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Cash-for-votes and the stain on our elections

By Dan Agbese
20 July 2018   |   3:30 am
It is the tradition among our politicians that the loser must contest the victory of his opponent in every election. We tend to see such people as bad losers given to sulking and whining.

INEC chairman Prof Mahmoud Yakubu

It is the tradition among our politicians that the loser must contest the victory of his opponent in every election. We tend to see such people as bad losers given to sulking and whining. But court records in the land show that it is not so in every case. The conduct of our elections have not been generally clean, as in free and fair. Their lordships, the lords of the temple of justice, increasingly show a willingness to listen to the losers. The cases drag through the courts for years but eventually justice somehow manages to prevail and the acclaimed winners change places with the losers.

And so, I can understand why, to borrow the headline of the Daily Sun newspaper of July 17, the governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, “spits fire” over the electoral upset of his party in the July 14 governorship election. He was not in the running. His party, PDP, was. His hand-picked successor was. He, obviously, regarded the election as a referendum on his time and leadership in and of the state. I suppose he believed that the election would be a walk over for him and his party, although the cocks are no longer crowing in the poultry sheds. The cookies rumbled differently. Silly cookies. They somehow have a mind of their own at awkward moments.

Before the man began to spit fire – I thought dragons no longer roam the wilds – the leaders of his party, the PDP, including the national chairman, Uche Secondus, had outright condemned the election won by Dr Kayode Fayemi of APC. Fayemi is a come-back kid; so was Fayose whose turned was truncated by Obasanjo. I suppose we would all have been surprised if the PDP and its leaders accepted the results and congratulated Fayemi, if only to show that our politicians do, if grudgingly, acknowledge that the contest for elective offices is not a war but a game by the reformed for a chance to chop the people’s chop.

Here is my true confession. I am fascinated by the conduct of the Ekiti governorship election and the results released by INEC. Firstly, before the election, the drums of war were loud and ominous in the state. But when the day arrived, the drums were silent. I do not think that the presence of the 30,000 policemen or so drafted to the state did the trick. I would rather think that Ekiti people saw no reasons to let the violent prevail over the peaceful. After all, the state reputedly has more educated people than any other state. It is said that every home in the state has at least one professor and several men and women with doctorates. I expect them to show a degree of political sophistication consistent with their bookishness. Do not ask me why the people elected a polytechnic graduate twice; once in preference to a sitting PhD holder as their governor. Many things we no understand, right? Right.

From the records released by INEC, the 2018 Ekiti governorship election must be the closest of such contests to a credible election in the country so far. Fayemi won 197,459 votes to Olusola’s 178,114 votes. The latter lost by only 19,345 votes. On the face of it, therefore, Fayemi won fair and square. Fayose can howl and split fire, but we should be glad that in a state with a population of some 3.5 million, Fayemi, backed up by the powerful centre, did not win with something scary like four million votes out of 900,000 registered voters, 600,000 of whom collected their permanent voters’ cards. Do not chuckle. It had happened repeatedly before in this country. Some things never change.

I think it would be uncharitable not to congratulate INEC, Fayemi and the Ekiti people for the peaceful election that basically respected the choice of the people in every electoral ward as shown by the record of the electoral commission. I am not willing to suggest that Ekiti 2018 is a taste of Nigeria 2019. That would be too neat a conclusion.

I recall that in 2014 when Fayemi lost to Fayose, he showed the true spirit of sportsmanship. He did not howl and he did not spit fire. He accepted the election results and did not bother to contest them in the courts. He found a berth in the Buhari administration as minister of solid minerals from whence he came to reclaim his lost throne four years ago.

Here is one more irony in a political system full of ironies. In 2014, PDP anxious to put its foot in the door in the south-west geo-political zone, brazenly and openly rigged the election through strong arm tactics in which we all saw the crass deployment and misuse of our security forces to harass and intimidate the people. I am sure Lai Mohammed, minister of information, still bears scars of his arrest and detention for trying to show his face in Ekiti State. I see no evidence that APC went that far in this election. Sure, there is no denying a show of the federal might but nothing as crude as what happened under President Goodluck Jonathan’s watch in 2014.

Did victory ignore the higher bidder between APC and PDP in Ekiti? I wonder. The Sunday Punch of July 15 reported in a front page banner headline that the two parties wooed voters with cash. According to the newspaper, while APC gave N5,000 to each voter, PDP and the state government topped that with N7,000. Ordinarily, the higher bidder should have secured victory. I wonder if this is evidence that the voters are realising that it does no harm to one’s conscience to collect money from politicians at such critical times and still follow one’s heart. Something else must be at work here. This behaviour would be strange in our country where voters tend to believe they have the right to sell their votes in the rather complicated logic that nothing goes for nothing. No free votes in a free election.

But we face a fundamental problem that has bedevilled our elections for as long as anyone can remember. Vote-buying has a long history in our national politics. I would imagine that it is only getting worse because the politicians have become increasingly more sophisticated in the many ways they induce the people to rig elections. What is galling in all this is that the politicians see nothing wrong with what they are doing. Winning is what matters. If it takes money to win, as it invariably does in our country, then the poor should leave the stage to the money bags to strut the stage. As the Americans like to say, money talks, bullshit walks.

Three independent organisations, Transparency International, Socio-Economic Right and Accountability Project and Transition Monitoring Group that observed the election, have good reasons to believe that there were clear cases of vote-buying. They are worried about this because it impugns the integrity of our elections and mocks the concept of free and fair elections.

The rest of us should worry about this too, not least because a) the struggle to get our electoral system and our elections right is not about to end soon, thanks to the rogue called corruption and b) vote-buying is complex and complicated and does not lend itself to a quick fix. The voters and the politicians have always seen themselves the same way the market woman selling vegetables sees her customers: something to sell and the ability and the willingness of the customers to buy. The voters are cynical about this and see nothing wrong with selling their votes, the very power they exercise in a democracy, for about the equivalent of a plate of amala with iced fish and a bottle of stout. They believe that election time is the only time they can chop from the politicians who, once in office, chop and ignore the men and women whose ballot papers put them in high public offices.

It seems to me that if what happened in Ekiti holds up, as in N7,000 losing to N5,000, we might, and just might, arrive at a point where we might see vote-for-cash might as the unproductive indulgence by two sets of thieves outwitting one another.