Credible elections: The foundation Buhari didn’t lay

Credible elections: The foundation Buhari didn’t lay

Monday, February 20, 2023 2:28 pm

Dr. Jide Ololajulo

By Jide Ololajulo

Yesterday, I struggled unsuccessfully to transfer N500 to my barber through my bank’s mobile App. Then I pondered over one of the reasons adduced by President Buhari for the controversial currency redesign policy that has since paralysed the economy, especially the informal sector and rendered life unbearable for many Nigerians. Mr President, in an interview earlier in the month, had told Nigerians that the CBN cashless policy would make it impossible for politicians to engage in vote-buying in the forthcoming elections. He identified credible polls as a legacy he wanted to bequeath Nigerians.

I recast Mr President’s assumption about the Naira redesign policy the way I understood it and got something like this: “If politicians are starved of cash, they would not be able to induce voters with money on the election day and that will make the election outcome credible.” No doubt, the idea of curbing vote-buying is a fantastic one! It is capable of giving hope to good candidates who usually don’t have the cash to splash on the election day. But upon closer look, the assumption betrays President Buhari’s limited knowledge of how informal and illegitimate compromises work to undermine most electoral contests, including the ones he had participated in.

I think there are many questions about vote-buying that were either not posed or perhaps left unanswered by proponents of the Naira redesign and cashless policy before they arrived at a conclusion about the potential for delivering credible elections. For instance, how much did they know of Nigerians who sell their votes, and the reason they sell those votes. How do voters generally understand vote-buying? Which support-structures are available for the practice? I believe if President Buhari’s team had engaged appropriately with these questions, the feebleness of cashless policy as an antidote to vote buying ought to have been laid bare before now.

Do we need new research to establish the class of electorate that sell their votes? I don’t think so! Extant studies, which I don’t need to cite here have shown that the practice is common among poor and uneducated voters. In few instances, people outside these categories who got disenchanted with the electoral processes also sell their votes.

To dream of credible elections, we need to have large population of Nigerians with rewarding employments. What to eat should not be a problem for the teeming majority. We also need a well informed and knowledgeable electorate. After all, the last line of the University of Ibadan anthem reads: “For a mind that knows is a mind that’s free.” It is instructive enough that most cases of vote-buying happen in rural communities with high levels of poverty and illiteracy. In other words, if President Buhari had taken time to address the twin problems of mass poverty and illiteracy, maybe it wouldn’t have been necessary to starve Nigerians of cash before he could leave a legacy of credible elections.

Moreover, if people sell their votes for as little as a thousand naira, is it not logical that they would accept a “congo” of rice, some packs of noodles, sachet of sugar, milk, beverages, detergent, and other household items in lieu of cash? After all, the cash they often trade their votes for are eventually committed into buying these same items!

It is instructive enough that most cases of vote-buying happen in rural communities with high levels of poverty and illiteracy. In other words, if President Buhari had taken time to address the twin problems of mass poverty and illiteracy, maybe it wouldn’t have been necessary to starve Nigerians of cash before he could leave a legacy of credible elections.


As I am writing, these commodities have flooded the grassroots and I doubt if there is any law that prevents them from being distributed to the electorates before the election day. In actual fact, the hardship visited on Nigerians as a result of the cashless policy justifies such intervention by politicians. Aren’t these consumables some palliatives of sort for the wretched constituents? So, instead of adding to their misery all in the name of preventing vote-buying, what about addressing the underlying conditions that spur them into selling their votes?

Then there is the question of voters not feeling the impact of governance. If people are adequately touched by the so-called dividends of democracy, I doubt they would have any reason to sell their votes. Did President Buhari bother to know why vote-buying isn’t a feature of western democracies? Definitely, it isn’t about any cashless policy or currency redesign. Perhaps those who advised him to implement the most bizarre form of cashless policy to curb vote-buying did not tell him that Nigerians aren’t even incentivised to participate in the forthcoming election. Who election epp? I have heard many say.

For instance, what is the motivation for university lecturers to participate in the coming elections, whether as voters or as electoral officers? Is it the poverty salaries they receive, or their eight-month salaries seized by this administration. Where is the drive coming from for the ordinary farmer? Oh, I can see that it is in the opportunity they have to cultivate their lands without fear of being attacked by bandits and kidnappers. Let us forget all the frenzies around political campaigns, it would be a miracle if the forthcoming polls record a turnout of voters up to 40%! Seriously, I don’t even know why Mr President felt that Nigerians think highly of the transition election.

Perhaps I should tell Mr President this truth! He may not like it though, but votes will be traded during the coming elections. There will be buyers and there will be sellers. I can assure our president that the leading political parties are on top of their game and already looking beyond the conventional “see and buy”. The transactions, from all indications, will be “prepaid”, done in utmost good faith, this time around. Candidates have an existing template in the 2019 trader money, market money and the rest. For now, they and their parties have something to improve on. Catch them if you can! But, right in Mr President’s nose, vote-buying will happen not because he is complicit, but because little he and his politically naïve advisers realise that the very structures that aid vote-buying are embedded in the party politics we practice in Nigeria. Please ask me not how these things will come to pass!

Like smugglers, Nigerian politicians, including the deceptive and priggish among them, constantly invent and reinvent practices to circumvent due processes. The coming election won’t be an exception. Forget about those who claim they don’t pay shishi! They will pay at least a thousand for a vote. Who knows whether it will be gratifying for President Buhari after he had realised that payments for votes comply with his cashless policy. His sense of accomplishment can at least be in the fact that the bank notes did not openly change hands.

Sincerely, if there is an assurance that Nigerians desperately need as regards the 25 February election, it is that Mr President, Godwin Emefiele, and other proponents of currency redesign will “leave” happily, whether ever after is something else entirely.

Finally, how I wish Mr President had known early enough that the foundation for credible elections isn’t laid few months to the end of a two-term tenure. Only if Baba Buhari, as some of his ardent supporters do call him, had understood that the most crucial factor of credible election is an empowered electorates and not BVAS and cashless policy. Maybe he would not have subjected Nigerians to severe hardship by attempting to achieve in two months a task, the foundation of which he ought to have laid from the day he first took the oath of office. Perhaps he would not have acted desperately to take cash away from us.

Dr Jide Ololajulo teaches anthropology at the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Ibadan.

Join The Conversation

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.