By Jibrin Ibrahim
This week, the Yar’Adua Centre held a conference on citizenship, democracy and the culture of transactional politics in Nigeria. The underlying concern at the conference was the excessive role of corruption and money politics in the political process and the corresponding decline of the role of the citizen in directing political outcomes. The dilemma today is that with the rapid growth of vote buying in our elections, godfathers are once again transforming citizens who have fought for and won their mandate into clients whose ballot have been purchased and can therefore no longer demand for good governance.
There was extensive debate on the implications of the rise of transactional politics in our society. The phenomenon refers to the transformation of political processes into horse trading in which political actors trade individual benefits to each other. Rather than politics being a process for using public resources for the provision of public goods, it becomes a market in which politicians help each other to steal public resources for their private gain. Politics then becomes reduced to the quid pro quo of ‘you help me steal and I will help you steal.’ This completely negates the interests of the people that politicians are supposed to be serving.
In the party primaries that we witnessed recently, a lot of candidates who have stolen massive amounts of money from public coffers simply bribed party officials who imposed them as candidates of the said parties in the coming elections. Others, State governors in particular, sought to and often succeeded in imposing relations or clients in the primaries, who would, they expect, defend and cover up the atrocities they have committed while in office. This type of transactional politics has seriously reduced the quality of candidates seeking political office. With each electoral cycle, more crooks and cronies are taking up positions of power and devaluing our democracy. Even more importantly, citizens are seriously concerned that they have been denied the right guaranteed in the Constitution and the Electoral Act, to elect those they prefer in the party primaries, thus being deprived of their democratic rights to choose their leaders.
Essentially, the National Assembly has turned the budget into a completely incoherent set of monetary allocations designed to boost the egos of legislators and swell their bank accounts.
An even more significant illustration of the rise of transactional politics relates to the way the National Assembly makes the budget. This year, we observed once again how the legislature completely privatised the budget by infusing it with thousands of personal projects through which they plan to make money corruptly to enrich themselves. In so doing, they have once again debased the budget by imposing on it the logic of self-serving primitive accumulation that characterises much of their legislative actions. Specifically, the legislature made cuts amounting to N347 billion in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own, amounting to N578 billion. The president complained bitterly that many of the cuts made are for critical projects, which may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement with the reduced allocation.
In 2017, the National Assembly had inserted 1,170 new projects in the 2017 budget of the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing. They had increased the budget from N364.2 billion to N586.6 billion. In massacring the budget of the Ministry, they simply removed monies allocated to key national projects such as the Abuja-Lokoja dual carriageway, the Second Niger Bridge, the Mambila and Zungeru Hydropower projects and the Katsina Wind Farm Energy project. They then replaced these key national projects with thousands of petty projects, mainly in their constituencies.
Yes, legislators have responsibility for promoting the interests of their constituencies but that cannot be done at the expense of the nation. Essentially, the National Assembly has turned the budget into a completely incoherent set of monetary allocations designed to boost the egos of legislators and swell their bank accounts.
Transactional politics for self-interest has completely destroyed the process of budget making in Nigeria today. Legislators are putting projects into the budget that have not been designed, surveyed and costed and they are simply inputting figures that are meaningless because pet projects that have not been processed are simply not real projects. This process which they have embarked upon turns the budget into an instrument for destroying good governance because the monies are allocated to “non-projects.” For example, in this year’s budget, almost every legislator added pet projects to build roads in their constituencies. It is madness to build roads in your village that are not in any way linked to the national grid because it means you are not improving transport infrastructure but simply engaged in an ego trip that does nothing to improve the movement of goods and services.
When citizens however vote for financial gain they become part of the agents that undermine democracy and their own rights. It is in this context that the crisis of internal party democracy is the most serious threat to our democracy.
Vote buying is the most obnoxious form of transactional politics that has been growing in the country. At one level, it is a signifier that the integrity of our elections has improved considerably and corrupt politicians who used money to pay for thugs, bribe security or Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials to rig elections are changing tactic because they know that the votes of citizens count today. The new approach they are using is to corrupt the voter by inducing them to vote for a particular candidate on the basis of direct bribes. This is terrible for our democracy because we have reached the stage where citizens can demand for accountability by voting out people who have not performed creditably. When voters however accept financial inducement to vote for particular persons, they are unable to make demands for good governance because the sacredness of their ballot has been soiled. Deepening our democracy would therefore require civic education for citizens, so that they are able to resist debasing their vote.
Democracy is based on the popularity principle. Citizens vote for the persons they like for whatever reason. When citizens however vote for financial gain they become part of the agents that undermine democracy and their own rights. It is in this context that the crisis of internal party democracy is the most serious threat to our democracy. When party members are denied the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice in party primaries, they become cynical of the whole process and its this cynicism that they then use to barter their ballot for cash. This means they are being dragged into undermining the powers that the Constitution and our laws have given them.
Vote buying is therefore the worst form of transactional politics that is compromising our democracy. The greatest challenge we have in conducting the 2019 general elections is to ensure as many citizens as possible resist the temptation of debasing their votes for short-term financial gain.