BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE
0805 500 1974
Whatever will be the outcome of the presidential election that would be held 10 days from now, the role of money in politics will, perhaps, be remembered for long as the main issue thrown up by the quadrennial exercise. The official move to demonetise the 2023 election is the most discussed topic few days to the election, what with the lack of adequate focus in the public sphere on the obvious big issues of the election. That, of course, is to put things in the most charitable way given the socio-economic disruptions and pains caused by policy implementation.
Time will tell if this official step is a classic case of how not go about the demonetisation of politics.
The practical need for cash in the process of election came to the fore eight days at a meeting between the chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, and the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele. Given its budget that runs into hundreds of billions of naira, INEC, would be paying service providers electronically. It is, of course, not expected that INEC would settle such bills from service providers in cash. Yet, Yakubu told Emefiele that some “emergency” situations in the course of operations would require cash payment. In some areas, electronic payment may not be applicable in paying transportation and other logistical items. Emefiele replied inter alia: “…if after making your electronic payments, you require some money to pay transporters in cash, the assurance I give to you is that we will make it available, so it’s nothing to worry about.” So, INEC, the constitutional regulator of electoral matters, sometimes needs cash. That crucial meeting took place 17 days to the presidential election.
The same practical case for cash for operational purposes was made at another meeting between the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) General Babagana Monguno and the House of Representatives ad hoc committee on the cashless policy of the CBN. The NSA was represented at the meeting by Rear Admiral Abubakar Mustapha, who drew the attention of the legislators to the imperative of cash as follows: “Some of our soldiers are deployed in places where they cannot actually access digital means of paying for their daily subsistence; that is the main issue that NSA has been talking about…” According to Mustapha, if not well handled a strict application of the cashless policy might affect military operations even in advanced countries. The CBN is expected to treat the observation from the office of the NSA as a special case.
However, cash in the hands of politicians and political parties has been wrongly turned into a bugbear. Just like INEC or the military politicians may also need some cash for legitimate election expenses. The transportation and welfare of party agents serving remote areas could only be done in most cases by cash. It is, of course, reasonable to expect that the amount of cash needed in special situations would not be huge. A politician or a political party will be living a lie to say that all his expenses would be done by electronic transfers. Hypocrisy has simply beclouded the discussion of the cashless policy. Hence no concession is ever made for the politician as the bogey in the process.
Checkmating vote-buying is the reason why the cashless policy is now implemented with a severity of purpose before the elections. In the process, bank customers in need of little cash for daily living have been suffering indefensibly. Lives have been reportedly lost because of the cash crunch. Long queues at ATM machines and tension in the banking halls are the consequences of the policy. It is cynical to refer to protests against the breach of contract between a bank and its customer as a “drama’’ or an “orchestrated action” by some forces. Policies should be implemented with a reasonable measure of humanity especially when the rights of people are fundamentally involved.
To be sure, vote-buying is corruption, a crime that is punishable under the law. Agencies such as the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC), the police and other security outfits could be deployed to enforce the laws. Surveillance could also be mounted for the prevention of the crime. Crimes should be isolated and dealt with instead punishing the whole society on the suspicion that some politicians may engage in vote-buying. Things could be done in a tidier and more sensitive manner to achieve even a greater result in fighting vote-buying and similar crimes. But fighting vote-buying can never be a justification for risking anarchy in the society.
However, vote-buying should be differentiated from legitimate election expenses in the drive for demonetisation of politics. And all campaign expenses cannot be done in cash given the limits to withdrawals.
A lot of myths should be exploded about the policy implementation in which not a few people are obfuscated
Besides, given the manner in which the campaign against vote-buying is conducted, you would imagine that all the votes to be cast would be bought. This is unfair to those people who vote without any one paying them to do so. In fact, it is a collective insult on the electorate. It is unimaginable that any candidate for that matter would have to pay for all the votes that he would score.
So cash is actually a small part of the story if the problem of vote-buying is removed. The larger question of the role of money in politics is eclipsed by the campaign of vote-buying. This tendency ignores the reality that it is in the nature of bourgeois liberal democracy for money to play a central role in the process. Since 1999, presidential candidates have spent money to organise their campaigns depending on the size of the war chests they could respectively muster. Again, it is sheer hypocrisy for any politician to say that campaigns could be run without money. It is an obvious logistical question. Is there any politician running in any of the categories of elections who would not spend money?
It is not a peculiar Nigerian phenomenon. The fuel for the engine for the competition in a liberal democracy anywhere is money. That’s why billions of dollars funds are raised by candidates in the United States and Europe. The funds are meant for legitimate election expenses. And there are regulations guiding the management of funds so raised. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) has attributed the role of money in European politics as “the greatest factor contributing to the European citizen’s lack of trust in the democracies.” Issues have been raised over financing elections in Spain, France and Italy. The influence of rich people on politics have triggered protests in Greece and Ukraine.
One lesson to learn from the older liberal democracies is the need for a proper regulation of political fiancé. Realistic rules should be set and honestly enforced.
Doubtless, liberal democracy would be deepened and more participatory if money does not become a factor for the exclusion of the majority from viable competition.
Demonisation of individual politicians is surely not the cure to the malaise of high monetisation of politics.
A systemic approach to the problem may provide a more efficacious solution. Specific crimes should be isolated and the offenders be made to face the law.
Talking about a legacy of sanitising the electoral process, President Muhammadu Buhari should dust up the Uwais Report. He should establish the Electoral Offences Commission as recommended in the report of a panel of eminent Nigerians chaired by former Chief Justice Muhammadu Uwais. The commission could deal with all electoral offences (including vote-buying) committed before, during and after the elections. That would an institutionalised legacy of Buhari.
If that is done, the CBN may not need to redesign the naira again on the eve of 2027 elections to prevent vote-buying. And the system would be spared of avoidable stress in the course of implementing the cashless policy.