Nigeria 2023: Will the Presidential election go to the highest bidder?

By Akin Irede
Posted on Thursday, 23 June 2022 18:43, updated on Friday, 24 June 2022 16:56

A man raises a ballot paper during the counting of governorship and state assembly election results in Lagos
A man raises a ballot paper during the counting of governorship and state assembly election results in Lagos, Nigeria March 9, 2019. REUTERS/Adelaja Temilade

Voters in the recently concluded Ekiti State governorship election sold their ballot for about $11 each, a development observers believe is a bad omen ahead of the crucial 2023 Presidential election in Africa’s largest democracy.

How much does it cost to buy a vote in Africa’s largest democracy? It used to be about N10,000 ($23) per head. However, with the rising poverty in Nigeria, voters seem to have lowered the bar even further as it now costs as low as $11 to buy a vote as evidenced in the latest governorship election in Ekiti, a largely agrarian state in Nigeria’s southwest.

The development, which comes just months ahead of a highly crucial Presidential election, is now evoking fear in the minds of observers and the educated middle class that next year’s election may just go to the highest bidder which will deepen the systemic corruption in a country where the average person already lives under $2 a day.

Heavily monetised primaries

Observers and political analysts say vote-buying on election day is not out of place since most candidates buy the tickets of their political parties by bribing delegates at primaries. Once they become the standard-bearer, they then replicate this on a larger scale at the main election.

Many of these candidates emerged from heavily monetised primaries where they bribed delegates. So, we don’t expect anything different from them at the main elections.

Reports suggest that top aspirants of the major political parties paid between $10,000 and $20,000 to each delegate to secure their votes at the Presidential primaries.

Samson Itodo, the founder, YIAGA Africa, a civil organisation, tells The Africa Report that candidates who emerge through such a process will definitely engage in vote-buying in general elections.

“Many of these candidates emerged from heavily monetised primaries where they bribed delegates. So, we don’t expect anything different from them at the main elections. The only hope we have now is to raise the consciousness of the people to the dangers of vote-buying,” he says.

“We observed votes being sold for between 5,000 naira and 7,000 in Ekiti,” Itodo told The Africa Report.

Ekiti vote auction

At least 17,000 policemen were assigned to provide security along with thousands of other security operatives which were tasked with the job of forestalling vote buying in the off season governorship election in Ekiti State. However, officials of major political parties were able to circumvent the system.

Some eyewitnesses even alleged that some policemen took bribes in order to look the other way while this happened. Such reports are not new given that the Nigeria Police Force was ranked the most corrupt agency in the country by the National Bureau of Statistics.   

Observers say even though the secret ballot system was used, voters would flash ballot papers at party agents to reveal which party they voted for, after which they would present these pictures on their phones to party agents standing nearby who would, in turn, give them money.

The ability of Ekiti politicians to make light of such a grave violation of extant law is most unfortunate. The Situation Room strongly condemns this blatant violation of the electoral law.

“Party agents from the APC were reportedly sharing N7,000 to voters who showed how their ballot paper was marked… Also in Ipoti Ward A, party agents from the PDP and SDP were seen bribing voters,” said an election report by YIAGA Africa, an advocacy group which played a pivotal role in ensuring that electoral reforms were implemented.

Viral videos on social media show youths flaunting the cash they had received for voting for certain candidates.

Describing the situation as “see and buy”, the Situation Room, a coalition of several election monitoring groups and civil organisations, said: “The ability of Ekiti politicians to make light of such a grave violation of extant law is most unfortunate. The Situation Room strongly condemns this blatant violation of the electoral law.”

Although some officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) were able to arrest some party agents inducing voters, the real financiers remained untouched.

Highest bidder, it is?

A Presidential candidate who is able to spend N10,000 each on 15 million voters, a sum of N150bn ($357.1m), could as well win the Presidential election, a reality which is not impossible.

Veteran journalist, Dele Momodu, who contested in the Presidential primary of the PDP last month, tells The Africa Report that it is obvious that next year’s Presidential election will go to the highest bidder.

Momodu says with Nigeria’s national minimum wage which is just 30,000, ($71), it would be easy for a voter to be induced with 10,000 which is a third of the minimum wage.

“Of course it (Presidential election) could go to the highest bidder. There is a new pattern in town: seeking first the kingdom of money and political leadership could be given to you. In fact, you don’t need to campaign anymore, just amass enough wealth and buy the electorate.

And you cannot blame the people because they are poor. So, we have cash and carry elections,” he says.

Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, argues that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which oversees Nigeria’s elections, lacks the capacity to arrest, investigate and prosecute electoral offenders, hence vote buying has become difficult to tackle.

 “In the atmosphere of official impunity the leading members of the political class have engaged themselves in the ‘dollarisation’ of the electoral process, vote-buying, intimidation of political opponents, killing and ballot snatching,” he says, adding that an Electoral Offences Commission needs to be created urgently.

But Seun Onigbinde, founder of BudgIT, a civil organisation that promotes transparency in governance, says the Presidential election is too big to be bought.

Onigbinde tells The Africa Report that smaller elections like the governorship and legislative elections could be much easier to buy.

“Vote buying is common with a legislative election or an off-season governorship election. I don’t see the Presidential election going to the highest bidder. Ethnic and religious sentiments will play a big part in the Presidential election,” he says.

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