By Joseph Udofia
When the 2011 General elections were ongoing, I cast my votes in one of the polling units in the prestigious University of Ibadan. As a Pressmen then, working with the Union of Campus Journalists, with a penchant for keeping abreast with happenings around me, I contacted other Press Men to get reports about their polling units. I was informed that the Umbrella party shared some funds. I got across to a friend in Barika, a stone’s throw from University of Ibadan. A friend, who happens to be an agent for Thumb Party, doled out 500 naira each to voters in an effort to get them to vote for his candidate. After the results came in, it seemed the money had little effect, compared to the myriad of people who got money. That is what happens when you are entitled to just a vote, while three or more parties bribe you to vote for them.
Three years down the line, I find myself in Rivers State. Being a Batch C Corps Member, I was drafted to partake in the Permanent Voters’ Card (PVC) distribution in my Local Government in Rivers State. Due to my rejection at my Place of Primary Assignment (PPA) and my inability to settle down on time, I could not partake in the exercise. I finally got a PPA while the exercise was ongoing, and thus spent much time with my colleagues in the corpers’ lodge. The reports from them, and those streaming in across different social media platform were identical: “We got so much money (aside the INEC money which hasn’t been paid). “The community, Party agents and loyalist gave us money”. “One man took us to a bar afterwards and bought us food and drinks”
One wonders: Why would a party appreciate Corp Members for doing their job? Is this truly appreciation or bribery? A friend of mine, who found herself at crossroads, narrates her ordeal:
“After day one’s work, one of our unit members was given an undisclosed amount of money for everyone in my ward. As Corp Members, we probed further to know the source of the money, to no avail. The same thing happened after the second day’s exercise. Some of us decided not to accept the money as we did not know the source. As we were about to commence our duty on the third day, our Supervisor called us to a room to address us. She asked if we were given certain amount of money. No one replied. She said it was in our best interest to reply as it is our Legal money, given to us by two parties for our service to the community. She further said that we should not be deprived of our benefit. N5000 was given to us the first day, N4000 the second day and N1500 the third day, to top up the N4000. We were later told that they are from two top parties in Nigeria”
If in actual fact, this money is considered legal, is it safe to say that INEC knows and supports this form of appreciation? To what end is this?
The 2015 Elections are around the corner. It is safe to say that more “appreciation” will come in, and in larger quantities. This is so because all these are a harbinger. All other forms of appreciation prepared us for this moment, the big day: The elections proper. Are we sure party loyalists and supporters will not demand for something in exchange for legal money? Wouldn’t it be a case of tit-for-tat? If so, wouldn’t that be bribery? To what end will this appreciation be?
Let’s do some analysis. A Corps Member is paid N19800 by the Federal Government. In Rivers State, Corps Members haven’t received a dime from the State Government since 2012. Ceteris paribus, this would continue till Governor Amaechi leaves in 2015. During the PVC distribution exercise, some Corps members realized money ranging from N15, 000 to N50, 000. This is aside the meager N10, 000 paid by INEC. In line with my last point, these figures would increase in February 2015. How do you convince a Corp Member who is supposed to survive with N19, 800, not to tamper with votes if given N50000 or more? It is not uncommon to hear Corps Members say “I’m partaking in the election proper because of Party money”. Evidently, the money realized is far larger than the paltry sum paid by INEC.
Except something is done, most assuredly, legal money would be passed around during elections. Legal money would be accepted by electoral officers. What would happen when the benefactors ask for something in return? I want to believe that INEC would do everything to deliver a free and fair election, but the big question is: Who bites the finger that fed him?