By Ace Omozuwa
Nothing demonstrates the prevailing crises of value, culture, and democracy better than the massive vote buying that blotted the governorship election held in Ekiti State, recently. Before addressing the focal issues, let me deviate a little. The electoral umpire is worthy of commendation for adherence to rule, administrative and technological efficiency, and deft management of logistical issues during the election. If this is a dry run to 2019, then all well-meaning Nigerians have good reasons to be happy. For, it may imply that on the eve of 2019 election unlike in 2015, Nigerians will not travel out in droves for the fear of the Sword of Damocles. However, there are some signs of looming trouble that could undermine the legitimacy of future elections in Nigeria, create economic downturn, and divorce government from the people. The widespread practice of politics without ethical lodestars, which is making vote buying a norm, is something to worry about.
In a society without sound moral conscience, pseudo-theorists do all they can to rationalize vote buying. They say things like; ‘‘Take the money, it is yours in the first place’’, ‘‘if you take the money or not the winner is already determined.” Some go to the extent of using poverty as a justification for this undemocratic and atrocious practice. Such groundless justification creates the impression that poor people are destitute of ethical nous, and incapable of making sound choices that will secure their future wellbeing. We know that the converse is true. Many victims of material poverty are moral heroes. Their principle-based lifestyles are enduring fountain of inspiration to many. It is not only an assault on the sensibilities of the poor to say they are the reason why vote buying is becoming a new norm in Nigeria; it is a way of re-victimizing victims of corrupt leadership. Primitive greed, which is not a respecter of socioeconomic class, gender or religious persuasion, is the main cause of this unwholesome trend.
Voting buying is a manifestation of pernicious politics engineered to perpetuate the suffering of the average Nigerian. The elite class capitalizes on our greed to the detriment of our collective wellbeing. Our vote is our voice. When it is sold we become voiceless. Politicians without conscience are aware that the gap between the underclass, the middle class, and the upper class cannot be bridged when the people are voiceless. They are also aware that if the gap is bridged the balance of power will tilt, and access to higher echelons of society will become democratize and merit based. This prospect potentially ruins their class power and privileges. So, they keep devising dubious means to enslave the masses to penury and voiceless existence.
The antics and counter-antics that characterized the recent defection of lawmakers reveal how self-lovers play politics without principle, which is an instrument of subjugation and economic cruelty. It should be noted that politics that is hostile to ethics, morality and good judgment cannot foster national unity and secure the good of all Nigerians. It can only further divide Nigerians, turn the poor against the poor, and make social mobility harder, while the hermetic league of debauch power brokers dissolutely luxuriates in opulence.
The procurement of votes, infidelity to values and switching allegiances suggest that 2019 would not bring about national renewal and economic rejuvenation. Procuring vote will cause extensive reversal of democratic progress, narrow the democratic space, and make it an exclusive arena for moneybags. The ongoing fragmentation of the elite class is capable of weakening state legitimacy, and eroding the moral authority of elected public servants, because, it is not animated by love for the people or value oriented.
As dangerous as the practice of buying votes is to the sovereignty of the people, inclusive economic growth, and democratic consolidation, it is normalized where self-interest ranks above common good and politics trumps prudence. The way security agencies sought to abort the defection of lawmakers reinforces the impression that politics in Nigeria equates to Russian roulette. Democracy is in danger when law enforcement agencies eschew neutrality, and become defenders of partisan interests. It makes politics more impervious to good judgment, enables men in power to transgress the law without consequences. It makes political actors mockers of virtues, and propagators of pernicious delusion sugarcoated with tribal sentiments.
Politics in Nigeria fuels the flames of lawlessness, since, lawmakers, law enforcers, and leaders have failed to subordinate it to law. Rather, we have conferred sham superiority on politics, placing it far above the realms of morality, rationality, and legality. Consequently, anything done in the name of politics is sacrosanct. Politics that debases law cannot elevate human life, guarantee the protection of lives and protect or foster economic development. Politics ceases to be an agent of progress when it weakens the power of law. In fact, politics that vitiates laws make peaceful coexistence impossible.
Our political history accentuates the fact that politics without principle entrenches the culture of violence. The post-election violence of 2011 teaches us that trouble is afoot when the urge to win makes us to cast off restraints and become careless in words and deeds. For us to proactively prevent post-election violence in 2019, we must educate our politicians on the benefits of wholesome speech. We must be bold enough to let them know that they will not get our votes, if they do not eschew incendiary political rhetoric and fail to demonstrate allegiance to ethical ideals.
Let us be honest; politicians do not have any incentive to stop playing politics without principles, if voters do not decry the debased practice. If voters understand that their votes are their instrument of development, they will stop reducing themselves to articles of trade in marketplaces that go to the highest bidders. We cannot sell our votes without selling our conscience. And how can we effectively decry the ubiquity of corruption in Nigeria when our conscience is sold? One reason why we should watch against vote buying is because; it makes the pathology of powerlessness endemic.
We, the people corrupt the essence of government when we trade our votes. It promotes governing by mendacity. In fact, it turns democracy to a government of thieves for thieves and by thieves. It will take a miracle for a regime that came to power on the bases of cash and carry politics to make polices that promote inclusive growth or be sensitive to the plight of the powerless.
It is our patriotic responsibility to keep underscoring the fact that any politician that is willing to buy votes is not poised to render people-centered service. Such a person cannot make Nigeria a giant in the comity of nations. Altruistic architects of development do not buy votes. Without equivocating, politicians that buy votes are plunderers. They plunder public treasury and inflict hardship on the people. Even when they formulate people empowerment schemes, their ulterior motives, which is to empower their political foot soldiers, ruin the schemes.
As 2019 approaches, it is important for everyone to keep highlighting the commonsensical and empirically proven fact that the connections between economic development and democratic consolidation are not tenuous. Anything that threatens democratic stability makes the business environment hazy, causes investors’ apathy and capital flight to safer havens, and makes misery the lot of the common man.
One way we can tell the world that Nigerians are not pathological lovers of corruption is for us to be united against vote buying. We must campaign against it in religious circles. We must denounce its evils in the media. We must educate everyone in our homes about the predatory nature of vote buyers. In unison we must chorus the truth that vote buyers are bad leaders that must be avoided like lepers. If we fail to do this, generations unborn would hold us liable for corrupting the essence of government, shredding decorum, and normalizing political atrocity.