Money, people and elections

(By Victor Emejuiwe)

It is time Nigerians had a rethink, for whatever is collected from these brands of politicians is transient, it does not endure. The gains of the period cannot be commensurate with what is required after the election. Politicians who spend heavily during elections do not feel obligated to offer service to the people. What they pre-occupy themselves with is how to re-coup what had been spent and, also, to make profits for the elevation of their status.

AS Nigerians brace up for the 2015 elections, there are fundamental mistakes that need to be averted. These mistakes lie with the common Nigerians who perpetually cry of failed leadership. The masses are at the receiving end of leadership failure, lack of quality education, un-employment, social injustice, poor healthcare delivery and theft of national resources.

We have lamented over these issues for the past 52 years of our independence, in the hope that one day we would get things right. Democracy is described as government of the people, by the people and for the people. This definition gives the people power in a democratic government. The power to install leaders lies in the hands of the people. The leaders are nothing without the people, and on this basis, no matter what position a leader attains, the people are instrumental to it.

Unfortunately, there is at present a disconnect between the leaders and the people. The leaders believe that the people are only useful as ladders with which to climb and gain access to the seat of leadership, after which the bond terminates. The leaders have, therefore, neglected their social responsibility to the people. Worse of all is the fact that they no longer find it necessary to render an account of their stewardship to the people who elected them.

Most times, gaining access to the so-called representative becomes wishful thinking. They hardly pick calls. On assuming office, they assume a dismissive and arrogant disposition to everyone below them. More so, fewer than half of the senators and House of Representatives members run a functional constituency office meant to facilitate access to them and provide opportunity to gauge the pulse of their constituents.

People should henceforth realise that sovereignty belongs to them, so they should not cheapen their electoral franchise on the altar of mediocrity. Mediocrity is brought about when people collect stipends from the wrong candidates to attend campaign rallies. Mediocrity sets in when the people are paid stipends to cause havoc during elections; it occurs when people are paid to issue out an unwarranted propaganda in the bid to outdo an opponent or appraise an unqualified candidate.

It is common practice for politicians to seek the support of the electorate during election periods. They do a lot of homework, making preparations during this period. Nigerians are described as one of the most clairvoyant when it comes to politics of witch-hunting, hatred and bickering, among others.

Nigeria is yet to embrace the politics of ideas and track records in search of proven personalities. We are yet to appreciate capacity, integrity and humanity. The politicians believe that to gain the support of the masses, money must be spent on them. There is no exchange of ideas. As much as possible, for the typical Nigerian politician, politics is all about money, not about service and the presentation of programmes.

In the last presidential elections, for example, one of the political parties was reported to have prepared to give out over N500,000 to each delegate going for the party primaries, and the money could only be given out under a mandatory oath. Recipients were expected to swear and jump over a coffin before collecting the money. The implication for the beneficiaries of that exercise was that in the event of a breach of agreement, they should be prepared for instant death.

Most community elders were reportedly given as much as was required to share among themselves and distribute among the youths in their wards, with the mandate to deliver the ward in electoral triumph and drive away, during elections, the opponents considered unworthy of their votes.

The women are induced to sew uniforms and wrappers. They organise themselves into different women groups with shades and colours of lace, t-shirts and head ties. They go home with rice, soap, salt, detergents etc with pledges to deliver their votes. These are mothers who are supposed to be nation-builders.

For the youths, it is a different ball game altogether. Nigerian youths are very intelligent and proactive. Unfortunately, however, most times they fall for disguised inducement, which could be as low as N1,000, just to canvass for the wrong candidate. They are swayed with campaign t-shirts, face caps, mufflers, exercise books, and DVDs. They are mobilised in thousands to attend campaign grounds or to canvass for votes.

The politicians sponsor smear and distasteful advertisement campaigns against their opponents in the media; the integrity of technocrats and consultants are abused. The electorate themselves seem to lack focus on what they want and from whom they want it during elections, all because money is in free flow during the period.

A politician in the Senate once dismissed a constituent member from his office when the latter came to ask for a development project for the constituency. The politician was reported to have simply told the individual to go back and tell his people that he had done what he was meant to do for them during the campaigns.

