President Muhammadu Buhari is a self-styled paragon of integrity and incorruptibility. The same sanctimonious leader is cultivating a legacy of vote buying, without any sense of internal conflict or externally discernible shame.
In a move that leaves no room for any other interpretation, Buhari is prostituting its power of control over the coffers of the Nigerian federation to supply the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) with the ways and means to subvert the volition of voters in Osun state ahead of the governorship election this Saturday.
As the race tightened and the countdown to the polls narrowed to a few days, the Federal Government secretly released 16.67 billion naira in Paris Club refund to Rauf Aregbesola, the outgoing governor and commenced the disbursement of 10,000 naira collateral-free loan to ‘’traders’’ in Osun. The wickedly timed generous benefactions make sense only as financial militarization of the precinct. It is simply impossible to read good faith into this open sesame raid of the Nigerian treasury.
It’s certainly not a coincidence that Buhari alighted on the idea of flooding the notoriously cash-strapped State of Osun with money on the eve of a crucial governorship election. It is not a matter of time and chance that he awoke to the urge of love and liberality towards Osun voters. It’s not happenstance. It’s calculated voter inducement.
If ‘’the collateral free-loan’’ was not a vote trap, why did Buhari wait till now to conceive and launch it? Why did the approach of the election impel him to begin to share handouts to small people? And why did he select Osun, a state on the cusp of a governorship election, as the venue of the launch and the pilot address?
The Buhari bribes admit of no nuanced characterization. It is basically an invention born out of contextual necessity. The openhandedness is designed to sway electorate.
Governor Aregbesola’s tenure has been marked by 34 months of salary and pension debts and interludes of ‘’modulated wages’’, a shy euphemism for incomplete pay. His perennial failure to pay the civil servants their due earned him a black mark among the crucial voting demographic. In the run-up to the elections, the white collar bloc was poised to exact their revenge. They were ready to reject his third term through his anointed successor.
Buhari figured that the resentment of the civil servants would cause the ruling party a devastating defeat. His impulsion for splashing out money to pacify them is to avert their protest vote.
With the gift of another tranche of the Paris Club windfall at his disposal, Aregbesola has a campaign war chest that is more than sufficient to buy a landslide victory for himself, his stooge and the APC. His ‘’federal might’’ now makes him capable of compromising the electorate. His cash advantage has elevated him above the fray of the opposition.
As for TraderMoni, the initiative launched by Vice President Yemi Osibanjo in Osogbo last week, it is a slush fund being democratized as vote baits. It was baptized a stimulus package for small businesses to confer a semblance of legitimacy on it. It would have been to embarrassing to call it by its real name.
The sole qualification for the loan is reported to be a permanent voter card (PVC), not proof of ownership of any small business venture. The aim of making ownership of a PVC the eligibility criterion is to ensure a desirable return on their charity. Beneficiaries of the loan have to be able to produce the instrument to perform a gratitude vote.
Needless to say, the disingenuous bribe strategy is no less offensive because it was packaged as a lifeline for the struggling businesses. As a matter of fact, it is more abominable because it is a design of poor predation. It is a cynical program to hijack the franchise of the poor. It is the weaponization of lucre against the dignity of common man.
Vote buying creates democratic slavery. You buy the poor for the right to bear rule over him. You make him a believer in the superiority of your humanity over his wretched being and his inexorable obligation to live and labour under your yoke.
In a country that is the poverty capital of the world, the people and their morality are vulnerable to monetary temptation. The very dehumanizing condition of poverty makes the less privileged amenable to manipulation.
Vote buying is the practice of witchcraft through currency. You offer people money to relinquish their control of their own will and faculty of choice to you. You give them money so that you can continue to oppress and beggar them.
Buhari has a bee in his bonnet about ‘’fighting corruption.’’ But he is not a principled crusader. He has no compunction indulging graft when he has cause to believe that he risks failure without it.
For example, the opinion of many Nigerians was that the single prudent utilization of the $322 million Abacha loot recently repatriated by Swiss government was to invest it in critical infrastructure. But Buhari viewed the money as a potential campaign tool. Against all entreaties, he elected to fritter it on monthly 5000 naira cash transfer to ‘’poor households’’ across the country.
It turns out that Buhari would travel to China with a begging bowl, a couple of months later, and take a ‘’soft loan’’ $328 million ‘’to boost the ICT sector’’from Beijing–roughly the same amount he is squandering on buying the vote of ‘’poor households.’’
Buhari struts around with amour propre. He is almost incapable of making a public speech without reverting to the signature vilification of ‘’treasury looters.’’ Yet, he is as depraved as those he condemns.
Buying votes with public funds at the expense of real needs is as abhorrent a wrongdoing as salting away public funds. Buying votes with taxpayers’ money and stealing taxpayers’ money is abuse of public trust and misappropriation of the national patrimony. They are one and the same.
In the last governorship election in Ekiti, voters and their ballots were bought on the voting queue. In the coming Osun, Buhari has managed to buy the vote in advance. Who can divine the extent he will go to buy a re-election in February 2019?
Elections are meant to be contested not bought like a merchantable item. The electoral process is a competition of ideas and platforms. When money overrides the debate of the issues and becomes the sole decider of the election, the result of the vote becomes a lie against democracy.
A government in power need not provide material incentives for the people to vote if it has raised the quality of their lives. The act of sharing money to voters to win them over is confessing to non-performance. Vote buying is an apology for incompetence.
It’s a haughty apology, though. The incumbents can’t summon the humility to verbalize that they have failed to actualize deliverables that matter and that they regret their ineptitude. So, they articulate it in a grudging deed–in offering a token of penance to the masses.
If the people were smart, they won’t enable the vicious cycle that will keep them in misery. They won’t take a bribe to perpetuate the reign of their tormentors.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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