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Reflections on ‘Vote Trading’ in Our Elections – By Dr. Jideofor Adibe

By Jideofor Adibe | NNP | November 12, 2022 | In recent years, ‘vote buying’ has become a popular phrase in our political discourses. But what does this really mean? Is it the same as ‘vote trading’? Does it have any impact on the country’s efforts at deepening its democracy? And what can be done to contain it?

There are several issues involved here:

One, does ‘vote buying’ mean the same as ‘vote trading’, which are often used interchangeably in political discussions about voters’ behaviour in the country? While both are used to describe the same phenomenon of using the power of the purse and other incentives to induce voters to change their voting preferences or vote in a way they would otherwise not have voted, I will argue that there is at least one major difference between the two concepts: when we talk of ‘vote buying’, the politician who buys the vote is accentuated as the culprit because, here, the transactional aspect of the relationship is muted.

However when we talk of ‘vote trading’, what is underlined is that it is a transaction between two willing partners because without the demand for votes there will be no suppliers, and without suppliers, there will be no demand or transaction. In essence, while ‘vote buying’ is judgmental in which the politician is made the villain, the notion of ‘vote trading’ refrains from passing judgment or who is right or wrong in the transaction – or at best see both buyers and sellers as equally guilty.

Two, largely because the phenomenon of vote trade reaches odoriferous heights during party primaries, especially by the big two parties (the APC and the PDP) and during elections (especially presidential and governorship elections), there has been an intuitive belief that raw cash is the only currency in this market. However because vote trading is like any other economic transaction, anything used to induce the voter to change his or her voting preferences is a ‘legal tender’ or currency in this market. This means that when politicians give salt, rice, Maggi and even bowls of jollof rice, they are all engaged in the vote trade of trying to induce the voters to change their voting preferences.

For instance, during one of the recent off-season governorship elections, it was reported that one of the political parties was offering, in addition to cash, a steaming bowl of jollof rice with one piece of meat. The major contending party was said to have responded to this by not only matching the cash offer by the other party but also adding two pieces of meat on its own bowl of steaming jollof rice – as against the one piece of meat being offered by the other party. In the same vein, when Members of the National Assembly insert Constituency projects into the budget from the executive arm of the government, they too are involved in the vote trade with the executive – if the latter acquiesces to that condition. In essence vote trading is not something that happens only during political party primaries or on actual voting day. It is in many ways a reflection of the fact that our politics – and in fact much of our national and private lives- are largely transactional.

Three, there is a misleading innuendo that vote trading is a malaise specific to the African or the Nigerian. This is not quite correct. In the Western world for instance the equivalent jargon to vote trade is ‘logrolling’. One of the first examples of this in the United States was the Great Compromise of 1790 (also known as The Dinner Table Bargain) between Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. This happened on June 20, 1790, at a time the temporary meeting place of Congress was in New York City.

The then Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson (who later became the Third President) hosted a dinner attended by Alexander Hamilton, (who was Secretary of the Treasury) and James Madison who was a representative from Virginia (and who later became the Fourth President of the USA). At issue was Hamilton’s recommendation that the Federal Government should assume the sub states’ substantial Revolutionary War debts. The assumption issue had been debated for months in Congress and there was an impasse: while Northern members supported it because their debts were largely unpaid, Southern members, including Madison, opposed it because southern states had substantially paid off their own debt.

Another contentious issue in Congress at that time was where the Capital of the country would be permanently located. During the Dinner Table bargain between the three, Madison agreed not only that he would not block assumption of state debts by the federal government but would also help to convince enough of his fellow southern members of the Congress to support it. In exchange, Congress passed the Residence Act in July of the same year, establishing the permanent capital in what would become Washington, DC. The following month, in a quid pro quo, the Congress passed the Funding Act, which included the assumption of states’ debt.

In the UK, logrolling was also prevalent in the 19th century British parliament. A clear example was the expansion of the British railway networks in the 1840s. It was reported that faced with a major administrative reform to insulate the provision of public infrastructure from private interests, many MPs routinely traded votes to ensure that their personal interests were protected.