The power of the people in a democracy is taken away when the people place themselves in servitude. A servitude congregation lacks the moral will to demand for its birthright. Having mortgaged its conscience, the congregation also lacks the strength to fight for what is right. Leaders are meant to be servants of their people but the twist is what we are currently experiencing in Nigeria. The politicians who are meant to be servants are seen as demigods by the people. This is supported by Rabbi Simon, who stated that “leadership is not power and dominance, it is servitude.”

We can’t continue to demand for effective leadership with exceptional performance when such a chance has been compromised, traded away in return for the money and gifts we received during elections. There are specific issues Nigerians should focus on before canvassing for a candidate. These are the visions of the candidate, as leadership emanates from vision.

Henry Kissinger (United States (U.S.) Secretary of State in Nixon’s administration) pointed out in one of his famous speeches that a leader has the power to invoke the alchemy of great vision. Vision, therefore, gives birth to ideology. The mental image is the vision and this vision articulates views of a realistic, credible and attractive future… (Nanus).

Nigerians can identify candidates with sensible vision when they speak on clear issues that can transform the present realities. Nigerians must also reject candidates imposed on them by either godfathers or their political parties. It is the bane of most parties who commence rigging of elections during their party primaries. They defy the conduct of internal democracy within their parties by imposing a candidate on other candidates wanting to fly the party’s flag.

Those who emerge under the perceived blessing of the previous administration are usually rejected. Nigerians must reject candidates who lack prudence. The Encarta English Dictionary explains prudence as having a good sense in dealing with practical matter. It goes further to explain that it is using good judgment to consider likely consequence and act accordingly.

I would like to recommend a candidate with adjudged prudence, who would not waste his time campaigning against other candidates but would concentrate on letting Nigerians know how he intends to correct the present decays in the society. Nigerians should only accept leaders with track records of capability and performance.

The current scenario in Nigeria favours candidates from a circle of influence, when track records of performance cannot be traced to any of them. This consequently spells doom for the generality of the people.

As the rich live in shielded houses, they will be unlikely to understand what it is to live on the street. This set of people lacking in capacity are easily recognised during election interviews and campaigns, where they speak out of context.

Those who are ready to kill just to assume power have demonstrated their unworthiness to serve. What they are seeking is an opportunity to steal. Countries like the U.S. and Ghana are good examples of where election outcomes are taken in good spirit.

The Independent national Electoral Commission (INEC) has set regulations on limits to campaign expenses for all elective offices. Section 91, sub-section 2-7 of the 2010 Electoral Act stated limits as follows: (2) The maximum election expenses to be incurred by a candidate at the presidential election shall be N1,000,000,000.00, (3) The maximum by a candidate at a governorship election shall be N200, 000,000.00.

(4) The maximum for a Senatorial seat at an election to the National Assembly shall be N40, 000,000.00 while the seat for the House of Representatives shall be N20,000,000.00. (5) In the case of the State Assembly election, the maximum amount of election expenses to be incurred shall be N10, 000,000.00.

(6) In the case of a chairmanship election to an area council, the maximum amount of election expenses is N10 million. (7) In the case of councillorship election to an area council, the maximum amount of election expenses to be incurred shall be N1, 000,000.00.

The major reason the limits are set is to avoid the monetisation of politics. Nigerians must be watchful of excess and undue expenses during elections. When there is excessive spending of money by a political party, it is indicative of disaster.

In conclusion, I have, through this piece, advocated a conscious decision in electing those to represent us in subsequent elections. We must look beyond the party and look at the person. We must forgo the money thrown at us and consider the capabilities of the individual. Let’s observe what they spend the money on: do they spend it on us to gain our votes, or do they spend it to reach out to us through every reasonable process allowed by law?

The money received from politicians cannot last beyond that moment, but the right decision we make with our votes lasts into the future of our generation. Power resides in our hands; we must not trade it cheaply.

• Victor Emejuiwe, a procurement specialist and programme officer, wrote from Abuja.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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