Nigeria: Prebendalism - Are Vote Buying and Voter Intimidation Here to Stay?

19 November 2019
opinion

With what we have seen progressively in the last ten years, vote buying has become entrenched. The poorest and most victimised now expect the disbursement of cash before voting in elections, as the one and only thing they get from an ineffectual government as their share of the commonwealth. What that births is a vicious cycle...

Prebendalism was coined by Richard Joseph to describe what has become a central feature of Nigerian politics and governance. In his book, Democracy and Prebendal Politics (1987), he used prebendalism to describe the appropriation of state offices by officials and the diversion of their resources to serve themselves, their cronies and their affiliated ethnic and other identity groups. Nigeria's democratic transitions have been defined by prebendal politics and its electoral regimes characterised by pervasive vote buying and voter intimidation. Buying votes is the oldest trick in democracy. In Nigeria, there is a strategic logic to buying votes by targeting poor voters in electorally competitive local governments.

In the recently concluded Kogi election, it is evident that the militarisation of off-season election may be here to stay because the party at the centre often deploys all its resources towards winning. The political game has become deadlier than we used to know it as, with no one knowing the rules of the game anymore. Umpires who are supposed to be impartial are now partisan. They even help in moving the goalposts and changing the rules in the middle of the game to achieve a predetermined result. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has lost control of the electoral process, the judiciary seems like a pawn in the game and it is obvious that candidates from the opposition parties were not playing on a level field. Incisive rhetorics were flying around from political gladiators and violence was foretold. Kogi put its own twist on the Fayose playbook of 2014, by the instrumental use of law enforcement as agents of intimidation, in blatant violation of electoral rules.

It is so easily noticed that Nigeria's commitment to democracy is paper thin. Other than elections, there is widespread disdain for broader democratic values, like freedom of expression, equal opportunity and justice.

With the N10 billion largesse from the federal government, electoral finance crossed every decent limit previously known. The All Progressives Congress (APC) knew that Governor Yahaya Bello had no good record to run on and no credibility. His party rallied round him to keep Kogi in the column and make future elections much easier to win. The ten billion naira created an unprecedented campaign wealth designed to capture the voters through direct inducements with cash and food. Despite all these, a key concept of democratic elections - making every vote count - was rendered useless by ballot snatching. This would have been curtailed if the president had signed the amendment to the Electoral Act.

If we must have a level playing field, we must ask for free and fair elections without been seen as unpatriotic spoilsports. Every succeeding election has become a radical rupture from those before it. The desire to win elections, as if elections are ends in themselves, is derivative of the 'end justifies the means' culture taking root in the country. It is so easily noticed that Nigeria's commitment to democracy is paper thin. Other than elections, there is widespread disdain for broader democratic values, like freedom of expression, equal opportunity and justice. Rising majoritarian disrespect for institutions, processes and accountability betrays the thin veneer of democratic governance in the country.

We need to go back to the era of building, nurturing and funding programmatic political parties with strong traditions, ideologies and records of delivering on their promises to voters.

With what we have seen progressively in the last ten years, vote buying has become entrenched. The poorest and most victimised now expect the disbursement of cash before voting in elections, as the one and only thing they get from an ineffectual government as their share of the commonwealth. What that births is a vicious cycle in which voters have become dependent on cash, which in turn makes it impossible for credible people without enormous cash backing to offer themselves for elections. Paradoxically, those who suffer the most from corruption become the least likely to oppose it and demand reform.

The Kogi election has been won and lost. We all have to acknowledge that it is unhealthy to consider elections as the only democratic game in town and winning polls as the only goal to be scored. Our leaders must think of future generations of Nigerians. A great Nigeria cannot emerge from this prebendal state, unless we effect changes in our political institutions and culture. We need to go back to the era of building, nurturing and funding programmatic political parties with strong traditions, ideologies and records of delivering on their promises to voters. Releasing ten billion naira today, twenty billion tomorrow to fund elections, will lead to expensive stomach infrastructure elections which the country can ill afford. Nigeria must think!

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, "Bamidele Upfront" for PREMIUM TIMES. Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo

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