Unfortunately, the complaints of these voters turned out to be complaints of a minority as many voters were reported to have received payment of up to N10,000 to vote for a political party
“This was an undisguised rebuke of Bola Tinubu, the APC strongman and presidential candidate, who had said at a campaign rally a few days to the election that only those who thumbprint for its party would eat good soup, a drab metaphor for getting paid”.
Èkìtì State governorship election was held on Saturday, June 18 to replace the outgoing governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi. The election was won by the ruling All Progressives Congress in what Nigerian politicians love to call a “landslide victory.” The party scored more votes that its two major opponents, the Social Democratic Party and the People’s Democratic Party, combined. For the first time since 1999, the Ekiti people have elected the same political party in two consecutive governorship elections.
In contrast to previous elections in the state and the country at large, this election was considered peaceful and credible by many election monitoring groups. The Centre for Transparency Advocacy, in a statement reviewing the conduct of the election, reported that the election was conducted with professionalism and adherence to time and that the deployment of the electoral technology, namely the BVAS made voter accreditation and voting smooth. Even the security agents that are usually culpable in electoral malpractices were reported to have acted responsibly and with professionalism
However, all was not well with this election. In all the reports I have seen, two major things stand out for me: vote-buying and voter apathy. Right from the start of the election, media houses were sharing videos of voters complaining about attempts by certain political parties to pay them to vote for their political parties. In one of those videos, voters were seen insisting that they were no longer going to sell their votes for a pot soup. This was an undisguised rebuke of Bola Tinubu, the APC strongman and presidential candidate, who had said at a campaign rally a few days to the election that only those who thumbprint for its party would eat good soup, a drab metaphor for getting paid.
Unfortunately, the complaints of these voters turned out to be complaints of a minority as many voters were reported to have received payment of up to N10,000 to vote for a political party. Vote buying is not new in Nigeria, of course, but its deployment as a tool for winning elections has become blatant and widespread as other electoral malpractices became difficult to execute. In the past, it was usually ward leaders, security agents and election officials that got paid to enable crimes like stuffing ballots or stealing ballot boxes. As these acts of rigging have become more difficult, politicians have decided to shift more resources to “rig” voters themselves by paying them.
Vote-buying constitutes an existential danger to our democracy and must not be excused or condoned at all. I have seen arguments that try to excuse voters for selling their votes, blaming this undignified and self-damaging conduct on poverty. Poverty is rife in our country, no doubt, but we blame far too many things on it. Poor people can, and, in many places, do retain their dignity and pride. And if our democracy must work, we must stop infantilising voters by arguing that they do not know what’s wrong and what’s right and only do what put a few naira notes in their pockets. I argue that the problem is not poverty or lack of knowledge, but that of a crooked value system. Our crooked value system does not affect poor people alone but also people who are better off and in many cases, millionaires and billionaires. Poverty should not make you mortgage the future of your community for money that cannot get you 5kg of cooking gas.
Another major issue with the election is voter apathy. Ekiti has an estimated population of 3.2million people. According to Nigeria’s population distribution, roughly 50% of the population is above 18 years old, the minimum voting age in Nigeria. This means Ekiti has around 1.6 million people old enough to vote. Apathy in the state, however, meant that only 749,065 people have their voter cards. And out of that only 360,753 people came out to vote on Saturday. In other words, only 23% of adults in Ekiti State determined the fate of the state.
This is not solely Ekiti’s problem, let’s be clear. The 2019 presidential election in Nigeria had only 28.6m voters in a country with at least 100m adults, that’s a 28.6% turnout. Compared this to the United States where 66% of its eligible adult population turned out to vote in the 2020 presidential election. Or, India in 2019 where 67% of eligible voters exercised their franchise. Most relevantly, Ghana was able to get over 70% of its adult population to participate in the 2020 election.
Democracy is supposed to be the government of the people, so is it really a democracy when the majority of the people refuse to participate in the process or sell their participation to the highest bidder? Nigerian people have a duty to themselves to participate. It is easy to become demoralised and disenchanted with the performance of various democratic governments since 1999, but we cannot afford to abandon the process. As the electoral process becomes fairer and more peaceful, voter apathy and vote-selling will limit the benefits of the various electoral reforms.