By Afolabi Aribigbola
The Federal Government through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) towards the end of 2022 and prior to the 2023 general elections introduced a new naira policy in the country. According to the Governor of the CBN, the new naira swap policy would enable the CBN to take full control of the naira in circulation, manage inflation, combat counterfeiting and ransom payment that has become rampant in the country. Later, Nigerians were told that the policy will help to eliminate vote buying during elections that has come to be part and parcel of elections in the country. President Muhammed Buhari contended that in addition to the economic gains of his administration, the naira policy has also helped to minimize the influence of money in politics of the 2023 general elections.
And by that development he is laying a strong foundation for free and fair elections in the country. In actual fact, the reduction in vote buying is one of the achievements of the outgoing Federal Government of Nigeria. The government reasoned that by removing physical cash from the economy, it will eliminate vote buying by desperate politicians that have been capitalizing on the ignorance, vulnerability and poverty that have been inflicted on the masses by the ruling elite over the years to compromise them with money during elections.
Of course, the cankerworm of election rigging through vote buying became endemic, giving the country a bad name and image in the comity of civilised nations. Consequently, any effort to stamp it out of Nigeria’s political landscape is no doubt a welcome development that will ordinarily be supported by majority of reasonable citizens of the country. The much anticipated 2023 elections have come and gone but without its share of election malpractices in the country including the obnoxious vote buying syndrome.
However, it must be acknowledged that it was not as widespread and as rampant as it used to be in past elections in the country. Notwithstanding, the ingenuity of Nigerians in negative activities made them introduced new dimensions and pattern to vote buying that also include the use of code numbers to transfer credit and money to voters in exchange for their votes. In a nutshell, one can safely or reasonably conclude that the new naira policy has helped to reduce drastically vote buying by desperate politicians and their cohorts.
From the above, one then begin to ask some germane questions: Is total withdrawal of naira from circulation enough to put a stop to vote buying that is widespread in the country? Does the country need to inflict the kind of punishment experienced during the last elections on Nigerians just because it seeks to stop vote buying? Is the policy sustainable? And what can we do to eliminate vote buying beyond naira hoarding? These and several other questions have been a source of concern to me since the conclusion of the 2023 elections in the country. Indeed, the forceful withdrawal of cash from the Nigerian public on its own without any viable alternative payment channels as recently experienced in Nigeria cannot solve the degrading problem of vote buying.
As earlier indicated despite the near total withdrawal and the excruciating sufferings of Nigerians during the period, politicians still designed new measures to transfer cards and codes to voters to collect money, while others resorted to doling out foreign currencies to political leaders and their followers to lure them to vote for them. In other words, politicians still found ways and means to circumvent the for policy to buy votes from the electorate during the election. It is therefore not enough to just keep cash from circulation with the belief that it will minimize the influence of money in politics. More than deliberately creating artificial naira scarcity, what needed to be done is to strengthen electoral laws and its enforcement.
Often, the monetisation of the electoral process are achieved with the full cooperation and participation of security agents. Elimination of vote buying during election can only be possible if security agents are alive and ready to discharge their duties holistically and without fear or favour. The reality was that operatives of these security agencies openly assisted politicians to carry out the nefarious and nauseating act of vote buying and without their seeming support it will be impossible or difficult for many of the politicians to buy votes. Of course without any iota of doubts, the withdrawal of cash from circulation during elections is not sustainable.
Besides, the simple fact that it is capable of inflicting humongous pains and suffering on people to access money to meet their daily needs especially with the fact that the informal sector predominates the economy of the country with large population of the poor, the practice is quite unsustainable. The country cannot afford to be withdrawing money from the economy or change her currency at every election. This will show the world that Nigerians are not a serious people that cannot control or undertake simple task of conducting free and fair elections. The untold hardship to which most Nigerians were subjected recently is a pointer to this and the fact that the country was estimated to have lost about N20 trillion by the Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise during the naira swap crisis. During the period, the country witnessed series of protests and riots that culminated in the loss of lives. The country cannot afford to repeat the kind of punishment accompanying the naira swap policy.
Indeed, the minimization and total elimination of vote buying in the politics of Nigeria is a serious and herculean task that must be vigorously pursued. This cannot be simply accomplished by executive fiat of forcefully keeping away cash from members of the public. Besides its punitive and harsh impact on the people especially the downtrodden, it cannot stop vote buying in the country. What is required is a change of orientation and attitude by both the voters and the politicians in the country.
The politicians should develop the attitude of not bribing the electorate while the voters need to resist the politicians that are out to compromise whether they are suitable or otherwise. Unfortunately, most Nigerians are already in tune with the culture of settlement syndrome during elections. To change this tendency, will require the support of all stakeholders in Nigeria’s project. There is the need to reverse this denigrating narratives. This requires moral reorientation of both the electorate, politicians, security agents and all leaders including traditional leaders to come together to find solution to the cankerworm of vote buying. The National Orientation Agency should be alive to its responsibilities of mobilizing the citizens of the country to imbibe good culture and attitude that abhor and detest the fraud of vote buying and selling in the country.
The need to strengthen government agencies and institutions responsible for apprehending and punishing offenders including election offenders such as INEC, and other securities agencies imbued with powers of dealing with electoral offenses should rise up to faithfully and sincerely discharge this onerous responsibilities of ridding the country of vote buying. A situation where INEC only succeeded in prosecuting one electoral offence over the years cannot guarantee elimination of electoral offences including vote buying.
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