LIKe several party primaries before them, the just concluded primaries for the gubernatorial ticket of the major parties in Edo State was reportedly riddled with heavy use of money to influence delegates who voted at the events. The use of money as a tool of vote buying has become entrenched in party primaries, such that commentators easily characterise party primaries as an occasion that party delegates and election managers look forward to for money making. Reports from the primary of one of the parties alleged that over 2800 delegates went away from the venue of the primary with at least one million naira each, as each of the candidates endeavoured to win them to his side. Indeed, vote buying has become very critical at primaries in states where a party has a stronghold. This is because once a candidate wins the party ticket, there is a near guarantee that he or she would win the election proper.
The misuse of money in primaries remains a matter of concern. This is because of the corrupting influence it has on the political behaviour of politicians. Those who pay to get votes are not likely to be responsive and responsible to the electorate. Certainly, the role of money in politics is as old as the game itself. But the entrenchment of monetary influence in party primaries is traceable to the Second Republic when Chief MKO Abiola, a business mogul, allegedly tried to influence the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in 1983 to win the presidential ticket, and was told by former President Shehu Shagari’s Minister of Transport, Umaru Dikko, that “the presidency of Nigeria is not for sale to the highest bidder”. Abiola proved this assertion wrong when, in the aborted Third Republic, he beat Babagana Kingibe and Abubakar Atiku to second and third place respectively at the Social Democratic Party (SDP) convention of March 1993 in Jos, Plateau State. To achieve the feat, he allegedly financed the accommodation of delegates in hotels outside Jos, thereby rendering them incommunicado to other contestants.
Under the Fourth Republic, primaries have become even more vulnerable to the influence of money. The parties themselves have raised the stakes of money in politics with the policy of financing political parties through expensive application forms for candidates seeking nomination for political office. This is further complicated by the activities of godfathers who inordinately use money to secure the nomination of their preferred candidates as party standard-bearers. In the event, delegates are made to swear fetish oaths as a commitment that they would vote ‘right’. Such political money are either stolen from public coffers or expended as investment to be recouped in public office. No event demonstrates these realities regarding the misuse of money in elections as the alleged Dasukigate, where several politicians are on trial over the alleged sharing of about $2.2 billion meant for security but diverted to prosecuting the 2015 elections.
Democracy cannot be consolidated if politicians continue to use money to garner votes at both primary and general elections. When money talks, liberal values are undermined. Elections without the liberal values of moderation, observance of the rule of law and respect for human rights are not democratic. Without such values, they cannot be free, fair or credible. Without a liberal culture, election becomes a zero sum game, leading to intense competition, violence, delegitimisation of government and political instability. Politicians must thus find a way of promoting a liberal culture with respect for human rights, especially the right of ordinary citizens to choose leaders through a free and unencumbered electoral process. They must give due regard to electoral rules and to the rule of law. The provisions of the Electoral Law with regard to party and campaign finance must be respected.
In general, political parties, like the politicians that constitute their leadership, do not observe campaign finance laws. They neither keep proper records of membership and income nor make public disclosure of their accounts. Political parties lack membership subscription and are susceptible to being hijacked by moneybags. The Electoral Act must include provisions that make laws on campaign finance less difficult to enforce. The Muhammadu Uwais Committee on Electoral Reform recommended the establishment of an Electoral Offences Commission because it wanted Nigeria to achieve effectiveness and success in dealing with electoral offenders. Electoral offenders must be punished to reduce electoral malpractice. In relation to party and campaign finance regulation, this may help to reduce the role of money in perverting the electoral process.