Money: Can there be Free and Fair Election in Nigeria?

By Tunde Bewaji

Civil society and democracy

The moment human societies moved away from oligarchies, autocracies, Aristocracies, feudalism, theocracies, dictatorships (among others) towards varieties of democracies, human beings enthroned talent, honesty, intellect, generosity, kindness, competence, charisma, equality, discipline, merit, diligence, dedication to cause and loyalty as some of the markers by which those who aspire to leadership shall be evaluated and rewarded with being entrusted with power.  Western societies have led the way in charting the path of democracy globally.  United States of America has been the foremost advocate and marketer of this.

Now, there is no doubt that democracy, as a system of government, is predicated on the ideal of human equality and dignity of personhood.  Such a presumption is built on the premise that all human beings are equally endowed with the diverse decision-making facilities, and that at the end of the day, they will act not just in self-interest but also in a manner that ensures, enhances and protects group survival and flourishing.  Indeed, it is an ideal that appeals to the best in human beings, while down-playing or ignoring all the limitations, natural and otherwise, of the presumption of enlightened self-interest as well as innate capacity and disposition toward altruism for other human beings – especially the weak and vulnerable members of society such as juveniles, the disabled, the aged and pregnant women who ensure the perpetuation of the species.  Of course, the whole state of nature theory by the social contract theoreticians is built on these two legs of perceived human nature: hence states are necessary to ensure that the strong does not take advantage of the weak for selfish reasons, and the laws emanating in the state are to be blind to inequalities, to be enforced without fear or favour.

 

Public interest as the basis of leadership

The basic idea behind democracies in ideal situations is that it allows for the best form of governance to emerge and for the best individuals with the best visions for the development and empowerment of the collective interest to be placed in positions of power.  It is expected that through a fair contest between ideas and characters, the people will be able to select/elect those who will run the affairs of the state in collective interest.  There are various ways in which various societies have organized this mechanism for determining who will represent or exercises power on behalf of the people.  These are periodic, electoral, open ballot, simple majority, collegiate and proportional representation systems.

 

Colonial legacy, feudalism and distanced government

Having emerged from colonial system of government, in which the purpose of governance was one attuned toward wealth extraction in the interest of the colonizer, Nigeria attained nominal independence in 1960, with the Queen of England retaining the headship of the Nigerian state.  Elections were held and indigenous leaders of government emerged after a lot of horse trading.  But the election results were not without acrimony.  Emerging from such a history would have taught the indigenous emergent leadership that the only course that would have led to good governance would be accountability and transparency was responsible leadership.  Since the coterie of leaders that emerged were not from the traditions of the people, and where they were, they retained the vestiges of feudalism, the government structures were dysfunctional and the result was a coup, followed by another and a protracted civil war.  Fast forward, we started the Third Republic in 1999, and there consolidated a governance system which favoured only those who have accumulated resources by whatever means.

Military mentality and impunity

Coming from a protracted period of military rule which was not accountable to anyone, it was mostly the military, especially the rampaging ones among them with weak moral fibre, possessed of a mentality of invincibility above the bloody civilians and their consorts, who have become obscenely rich enough to engage in politics.  This is the crux of the matter about the role of money in political life of Nigeria.  They are the ones with the kinds of unearned deep pockets who can bankroll political adventures without feeling any pinch of loss.

What has compounded the problem is the general pauperization that was inflicted on the workers, diverting resources that would have improved the lot of the people and created wealth into personal wealth meant that even the wages of the public servants was not inviolate.  As a consequence, general insecurity exposed the public servants to exploitative and demeaning treatment of the society they should serve, in their attempt to make ends meet.  This destroyed the culture of honesty and accountability the civil service had at independence, where honest work merited honest pay, and people lived within their means.

 

Bribery and corruption

This was the origin of bribery and corruption in Nigerian public life.  It led to everything and everyone seemingly having a price.  Various euphemisms (riba, egunje, family-support, wuru, abetele, owo-ehin, take-do-am-for-me) were concocted to make acceptable practices which were aberrant and unconscionable.  Employment, business registration, motor vehicle licensing, admissions, examinations, and virtually every transaction had a price, and to not play ball was to be left out of what was deserved by merit or right.  Before one was aware of what was happening, what was an aberration became the norm.

In the area of representational politics called democracy, the crunching poverty which bastardized the civil service extended its tentacles to the pool of voters who became pawns in the hands of the rogues and vagabonds who parade themselves as candidates for positions in legislatures and local governments.  The politicians now treat the people with disdain, deliberately setting out to dupe them for votes which will give them power to access the commonwealth of the nation.

