Why Nigerians will Continue to Vote with their Stomach
It is not surprising that many Nigerians expect the 2015 general elections to be truly “free and fair” in every sense of the phrase, as well as expect it to be free of “violence and animosity.” Many also expect the elections to be a true act of democracy whereby votes cast by the voters are free of “stomach incentives and prejudice,” the politicians contesting elections are “responsible and accepting” and the electoral commission devoid of “corruption and mischief”. Really?
There are quasi-political groups that claim they can rectify the problem of electoral fraud and malpractice through education. The rhetoric of elections as the best way of choosing leaders, as an honourable civic duty, as an individual right to be exercised properly, are as vacuous and extraneous as is imaginable. A micro-education delivered in a few hours to reverse the electoral ills that took at least several decades to develop with monumental resources and through persuasive discourses has the possibility of changing the thinking of the electorate, but is totally unlikely.
It is an education directed at the median voter and one that forgets history and contemporary reality; it does not even scratch the surface. Will the education teach people how to expect, analyse and interpret party policy? Will such an education eliminate the pervasive, perverted desires and expectations perennially whipped up by elections? Is such an education sufficient to teach voters what politics is supposed to produce and how to react when the product is not forthcoming? Will it teach voters how they can very effectively hold elected politicians accountable? The median voter needs empowering education not mantra repetition.
The announcement by Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary-General, this week that the two main presidential contenders in the elections, Muhammadu Buhari and Goodluck Jonathan, have signed an “agreement” of commitment to ”non-violence” during the coming elections is highly laudable input but an equally highly doubtful outcome. It brings back unobstructed memories of the Nigerian “ceasefire agreement” with Boko Haram a few months ago and the long history of unpredictable violence in Nigerian politics. The median voter is keenly watching and waiting.
Social media has revealed for the world to observe what Nigerians can be like at election time. From the most sophisticated to the most uncouth we have seen at pre-election the massive “free-for-all” exchanges of the legions of one party’s faith against another saturated with endless character assassinations, salacious rumours, vicious insults, poorly disguised threats, pure lies, idiotic deductions and the like. As elections get closer such exchanges teem. No talk of policy or manifestoes anywhere though.
One can only imagine with “political enemies” easily identifiable what will happen on the ground when votes are actually being cast and the aftermath of vote counting. Social media has also recently brought the world pictures of politicians and their supporters being severely assaulted or killed for purely electoral reasons. Again the median voter is concerned and fearful.
Ricism seems to be forgotten but will rear its head as a sober awakening for the expectant, come the day. It is inevitable that on Election Day cooked food, especially rice and drinks, will be offered at polling booths to secure votes from voters. Many voting communities will receive one-off incentives to vote a particular candidate with bags of rice, salt or bean beans, containers of kerosene or vegetable oil, goody bags with batteries, rubber slippers and all to persuade them on the spot to vote only one way.
Community leaders and opinion leaders will receive prebendal distributions of small fortunes in cash if they can deliver votes to political candidates. With just weeks to go the politicians are now in the depths of the “Corrupt-a-Citizen” and “Corrupt-an-Official” mode. The median voter is helplessly tempted but would love to resist.
Rolled into one you have a median Nigerian voter that is dispossessed; hungry, poor, uneducated, hopeless, helpless, superstitious, desperate and angry by morning but by evening firmly captured by wishes and dreams of wealth and success through politics. Their thinking: maybe if I am seen to work harder for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) or if I insult the bigwigs of PDP unrelentingly or if I am willing to kill for Labour Party and make it known to the leaders or if I turn myself into a ‘boy boy’ gopher for my All Progressive Congress bosses, then “My Time Will Come”.
Such is the kind of hope politics offers the dispossessed. Democracy, civic duty, non-violence, fairness, freedom, selflessness, conscience are virtues and ideals at least 1000 miles away from the choice-making of the dispossessed in the absence of good livelihoods. Morality and its appendages have no meaning to an empty stomach and the median voter is hungry.
Nigerians need a good political education but it has to be a proper one and strongly matched by good livelihoods for the median voters. Until such a time when that happens Nigerians will continue to vote with their stomach, tribe, religion and whatever keeps their identity strong.
- Dr. Nane is an errant scholar and economist. Follow him on twitter: @Grimot