By Sunday Ani
A professor of law at the University of Abuja and former vice chancellor of the Ave Maria University, Piyanko, Nasarawa State, Uwakwe Abugu has charged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and political parties that canvass for votes on the promise of good leadership, and the elite to ensure that citizens are given proper voter education. This, he said, would bridge the poor economic power and the consequent effect of poverty on the choice of candidates in an election.
The law professor made the call recently during the third annual award and lecture series by Starlite Newspapers at Princess Alexandra Auditorium, University of Nigeria, Nsukka in Enugu State.
Abugu, who spoke on the topic, “The Allure of instant gratification VS the Hunger for good leadership: The dilemma of the Nigerian voter,” regretted that most Nigerian electorates were always faced with the dilemma of whether to choose the right candidate and forgo the carrot of instant gratification usually dangled at them by the wrong candidates or collect and vote according to their conscience. He said only proper voter education would make them understand that they could accept gratification and still go ahead to vote their conscience.
The don noted that a voter, who was properly made to understand that his poverty today might be traceable to bad leadership and that receiving instant gratification would only perpetrate it, would more easily resist the offer of instant gratification.
His words: “The onus for proper voter education is on the elite who hunger for good leadership, political parties who canvass for votes on the promise of good leadership and INEC, the electoral body whose duty it is to ensure free and fair election. This is especially against the backdrop that there can be no free and fair election where there is no free choice by voters of their candidates and that this freedom is lost to poverty and ignorance.”
On balancing instant gratification with the right choice of candidates, he insisted that with proper voter education, it was possible for a voter to accept instant gratification and still proceed to vote according to his conscience.
“Even though there is this moral burden to vote for whosoever a voter has accepted gratifications from, two reasons may assist in liberating the voter’s mind from that burden.
“First, is the fact that the gratification was not given in good faith but made to perpetrate bad governance, and secondly, on proper examination, such gift may actually form part of the voter’s patrimony in the commonwealth.
Voters should be made to understand that no sin is committed for collecting gratifications and voting according to their conscience. In fact, it amounts to bravery and gallantry to accept gratification and vote rightly thus liberating one’s mind from the tyranny of hawkers and purveyors of bad leadership and robbers of the wealth of the people”, he said.
Abugu noted that to fight instant gratification, which has assumed the form of vote buying and other financial inducement, political parties and candidates must act as mutual watch dogs.
“Every political party should act as a watchdog against the other political parties, especially on possible breach of the electoral laws and good campaign ethics. Certainly, the offer of gratifications to voters prior to voting is contrary to electoral laws and ethics as it robs the voter of freedom of conscience and corrupts his power of choice.
“Political parties should mobilise their members at grassroots to gather information, records and documents relating to the offer of gratification to voters. This would come handy in prosecuting such candidates or parties for electoral offences or compiling facts leading to nullification of election results against sponsors of such gratifications,” he stated.
He also called on the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and good governance non-governmental organisations to launch vigorous campaigns against vote buying by spreading their networks and even opening their Situation Rooms for purposes of gathering, storing and harmonising information on gratifications to voters. “This should be done well ahead of the election. Such records should be made available to candidates, political parties and law enforcement agents for use in prosecuting electoral offences and for election petitions,” he added.
Prof Abugu listed the factors that aid vote buying to include prevalent poverty and inequality among Nigerians, deliberate policy of vote buyers to produce more vote sellers as well as the absence of a clear dichotomy between politicians’ personal wealth and public funds among others.
He lamented that the situation is worsened due to the fact that those who have the political duty of lifting Nigerians out of poverty and thus able to resist the allure of instant gratification are the same class who by their policies perpetrate poverty and take advantage of the multiplier effect of spiral increase in poverty level.
“For instance, the same Senator or House of Representative member who pegged minimum wage at N30,000 per month is the same person stocking foodstuffs and motor cycles for distribution to lure the impoverished voter to vote for him or his party. Again, the same state governor, who refused to implement the national minimum wage in his state, let alone increasing the state minimum wage beyond the national benchmark, or who refused to prioritise workers’ salaries and allow them to go on strike, is the same person now ready to give hand out of pittance to buy workers’ votes,” he said.
He called on Nigerians to stand up against the tyranny of vote buying in any form as they march into the 2023 general elections. “In the maze of this dilemma, God seems to be advising Nigerian voters to choose life and not death by rejecting all the temptations of trading their votes for gratifications. But, this message is not for elitist discussion only. It must get to the grassroots; to the poorest of the poor and all hands must be on deck to achieve this.
“And the message must be clear and unequivocal that politicians who genuinely want to serve the people will not induce voters to sway their votes. Politicians who peddle gratifications are actually the enemies of the people who are out to cheat them of their destiny and God-given entitlements to good leadership and the allure of the good things of life,” he submitted.
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