By Mary Olushoga
Nigeria’s practice of transactional democracy is delaying its progress and development due to the large numbers of ill-informed voters who give away their voting and bargaining power in exchange for minuscule items such as food and cash. American journalist George Will writes, “politics in a democracy is transactional: politicians seek votes by promising to do things for voters, who seek promises in exchange for their votes.” The issue beforehand is not whether or not Nigeria’s democracy is transactional but to ask what it will take to build more informed voters and civil society groups, audacious enough to follow through on holding leaders at all levels accountable for Nigeria’s progress and development.
Election season in Nigeria is one of the best times to be affiliated with a political party and more importantly to work as a consultant. You can either choose to troll the opposition party on social media, or you can choose to become a wholesale supplier of various items to include phone recharge cards, African print fabric – Ankara, fufu, or bags of rice to a political party, whichever option you choose, you are at least guaranteed to get rich quickly. If you have never owned a car or a home, now will be the time to purchase one. Both major political parties offer these items in exchange for votes and this is a problem for Nigeria’s democracy, development, and progress.
ThisDay, one of Nigeria’s leading newspaper reports that in 2014, current of Governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose during the elections, “distributed over 30,000 bags of rice to students, market women, and workers in 16 council areas of the state. Over 6000 students also received 2000 Naira cash,” Fayose won the elections. Popular Nigerian youth platform, Nairaland.com reports that current Osun state Governor, Rauf Aregbesola distributed odorless fufu while campaigning, Aregbesola won the elections.
Nigeria’s political leaders exploit the extreme poverty, hunger, and high unemployment rates for their personal gains and rather than hold these leaders accountable for job-creation, power and educational reforms, the large numbers of ill-informed voters give away their voting and bargaining power for these minuscule items. Until Nigeria moves away from this practice, the country cannot progress or move forward as quickly as we would like. As with many African countries, when there is the combination of transactional democracy, which attracts a certain type of leadership along with high poverty levels and unemployment rates, it presents a ticking time bomb.
In the United States, when an immigrant is about to become a citizen, they have to take a civic test to examine their knowledge of the country. In the book they are given to study for this exam, it makes clear that “citizens vote for leaders to represent them and their ideas, and the leaders therein support the citizens’ interest.” If we were to apply this phrase to Nigeria’s situation, can a political leader win an election without practicing transactional politics? With the transactional campaign process, one of the unintended consequences is corruption. How? Because political leaders begin to lose their moral obligation to do what is right by encouraging voters to give away their voting power in exchange for food, cash, and recharge phone cards. They knowingly exploit the poverty and high unemployment rates. Voters on the other hand, lose their bargaining power by agreeing to sell their votes in exchange for these minuscule items.
The process of voting and the idea of voting for leaders, who represent the citizens’ interest in itself, is democratic. However, what happens when the idea of democracy becomes, “I will give you recharge phone cards, cash, and bags of rice and you vote for me?” The exploitation of the poverty rate, hunger, and high unemployment level allows for this kind of transaction, which is not only unethical and morally bankrupt as leaders vie for votes but problematic because it leaves Nigeria with leaders whose moral and ethical values should be questioned. The problem and responsibility however, lies on both ends. Voters in Nigeria have to become well-informed about their civic duties. Voters along with civil society groups need to learn how to hold leaders accountable for job-creation, power and educational reforms amongst other infrastructural initiatives.
Indeed, democracy involves citizens playing an active role in the political process whereby they may choose to join a political party, a civic group, volunteer to help out with a political campaign, or speak with their senators and representatives on issues without getting paid or expecting anything in return but doing so for the greater good of the country and for the progress of the continent. This however, rarely happens. Recently, I was chatting with a friend based in Abuja and he informed me that “the PDP youth wing in Abuja received 50 million Naira to harass and troll the opposition party on social media.” The question remains, what can we do and how can we take a proactive approach to practicing effective democracy. What can we do as citizens to hold leaders to their campaign promises and work collaboratively to move Nigeria toward progress, regardless of who gets paid and who doesn’t.
It is election season in Nigeria and social media is busy and buzzing. Young Nigerians are in tune, in touch, and excited to see who will win on February 14, 2015. Although there are several candidates running, the popular favorites are Goodluck Jonathan, current President of Nigeria who is running on the PDP party platform and Mohammed Buhari, former military dictator who is running on the APC party platform. Billions of Naira have been spent on the campaign with support from party leaders, the private sector, and to an extent ordinary citizens who are desperate for a change and progress. Who will win?
Mary Olushoga is passionate about politics and entrepreneurship.