Public service as source of wealth

In the face of crunching poverty, the candidates see contest for political office as business, an investment which will yield returns in manifold, not as a means of service to the people.  Hence, every Naira that is spent is to be recouped many times over, such that if your overall asset was N100 on becoming a member of house of representatives of the people, at the end of your tenure you expect to now have N10,000,000.00.  Even the general population expect this.  If you do not amass obscene wealth from the national treasury while in office, you are regarded as a fool who is a curse to your family, your community and your ethnic group.  Elsewhere I argued that what drove this mentality is the ignorance of what is known as national wealth.  The colonial system where government represented an external agency transferred to mean the local leaders see themselves as owing allegiance to no one, but themselves, is partly to blame for this development.  Since the administrators of the country under colonial system were not Nigerians, national wealth was not regarded as something to which they owe any local any responsibility for accountability.  There was no separation of what was personal resources from public/government resources – government money in government house, why should anyone complain (similar to the French President who claimed to be the state).

 

Civil society, trust and accountability

Civil society is built on trust, accountability, respect for human dignity and, hence, those who aspire to leadership bear a burden of being the decision makers, whose choices would determine the course of events and welfare of the members of society.  For this reason there is a requirement for wealth declaration to determine that there is no misuse of public funds or waste.

 

Nigeria’s fraught tax system

In civilized societies, incomes are subject to taxation.  This ensures that wealth can be measured and the sources of such wealth are known.  In Nigeria the only thriving businesses are politics, the oil and gas industry, the finance sector and telecommunications industry.  In politics, there is no need to keep proper record of funds, because its spring is the commonwealth and it is believed that it is infinite.  In the other areas, proper book-keeping are necessary for measuring profit – except in the NNPC where there is no need to keep any account at all because it is part of public resources.  In Nigeria, since there is no distinction between public resources and personal resources and their use by office holders, aspiring politicians and their friends spend money to attain office with the intention of reaping returns on the investment.  In other jurisdictions, there is need not only to declare asset, but also to file tax returns periodically, and to declare donations to charity in order to claim tax rebate and credits – of which contribution to political parties is one.

In Nigeria, since there is no taxation regimen which will enable anyone to determine income sources and wealth, there is no limitation to how much any individual or organization can expend on political contest.  This means that people may sell their houses or borrow money to contest elections with the aim of gaining multiple returns when in office – not from salaries and allowances (though these are handsome in the case of the NASS) but by way of fraudulent conversion of public funds to personal use.

 

Money and politics – dangers and disasters

Money has corrosive effect on politics.  In Nigeria where corruption has become national culture, money has been used to hijack the governance systems, to the extent that the only language now is money – meaning bribery and corruption of the worst order.  The APC Convention has shown that the masses of the people are now wise to this and they are taking back what was stolen from them, by way of accepting the periodic distribution of money to gain votes.  Under normal circumstances, those who spend such money would be under the tax microscope to determine whether the money was earned honestly or through fraudulent means.  Since there is no such process of accountability, it meant that anything goes.

Based on information to hand, the masses are accepting the moneys and voting their conscience.  But more significantly, the government needs to be sanitized to ensure that public interest is not compromised to favour crooks, criminals, money launderers and other miscreants.  This is attainable with proper checks on income tax and valuation of wealth.

 

Cash and carry politics – the era of thugs, crooks and criminals in the corridors of power

Now the danger of allowing crooks to use money to determine the outcome of elections is that it mortgages the government to the highest bidder.  And if the people are not educated enough to vote their conscience, then it will get to a point where the entire country could be auctioned off to foreign money bags.  Where this happens, it would mean that the policies and decisions of government must favour the sponsors of the people in government.  This would be a travesty of the worst order.  To checkmate this possibility, the USA electoral laws do not allow foreign donations toward political parties in the USA.  Even more significantly, there is an upper limit to what individuals and corporate entities can donate to political parties in the USA.  And to monitor this, party accounts are monitored and declared.

In Nigeria it is not unusual for politicians and political parties to buy bicycles, motorcycles, boats, bags of rice, etc for distribution during elections to voters and community leaders, with the aim of influencing the outcome of elections.  This worked in the Ekiti Gubernatorial Elections of this year and became famous for the introduction into the Nigerian political lexicon “stomach infrastructure”.  This degrading and reprehensible aberration became the new normal for a state that boasts of educated citizens, showing the extent to which crunching poverty can degrade the dignity of otherwise intelligent people.

 

Pertinent questions:

What must be asked are: If anyone is willing to offer me N5000 to get my votes today, how much does the person intend to earn in return?  If I sell my vote for that much today, do I have a right to complain that the person is not performing in office?  Is N5000 the sum that my humanity is worth?  Where did the person get the money he/she is throwing around?  What is his annual income?

Nigeria used to have laws about “bribery and corruption”, which was a serious offence, bearing in mind the potential of this evil cancer to destroy the fabric of social, economic and political existence of Nigeria.  The premise is that for one to take a bribe to do a job, it means that influence is peddled, and this would adversely affect trust, accountability and responsibility.  It would mean that injustice can become the substitute for justice, and it means that favoritism can become the practice, in order to do the bidding of the person who has paid the bribe.  What INEC and EFCC needs to do is to ask for accounts of all contestants for public office, as well as proper filing of tax returns to show sources of wealth, and how they came by same.  If people who have been in public office claim they got gifts of property or resources from people or organizations, they should be asked what they did in order to merit such resources.  And where they inflate their worth in anticipation of graft from public office, they should be committed to prison for perjury.

