Ballot Buying: Implication for Natural Resource Revenue Accountability

It is uncommon for Publish What You Pay to delve into elections and politics, and obviously many will be surprised to see us do that.  But, in reality, there is a strong relationship between economics and politics, and the performance of the state economy is dependent on the political foundation of the state.

Nigeria relies on (natural resource) oil and gas for more than 95 percent of her revenues, and these revenues are shared among states to be managed on behalf of the citizens in trust for citizens’ welfare. This means that our economic determinism is dependent on the allocation and utilization of the revenues from oil and gas. And politics becomes a fulcrum where all the process takes place, you now understand why it is inevitable for PWYP to focus on politics and governance which is the sole determinant of how state resources are shared and utilized.

In spite the huge revenues from oil and gas, for us to begin to see development, Nigeria must be a developmental state that acts proactively to transform the economy and the state. And that has to be done within the democratic setting which is the framework within which we operate. Unfortunately, our politics at the moment is too confrontational and there is urgent requirement to find a means of transforming our politics to one that gives consensus to development priorities that could transform our economies and the state.  Our ability to lead the developmental process, direct our affairs, build a strong institution and public sector, create a space for civil society organizations and build the capacity of our citizens to engage governance will be major determinant factors for measuring our readiness for development.

As we push for natural resource accountability which is shaped by our politics and governance, we must remodel our pattern of the political process. It is fundamental to do that because, at the moment, our political parties are not engaging the citizens and they are essentially “periodic vote gathering organizations”. We do not have any democratic structures within which we have debates on the problems facing us and about the choices that needed to be made. Our political parties are not people were driven, their ability to understand what is happening in our society is weak and that translates into weak and unfocused governance. There is no other platform to negotiate our wellbeing and define how our natural resource revenues will be managed for citizens’ benefit other than our current democratic platform.

In a Democracy, when elections are freely contested and participation is all-encompassing and citizens benefit from political liberties, then the government will act in the best interest of its people.  And if election serves to hold government accountable for the consequence of its past deed, then the predictions of voter’s judgment, will compel those in charge of the state affairs to choose policies that will be optimistically evaluated in their favour by citizens in the subsequent elections. In a democracy, voters education and enhancing citizens knowledge is central, because, if they do not have the knowledge and capacity to evaluate the incumbent government, the threat of not being re-elected will not be adequate to persuade the incumbent government to act in the best interest of the people.

As we go into a periodic election, which is an integral part of democracy, it is important to take into consideration the capacity of those that occupy public office which is a reflection of state capacity in itself. And the evaluation of the political leadership must be done by the citizens, which periodic elections present the opportunity for citizens to vote out none-performing government.

However, the current trend where elections are not won on basis of citizens’ evaluation and ballots are cast based on that is worrisome. The rolling wheel of money bags across all pooling boots on Election Day, bargaining and the voters cast their votes in favour of a political party that pays the highest amount is a dangerous trend. This no doubt erodes accountability in governance, it makes a mockery and threatens our democracy.

For instance, in the November 18th, 2017 Anambra state governorship election, election observers expressed concern over vote buying and inducement of voters and security agencies by political parties in order to garner votes. Mr. Clement Nwankwo, Convener of Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, noted this trend in a report.

In Edo state governorship election, the Alliance for Credible Election raised concerns over unprecedented vote buying by major parties and politicians. Mr. Mma Odi, the General Secretary disclosed at the presentation of their election audit report. In these practices, voters and politicians trade votes openly violating the secrecy of ballots system.

This emerging trend in our election must be halted immediately, and we are aware there are electoral laws regulating elections in Nigeria, the question is, what has happened to those laws. If our elections are allowed to be a product of trade “cash-and-carry democracy” we are in a dire problem. This is not only antithetical to democratic tradition but creates a situation where the ruling elites cannot be accountable to the people. To them, it will be all about trading and we cannot ask for accountability that seems to have been bought on Election Day.

The citizens must immediately rise to address this trend, and in doing that, they must ask for the criminalization of the practice. The provisions of the Electoral Act must be immediately activated to punish those found culpable. Our political education must be broadened and intensified, voters must be made to understand their rights and that their votes are the power they have to hold government accountable. They need to know that ballot is like fundamental right that cannot be sold in exchange for money.

In advanced capitalist society, nobody is above the law, the ruling class with the instrumentality of state mechanisms punishes anybody that violates the law no matter your class status. However, in our case, the ruling class circumvents the law with impunity and the masses helping them to achieve such unimaginable recalcitrant. This must stop.

The arguments point at poverty to justify ballots buying, yes we need to fight poverty, we also need to understand some are not poor but are driven by greed, and what this class people need is political education and re-orientation. Addressing the challenge of ballots buying is not dependent on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and other relevant agencies alone, but purely dependent on good leadership and citizens capacity to negotiate their future via the instrumentality of the ballots.

Therefore, periodic elections which democracy affords us must be the citizens’ mechanism to compel the ruling class to be accountable. And when this happens, the political elite knows their ability to win an election is dependent on the citizens’ evaluation of their past performance and not based on who spends the highest amount of monies on ballot buying on Election Day.

The citizens must realize, if the political class were to be accountable and utilizes the monies for their welfare, there will be no monies to buy ballots on Election Day.  And, the people will vote according to their evaluation of the party performance. And when that happens, accountability is guaranteed. Thus, as we ride on our democracy journey, the citizens must choose their leaders based on capacity and not the outcome of ballot buying.

It is important to note that in Nigeria, the focus on vote buying seems to be narrowed down to what happens on the Election Day, but that is not correct.  Vote buying happens throughout the electoral cycle, voter registration, party candidate nomination, electioneering and Election Day. In virtually all the party primaries in Nigeria, the person that wins the party ticket is the one that gives the highest amount of money to the delegates in exchange for their votes. Once nominated as party delegate primaries in Nigeria, you can be sure of making millions in few days.

For instance, at the All Progressive Congress (APC) presidential primaries that took place at Lagos  in preparation for the 2015 elections, delegates who participated in the election were alleged to have made US$5,000 each from the party ticket aspirants. The Atiku group were alleged to have given the delegates US$2,000 each while Buhari group gave US$3,000. Over 8,000 delegates were reported to have participated in the primaries when you sum the monies that were given out, both camps would have spent over US$16 million and US$24 million respectively on vote buying at the primary stage alone.

It is not true that the practice of vote buying has persisted in Nigeria as a result of inadequate laws, but, we have simply refused to enforce the laws. We must know, if this continues, it heightens election cost, allows for wrong candidates to emerge and run political offices. And the implication is that government accountability will be eroded while the political leaders divert revenues from our natural resources leaving the citizens in  poverty, hunger and miserable state.

Audu Liberty Oseni, PWYP-Nigeria libertydgreat@gmail.com