Here I am, buy me!
During our one-year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), between 1981 and ‘82 in Abeokuta, capital of Ogun State, our monthly stipend was N200: 00. Yes N200: 00, which today, cannot buy a standard loaf of bread.
At that time, it was a princely sum as the national minimum wage was N100: 00. After collecting a one-month salary, I approached my cousin, Mr Ayo Olaoye, then a manager with the CFAO, who helped me to buy a giant double-cabin Frigidaire standing refrigerator for N200.00.
Today, N200.00 cannot buy a single vote in Ekiti State, once the intellectual powerhouse of the Yoruba people of the South-west. You will need N10, 000.00 for that, or at least 20 loaves of bread. With that princely sum too, the collector of money-for-vote would be expected to make a pot of soup that is going to last him or her till the next governorship election in four years time.
I don’t know whether it is the electorate that is forcing the politicians to pay to vote, or it is the politicians that have reduced the electorate to the level where they now need to get a pot of soup from the politician before they cast their vote in his/her favour. Or in exchange for power, the politician gives one loaf of bread per week for four years. What a bargain!
The blame game would continue for some years to come, on how we indeed entered into money politics that is complicating our lives. In 1978, when Chief Adekunle Ajasin wanted to run for the governorship of Ondo State, he was not a millionaire. He had tried his best to have a good economic base. He served as the first principal of Imade College, Owo, for many years. In 1962, he left I made to establish his own school, Owo High School, from where he retired in 1975. Despite his having a modest economic base, Ajasin was the leader of the Awoist Movement in the old Ondo State by 1978.
Ajasin had other relevant qualifications that made him eligible to run for governor. He was a co-founder of the defunct Action Group (AG) party and served as its Vice-President for many years. He was a member of the House of Representatives in Lagos for 11 years. He was also the genius who wrote the policy paper on the Free Education Programme that was adopted and implemented by the AG regimes of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his successor, Chief Ladoke Akintola, as the Head of Government of the defunct Western Region. Ajasin and his colleagues were the people who changed our lives.
Yet, neither Ajasin, nor any of his colleagues, who emerged as governors in 1979 on the platform of Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) would have been qualified to contest for office today. Chief Bola Ige, who became Governor of old Oyo State in 1979, was a lawyer of high visibility but modest means. Chief Olabisi Onabanjo, was an editor. Ditto Alhaji Lateef Jakande, who emerged as the Governor of Lagos State. Jakande was Nigeria’s most celebrated editorialist and Editor-in-Chief of the Nigerian Tribune. None of them was a millionaire.
Just to collect the nomination form today, Ajasin would have needed N50 million to run for governor on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). For PDP, it would be N21 million. For the Social Democratic Party (SDP), he would have needed N15 million. I don’t know of any secondary school teacher in Nigeria that can raise that kind of money from his legitimate income. Professor Ambrose Alli, who emerged as the first elected Governor of Bendel State (now Edo and Delta) was a university teacher. Were he to run for the governorship of Edo State now, he would need an oil block to carry out the assignment, successfully. Today, the only real qualification you need to run for the office of governor in Nigeria is access to a warehouse full of cash.
Money politics is not new in Nigeria, but it appears the art has been re-invented. In the past, a political party would spend a lot of resources to produce its manifesto. This manifesto would guide its campaign for power. Today, ask any member of the ruling All Progressives Congress, or its Siamese twin, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to produce their party manifesto and the response would most likely be a harangue. Yet we still remember that for the UPN during the Second Republic, there were four cardinal programmes: Free Education, Free Health Service, Integrated Rural Development and Full Employment. Today, nobody seems to know about the cardinal programmes of the two big parties dominating our land. So, what is the future of democracy in a land where power is a commodity for sale?
Running a political party in our clime has always been a complicated and expensive venture. During the First Republic, the parties were organised on a massive scale, with fully employed party agents called organising secretaries. The financing was done by the contributions of party members and the special funding from those called party fathers who were the wealthy men associated with the political parties. Today, politicians have appropriated the resources of the state to fund their quest for power. How else do you explain a serving minister who has no other visible means of income being able to buy a form for N100 million?
What is more worrisome is not that the politicians are willing to spend money; it is the transformation of the electorate. The electorate, even more than the politicians, has become insatiable. They would demand from the politicians and political office holders. If their father dies, they reach out to His Excellency. If they want to marry a new wife, it is His Excellency. If they have a new child, His Excellency must be informed immediately! Such is the burden of the politicians in Nigeria today.
This situation has also led to reckless scepticism among the electorate. The population of Ekiti State is about 3.5 million. By that calculation, those who are 18 and above should be at least 2 million. In the last election, only 989,000 people registered. Out of these 360,753 voted for all the candidates, which is less than 40 per cent of the registered voters. Mr. Abiodun Oyebanji, the candidate of the APC who was declared the Governor-elect by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), scored 187,057 votes, which represents 51.9 per cent of those who cared to vote. However, only 18.9 per cent of the 989,000 registered voters voted for him.
We have seen that a man who garnered only 18.9 per cent of the votes among registered voters had been declared winner in a crucial governorship election. There is no examination in the world where 18.9 per cent is a pass mark, but that is the situation we have found ourselves, thanks to the efforts, or lack of it, of the Nigerian political elite. That class has been devaluing the electorate like the Nigerian naira and now each voter could be bought for a loaf of bread.
Vote-buying, contrary to popular opinion, was not invented in Ekiti State. In 1979, Simbiat Abiola, the senior wife of Chief Moshood Abiola, contested for the Senate on the platform of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). To soften the ground for the matriarch, the Abiola’s spent money and distributed hundreds of Volkswagen cars, motorcycles, sewing machines and other equipment. Despite the largess, the electorate still rejected her and voted for her rival, the candidate of Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria. In 1979, a Volkswagen beetle car cost about N5, 000. 00; the equivalent of today’s $8,000 or N4 million only. That was the worth of a voter in 1979. Today, he is worth N10, 000.00 or less!
What a decline and fall for the Nigerian voter! The voter of today is beckoning to the politician and advertising himself: “Here I am! Buy me!”