Wednesday, October 6, 2010

It is common knowledge that Nigerian politicians waste little time providing detailed explanations on their ideas for the country's future. Other than vague semi-promises and conjecture, politicians and political aspirants offer no specific promises. Instead, they convince voters to vote by throwing around large sums of cash and food,  then insist that it will always be like that when they gain office. While it may appear that there is no measure to counter this votes for money approach, there in fact is a way to discourage future politicians from using it. The key is to render the tactic impotent by creating a counter approach that thus far, has not been used in Nigeria.

Election time is money time in Nigeria. In a country where the majority live in poverty, election season is characterized by parties, food and drink. Politicians shower influential groups and individuals with gifts as a means to buy votes. For instance, some politicians give out sewing machines, motorcycles and cars to their constituents. Others choose not to bother with that pretense and offer cash to would-be supporters. Amounts vary, but recently, I was informed that one individual received the equivalent of $2,000 in Naira to support a certain PDP presidential aspirant.


But the money for votes strategy is used by many a politician because it produces results. In my opinion, the best way to limit it's impact is to overwhelmingly encourage voters to "chop money". That might sound counter-intuitive but considering the realities of the average voter, the significance of this counter approach will soon become evident. For one thing, the average Nigerian is dirt poor and has few financial opportunities. Therefore, although accepting what is in essence a bribe is morally reprehensible, discouraging people from taking such bribes would be a losing battle. Instead, Nigerians should be encouraged to take the bribes but vote for the better candidate. If such a strategy is deployed properly, many might actually vote for the most suitable politicians even while enjoying the 'awoof' opportunities presented by candidates who opt to dash money and not concrete ideas.

However, this approach depends on the existence of credible candidates and organizations to employ it. These candidates and organizations would have to offer better political platforms that distinguish them from other politicians, because if not they would simply appear to be no different from others. There must also be credible candidate that can be offered as an alternative. If not, the strategy would be rendered useless.

Of course this suggestion is not a foolproof way to limit the impact of money and gifts for votes. After all, that approach is as old as the very system of politicking. Nevertheless, if the average voter is convinced that taking bribes but voting right is an amenable solution to getting better government, the strategy could work. And for those who will undoubtedly classify the strategy as morally bankrupt and/or think it will not work, my question is do they see a better alternative? The only workable solution would be for Nigerian authorities to actively address electoral manipulation and corruption. in recent years, the government has failed to do so convincingly and it would be naive to think that it will operate differently without adequate evidence of such intent. As such, citizens must take matters into their hands and devise strategies that will strengthen democracy and democratic values per the long term. The above suggestion could become a key way to achieve that very goal and for that reason must not be disregarded. It could also be the first step in ending the money for votes tactic. When politicians learn that their bribe money has little impact on election results, they will start to woo voters with ideas.

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