37 The price of a vote

This article was written in February 2011 and published in 234NEXT[1]

Whether the voters’ registration exercise has ended or not is not the issue many Nigerians are talking about these days. The concerns about that exercise are largely about the huge sums spent on its execution compared to the number of voters actually registered.

The electoral commission informed us that about 60 million Nigerians have been registered to vote in the April 2010 elections. That is not too bad considering that they had a target of about 70 million. What may sour the statistics would be if the cases of multiple registrations were identified, weeded out, and the total number is big enough to reduce the overall number of voters substantially.

Some analysts claim that the electoral commission spent N1, 500 per voter if they registered 60 million. If this number gets whittled down, it would mean that the cost of registering one voter might actually be higher than this estimate.

Some preliminary questions that come to mind are with regard to the actual value of a voter’s card. Is it worth N1, 500 or more? Can the value be enhanced by certain factors or is it plain crazy trying to price the card at all? If voting is a right, can you price your right?

The second layers of questions are to do with the reasons why some people engaged in multiple registrations with one person getting caught with as many as four cards! One can only imagine how many times they had their finger prints captured and how they must have laughed at the high tech system that was not networked and thus could be fooled at will. The electoral commission says they will weed out multiple registrations when all captured data are downloaded into their central system. We shall see.

What will happen to those who are still in possession of multiple cards and are far from getting caught? When will they know that they have been weeded out? It is possible that some may even get through to the voting period without being caught at any time? If that happens, what will be the value of their stock of cards? Will they choose to sell the cards or would they vote for all candidates and so stand a chance of claiming that they voted for whosoever won?

It is not likely that a voter who risked all to obtain multiple cards would want to use them for fun. It is reasonable to assume that the intention is to make merchandise of the cards and sell to the highest bidder, who would probably not pay the owner to carry out the multiple voting but would simply purchase the cards and find some ways of using them in more reliable ways that would eliminate the treachery that could occur in the voting booth away from watchful eyes.

Although vote buying may be entrenched in Nigeria, it is not a peculiarly Nigerian phenomenon or invention. When one looks back into history, there are several cases where vote buying was entrenched and was openly advertised. Such cases can be found in the history of the United States of America and in several other places.

In 1812 Britain, a certain noble man, George Venables-Vernon, left his son-in-law, ‘one sum not exceeding £5,000 towards the purchase of a seat in Parliament.’[2] Office purchases and related practices were eventually halted through a 1883 Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act.

In the nineteen-century USA, the price of votes were often quoted, even in newspapers. One paper, The Elizabethtown Post, reportedly quoted the price of a vote in Ulster County as being US$25.[3]

Whereas vote selling and buying has transformed into other phenomena in the Western world, such as campaign donations and lobbying, it is still possible to see it in many countries in Africa. In fact, in some African countries, where vote buying does not suffice, an incumbent loser can simply refuse to vacate office. After much haggling, they may decide to share offices with presumed winners and carry on as if nothing happened. Or you may end up with two presidents.

Analysts have seen that the price of a vote could vary even within the same country and the office for which the politician is seeking. For example, where the national legislature is more powerful in terms of determining the direction of the state and the office of the president is merely ceremonial, then the vote for a legislator becomes more costly.

The average cost of a vote for those seeking election to the national assembly in Sao Tome and Principe in their 2006 election was said to be about US$7.10, although in the capital this was five times more costly. The price of a vote for the presidency was slightly more than half of that for the national assembly because the president wields power mainly on issues of foreign affairs and defence. With oil revenue’s floodgates opening up, those who have more influence over the economy pay more to garner the needed votes to sit over the pie.

In Nigeria, the votes can easily be arranged in a hierarchy of prices starting from the vote for a local government councillor to that for the president. What may be a bit tricky to rank would be the price differential between the vote for a senator and that for a governor. The confusion comes from the fact that many former governors forget that they had governed whole states and often angle to represent a third of their states as senators.

However, in terms of which office is more lucrative (via corruption), that of the governor takes the cake, no matter how much salaries and perks the senators legislate for themselves. If people got elected to provide selfless service, vote buying, ballot box snatching (a form of wholesale purchase of votes), and electoral violence would not be the norm. What is the price of your vote?

  1. Now available at http://www.oyibosonline.com/oil-politics-the-price-of-a-vote/ (accessed 15 June 2016)
  2. Enyclopaedia Londinensis, or Universal Dictionary of Arts, Science and Literature. Volume 18, 2012
  3. Eduardo Porter. Nov 6, 2010. The Cost of a Vote Goes Up. New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/opinion/07sun3.html?_r=0 (accessed 7 June 2016)

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