In Nigeria, elections are a do or die affair. Politicians hardly hide their desperation to win, neither do they disguise the fact that they are willing to unleash all the ‘weapons’ and strategies at their disposal to do so. They strategize endlessly in their desperation, while we, the voters continue dancing as pawns to their tunes. Over few a nairas, voters readily trade their political will, their sacred franchise and sell their votes. Indeed, those who sell and get paid are the lucky ones in this nasty game; the majority lose their lives or get terribly maimed trying to ensure they contribute to wining undeserved victories for their pay masters. I have seen it happen before first hand, that episode has never left me.
This is a true story.
I cast my mind back to February 2015 in Calabar, the Cross River State capital, just before the general elections. I witnessed, first hand, from the front row so to speak, how brazen most politicians become in their quest to emerge as winners, no matter how tainted with bribe and blood the victories are. A shocking reality is how complicit law enforcement agents- those who’s responsibility it is to keep the playing field open and credible- have become in this sour and gory game.
The contest was for election into the state House of Assembly. Early in the morning, voters had braved all the inconveniences and queued early to get accredited and later cast their votes. I was in the observation team of a political party so that gave me some ease of movement around the different polling stations. Everything seemed normal, to the average observer, this was another regular ‘free and fair’ election process. However, something more sinister was unfolding in the background. It was not long before I noticed that I was seeing a certain aspirant regularly at the different polling units I visited. It became obvious to me that he was moving from polling unit to polling unit. When I investigated deeper and paid closer attention, it became apparent that this aspirant was actually sharing clean crispy naira notes in bundles to his agents stationed in the various polling unis for them to procure votes from accredited voters for him. The plan was simple; an accredited voter is approached and spoken to by the agent, an amount is agreed for the vote. The voter steps up to the boot and casts his or her vote for the agreed candidate, returns to the agent and collects the fee, and the transaction is complete and both parties to the transaction are happy.
My biggest shock in observing this sordid transaction was the fact that security officials posted to those units to ensure that the elections were not rigged, were key participants in the votes buying transactions. To my greatest surprise they were the major collaborators hailing the chief votes buyer “my Chair my Chair, I salute you sir. Oga anything for your boys?” “Master, na you we know” etc. I looked at them with so much disgust as they succumbed to his corrupting of the electoral process. He had bought them over.
The Independent National Electoral Commission officials tasked with conducting the elections were not left out of the largesse. They all saw what was happening but expressed no condemnation. They smiled at the candidate and exchanged pleasantries with him. I got the impression they had also been ‘settled’. A few hours later, the candidate had been declared winner of the election. Much to my disappointment, it was reported that the elections were free, fair and credible.
This candidate had won a seat in the House of Assembly, not because he deserved it, but because he had bribed his way and bought the votes. He is still in the House of Assembly today. How could voters return home and sleep relaxed in expectation that this man will fulfil the promises he had made or put the interest of the people first?
Next time you hear elections are free and fair, this is how they actually happen, this is how free and fair elections are procured.
I am a Nigerian and this is my Corruption Story