Four, it is possible to segment the vote market in Nigeria into three – Wholesalers, Middlemen and Retailers. Wholesalers are the people often asked to be responsible for getting the votes of a big chunk of the electorate such as different geopolitical zones. A good example here could be being made Vice Chairman of each of the geopolitical zones by the big parties or candidates in the run-up to primaries or election proper. The wholesalers superintend over a number of Middlemen – State coordinators or chairmen, local governments and ward chair persons and an assortment of other groups – student groups, women groups, religious groups, prophets, babalawos and Alfas – all promising to deliver certain number of votes to the candidates or to be able to mystically sway votes in the candidate’s favour.

There are also the Retailers who are the direct voters at either the elections proper or the party primaries. The retailers often do not want to hear anything like consensus candidate during party primaries (because many are there with the specific goal of retailing their votes) and as such choosing a ‘consensus candidate’ would be ‘bad market’ for them. During party primaries, some retailers are clients of some Middlemen who sponsor their election to become delegates often on the understanding that they would vote for a certain candidate or that they would get a percentage of what accrues to the

retailers during the primaries, which are often characterized by what, in street lingo, is called ‘dollar rain’.

Five, does vote trade undermine democratic consolidation? While the vote trade is rightly condemnable on ethical and good citizenship grounds, there is no evidence- based research on the correlation between the two. For instance while the recent off-season elections in both Osun and Ekiti were regarded as orderly and credible, with few, if any charges of rigging, reflecting the fact that our democracy may be deepening, the incidence of vote trade during both elections was clearly at its apogee. In essence, the unacceptably high incidence of vote trading in both states did not appear to have undermined the consolidation of our democracy (judged solely by the conduct of the elections) in both states.

Six, there are several reasons why vote trading is likely to continue in the nearest future: First, it can be seen as a rational economic behaviour by the vote sellers who believe that either their votes would not count or that the politicians are unlikely to keep their promises. In a scenario like this, the alternative for them not to sell their votes would be to abstain from voting, resulting in low voter turnout. Second, weak sanctions regime for offenders, including the difficulty of apprehending offenders (because the trade does not take place in the open and transactions are done in cash and other material inducements that do not leave a digital footprints) means that an effective deterrence against the trade is not in place.

Third is that in an environment of endemic poverty, with voters struggling to meet their basic needs and obligations, the temptation for many voters to commoditize their votes will be high. Fourth is that for as long as political offices remain as attractive as they are now, the anarchic competition for power will continue to stimulate and sustain the vote trade. Fifth is that the vote trade is a reflection of the transactional nature of most activities in the larger society: the policeman expects you to ‘find something’ for him for doing his job; the civil servant expects you to ‘find something’ for him or her for basically doing his/her duty and the gateman who opens a gate for you to visit your family members or friends expect you to ‘find something’ for him for opening the gate with smiles

Seven, how can we stem the vote trade? While it may not be possible to completely eliminate vote trading during party primaries or during our elections, several steps could be taken to contain it: first, punitive sanctions should be taken against those found guilty by competent court of law. In this sense actions should be expedited on the National Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal Bill by the National Assembly. Second, there is a need for the intensification of voter education on the negative effects of vote trade. Third, it is important to make people have confidence in the electoral system and to believe that their votes will count. Fourth, is the need to reduce poverty in the land, create good paying jobs and empower the citizens economically so that the temptation to sell votes will be reduced. Fifth is the urgent need to reduce the attractiveness of political offices (which induce the anarchic competition for those offices) and for all citizens to constantly audit the lifestyle and wealth of political office holders. Citizens should be encouraged to use the social media and other platforms to blow the whistle on political office holders living beyond their means.


Professor Jideofor Adibe is the founder of the London and Abuja based books and journals publishing company, Adonis & Abbey Publishers (www.adonis-abbey.com) and the online newspaper, The News Chronicle (www.thenews-chronicle.comwp_posts

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Posted by on Nov 12 2022. Filed under Articles, Columnists, Jideofor Adibe, PhD, NNP Columnists. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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