solely of individual/personal gain?”

Regardless of your brush choice in painting the scenario, the picture remains that we always, exchange “something” for our votes.

That “something” could range from our freedom to make noise for an unknown classmate to have an elevated position or immediate personal gratification for a known or unknown politician to hold sway for a period.

In national politics, this exchange of something for votes will always be the case.

However, seeing as we cannot move away from the innate, yet primitively selfish nature of the human being, it behooves us to ensure that the evolution of both the human mind and electoral process must be away from immediate personal gratification to the direction of communal interests.

It means placing communal interest above selfish interest.

The so-called elite voters will either exchange their votes for a manifesto they believe will be adhered to, or they will exchange their votes for a charismatic politician who makes promises that they believe would advance the community.

They, most likely, will exchange their votes for something that translates to a communal benefit.

Where the manifestoes and promises are equally weighted from the perspective of probability of performance, then, they will exchange their votes for the communal benefit they will personally benefit from.

How does a communal benefit translate to personal? Well, if every politician promises to build more schools and therefore employ more teachers and I am a head-teacher who understands that this promise will easily translate to a personal benefit, then he will get my vote.

Though the intentions may be selfish, they are borne out of the understanding that the priority is the communal benefit.

Having explained communal-benefit-based-decision-making, it would now be good to understand the modus operandi of poverty and what it does to the mind and vision, what pain does to the body by completely distorting reasoning and eliminating long-term vision.

When people who have been ravaged by poverty, to the extent that hunger becomes physical pain and any thought about the future is a mental burden, comprehension of any decision making beyond satisfying the immediate physical pain is physically, mentally and emotionally impossible.

Allowing such people vote is akin to putting a nail in my knee and daring me to oppose anything my oppressor says.

The worst part is that, in their state of pain and poverty induced delirium, the oppressor causing inhumane physical and mental pain to these people now offers them a transient palliative, the form of “conditional cash transfer” but the elite voters, whose exchange value is more evolved, would think of them as irrational!

Personally, N5,000 will not be sufficient inducement but N5,000 to one who hasn’t seen N200 in 3days, hasn’t eaten a proper meal in weeks, will do absolutely anything you ask.

He’s driven from the realm of rationality and no, he’s not a “bad person selling his future”, his hunger-induced pain causes impaired vision such that he cannot possibly contemplate any time frame beyond the next meal…whenever that is!

Another perspective is that the present value or the mathematical expectation of the value of 4 years of governance is less than N5,000, so N5,000 appears to them as a good deal. In my opinion, nothing could be a worse anticipatory vote of no confidence!

In Nigeria, those living in extreme poverty, according to recently published data, outnumber the entire voting population.

If you go a step further and use other demographics, factor in poverty, un/under employment rates, you’ll find that the larger population of voters fall into some poverty category and asking such a person, in such a circumstance to make a long-term choice, is painful to his psyche and is wickedness; not just to him, but also to those who can make rational choices that will benefit the overall community.

Universal suffrage means that inadvertently, we will have far more voters in the bracket of those who are being, by my definition, tortured to make a choice; blind to the implication of their choice; starved enough to accept a meal as inducement for their choice, than those who will make a communally beneficial choice.

Now, we have received $322 million as recovered ‘loot’ and the government has said it will be distributed to as a “conditional” cash transfer to the poor.

At N5,000 per person, that’s 23 million votes. 28.5 million votes determined our presidential election in 2015.

2019 election results are loading. Perhaps this “conditionality” should be elaborated before it’s too late.

While some sneer at those who “sell their future” for N5,000 without considering the deep poverty mentality that drives you to making such decisions, consider yourself and the reason for your own votes.

Many are suffering from a different poverty, a poverty of ambition and poverty of expectation.

Oddly, we all know that “he who pays the piper dictates the tune” but in our case, we have those seeking electoral offices paying the electorate for votes and when they get in, how can he who has been paid, be expected to hold the payer accountable?

We have inadvertently chosen a style of government that allows the perverse manipulation of the basic tenets of a democracy in exactly the manner a democracy was designed to exclude. We are re-creating the exact problem that this style of government was conceived to fix.

The leaders we are grooming through this system are no different from the slave traders who bought lives in exchange for personal wealth and provided the slaves with the bare minimum required for daily survival.


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