Cheta Nwanze, Lead Partner, SBM Intelligence

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Subjects of Interest

  • Fiscal Policy
  • Geopolitical Analysis
  • Governance
  • Politics

Countering vote-buying with voter education 07 Jul 2022

The Ekiti State governorship election held last month. It is a likely precursor of the 2023 general election in terms of widespread vote-buying. In the Ekiti election, party agents were seen in and around numerous polling units exchanging sums of money ranging between N5,000.00 (which is $8.25 at the market exchange rate of N606/$1) and N10,000.00 for votes.

The three main parties in the running for the election were the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) which fielded a former governor of the state, Segun Oni. The civil society group, Socio-Economic Rights And Accountability Project (SERAP), has said that all the three parties indulged in vote-buying. This indicates the scale of the problem and how the major parties try to out-compete one another on the wrong factors instead of good democratic practices.

One wonders how APC’s Biodun Oyebanji who has been declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the winner of the election can even begin to contemplate good governance. The decisive factor appeared to be the scale of vote-buying and other malpractices, rather than trust in the capacity and policy proposals of the candidates.

A common challenge

Vote-buying corrupts the democratic process, and it is a reality in many developing countries apart from Nigeria. The Philippines is bedevilled by the same problem and has only been able to cut down on vote-buying in its elections. As much as 30 percent of Filipinos were offered ‘bribes’ in exchange for their votes in the 2010 election campaign and as low as $1.45 was offered for a vote. Some other elections attracted a premium ranging between the equivalent of $5.57 and $11.14 for vote-buying.

Kenya has also struggled with vote-buying. According to Afrobarometer, the East African country has some of the highest prices for votes on the continent. Data gathered between 2003 and 2014 suggests that close to 30 percent of Kenyans have been involved in vote-buying. Observers say available data understates the extent of the malpractice given people's unwillingness to own up to their involvement in buying and selling of votes.

Kenyan electoral culture also has a rarer form of “vote tampering”, whereby politicians identify areas where they are unlikely to get votes and encourage the voters there to not bother to come out to vote. On election day, some Kenyan politicians go to areas that are hostile to them with kegs of alcoholic beverages and give them to locals to make them even less disposed to going out to vote.

Vote-buying and poverty

The Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) tried to discourage vote-buying by arresting people caught in the act in the Ekiti governorship election. But the efforts of the anti-graft agency were inconsequential for the prevalent ethical violation.

The financial incentive to sell votes, even at a pittance, is considerable because of the high extreme poverty rate in the country. About half of the population live in poverty. The prognosis is that many more Nigerians will become poor in the short- to medium-term as a result of declining productivity as well as uncontrolled population growth. In 1981, according to World Bank data, Nigeria’s per capita income was $2,180.2 and it had fallen to $2,097 in 2020. On the contrary, most countries of the world improved their average income over the same period, with South Korea’s rising from $1,883 in 1981 to $32,860 in 2021. Morocco also increased its GDP per capita more than fourfold over this period.

Nigeria’s poverty is correlated to unemployment. With the median monthly income in the country at N11,450.00 in 2019, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), many poor Nigerians are willing to sell their votes for just about a month’s income to elect a politician into office for four years. Ekiti has a high unemployment rate of 32 percent even though the figure is below the national average of over 40 percent.

However, poverty and unemployment are not the only factors that influence vote-buying in Nigeria. The cynicism of the middle class towards elections ensure a thriving exchange of votes for cash. If the poor are unable to understand the damaging impact of selling their votes – because poverty have been known to disrupt cognitive output – those higher up on the economic pyramid don’t care enough to facilitate good electoral outcomes. The country’s election seems to negate the high socio-economic dependency among the population.

Vote-buying is flourishing in Nigerian because the middle class has abdicated its civic responsibility of voting and exerting positive influence on their poorer compatriots. Those who are capable of making a more informed electoral decisions abstain from voting, because they persuade themselves that “It is the poor folks that vote”. But they turnaround to vilify the poor for selling their votes.

The role of informed voters has been abdicated in our elections. In the 2019 electoral cycle, well-educated Nigerians – including Harvard-educated Obiageli “Oby” Ezekwesili, who is a former minister and co-founder of Transparency International; and Kingsley Moghalu, who obtained his PhD from London School of Economics, served as CBN deputy governor and was a former UN diplomat – were on the ballot for the presidential election. Collectively, the duo polled less than 1 percent of the votes. The educated, middle-class segment of the electorate essentially voted for the same candidates of choice for the uneducated, poor voters.

While many educated candidates are represented on the ballot, it has not changed the pattern of how the elections are won through inducement of voters and other forms of ballot tampering – and, consequently, the overall outcomes of our democracy. Voter education, which should inspire voters to vote for their enlightened self-interest, is the intervention that the country can no longer delay. But this will require those who have the education to work determinedly in their numbers with those who currently don’t, explaining that the way to reverse mass poverty in the country is to not vote for politicians corrupting the system and perpetuating poverty by replacing idea with money in our elections.

Cheta Nwanze is Lead Partner at SBM Intelligence.