 

Governance by miscreants and rogues

If rogues who have amassed wealth through dubious means are allowed to use such money to gain power, it will mean that they will continue to grab more wealth in order to entrench themselves into positions of power.  While in the APC Primaries this was checkmated by enlightened representatives of the people, in nationwide polls, the capacity of the masses to do the same cannot be guaranteed.  This is not saying that the masses of the people are fools, it is saying simply that with grinding poverty, little pittances distributed by corrupt politicians may influence the course of the election negatively.

Another side effect of the effect of tainted money in the electoral process is that it would mean that honest, decent and responsible individuals would refrain from public service through political representation.  The fact that they cannot match the spending power of those who have stolen from the public purse means that the honest and decent persons who would have assisted the society in various positive ways are sidelined and marginalized to the detriment of the capacity of the society to develop.

 

Nigeria’s money laundering laws and elections

Clearly it is obvious that those who spend inordinate sums on election campaigns to bribe the electorate for votes with the ostensible goal of reaping proportionate returns cannot mean society.  Money laundering is a situation in which dirty money is rinsed through investment or conversion in legitimate processes with the intention of preventing the state from knowing the original source of the funds.  By investing in the political process with the aim of gaining in the process opens such investors to investigation, to determine the source of the funds so expended, how much tax is paid, and over what period the funds were gained.  Failure to provide proper accounting for the source of the funds would mean that the funds will be forfeited to the state.

 

INEC, EFCC and State and Federal Inland Revenue Department

Flagrant abuse of the electoral laws as happened in Ekiti and Osun States during the governorship elections, where politicians openly display labeled bags of rice and other inducement items to secure votes should attract the ire of both INEC and EFCC.  There can be no doubt that such practices constitute bribery and corruption and any persons or groups found guilty should be disqualified and banned from future participation in electoral process.

Where it is determined through proper investigation and judicial processes that the persons cannot account for the funds, and they have not paid taxes of their incomes or assets, such persons should be committed to jail.  In China such persons are executed.  In the Westminster and USA systems, such persons are barred from holding public office and are jailed for a period of time.  State governors in USA are committed to prison for such matters, and the South African President is being investigated even while in office for alleged corruption charges.

 

Education

Over the next month, APC must concentrate its effort on education for the masses. This is necessary to let the people know that whoever offers you N100 for your vote, you should ask him how much he expects to earn in return after getting to office.  The next question to ask is, if I sell my vote to you today, what happens to the roads in my community, water, light, security and the education of my children?  Would the money you gave me today take care of those things?  Would I be able ask where you got your house in Dubai, Doha, Cayman Islands, France or other such havens for hiding corruption enriched assets?  Is this amount my worth as a Nigerian?  When did I become so cheap?

What happened in Ekiti is an affront to the intelligence of the people of Ekiti.  Apart from the legal ramifications of someone who was impeached coming back to occupy position of governor, it is disgraceful to allege that the people of Ekiti cannot be taught to fish for themselves but can be fed with fish for one day and they will sell their inheritance for four years under a compact of stomach infrastructure.  But a people deserve the government that it gets.  When you put people with dubious antecedents in positions of power, do not be surprised when the consequence is unmitigated disaster – Ekiti people have sown the wind, it is their time to reap the whirlwind.

The last almost two decades of PDP rule in Nigeria can only be described as the era of locusts.  This must be arrested.  It must be stopped.  And the only way out is to educate the people nationally that the Osun example must be emulated.  The people must vote their conscience to liberate themselves from the profligate occupation forces of PDP, and they must make their votes count by staying till the votes are counted.  The APC party representatives must capture the results of the votes as documented and signed using smart phones.  Through this kind of vigilance, it would be difficult for 100,000 to become 1,000,000 in the hands of money induced INEC official – while not accusing INEC of corruption, nothing must be taken to chance.

Those who took the monies and voted their conscience must be applauded.  They have taken part of what was illegally taken from the commonwealth by the corrupt politicians.  But this is not sustainable, as it may have repercussions, given the fact that it sends the signal that all of us are susceptible to the disgrace of stomach infrastructure.

Together we must save Nigeria from the imminent disaster that of another four years of PDP decadence.  Nigeria and Nigerians deserve better.  The light is visible at the end of the tunnel with the nomination of General Buhari (Rtd), but to ensure that the liberation is realized, we must resist the temptation to be influenced by money to further mortgage the future of Nigeria to vagabonds in power.  We must be vigilant.  We must invest our time and energies in making the right choice and making sure that it counts.  February is around the corner, and our era of liberation is around the corner.

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