How Much Is Your Vote Worth? - by Eze Onyekpere

Today’s discourse will seek to raise the poser: How much is your vote worth? It will also seek to raise possible answers to that poser. The vote is one of the fundamentals of the electoral and democratic process. 

Voting is done after becoming a registered voter and acquiring the requisite cards and documentation. The exercise of the voting franchise is a hallmark of citizenry, self-expression and the affirmation of the right to decide who governs your society. The vote decides the choice of policies that will lead the country, state or local government over the tenure of four years as we have in Nigeria. The vote also decides whether we should expect good, mediocre or bad governance. And this informs the anger that boils over each time people believe or there is a perception that the votes have been manipulated in an election so that the declared winner is not the person the majority of the electorate supported.

My first choice of engagement may sound like moralising and sermonising. But it is the first way to go in any sane society. It is to say that your vote cannot be quantified in monetary naira and kobo terms. The vote is invaluable; it is like the rights to life and dignity of the human person; and the concept of personhood. They do not have a price tag and cannot be traded. Essentially, they are not commodities, goods or services but carry the spark of our whole essence. Therefore, anyone who insists on selling one’s vote at any price is like someone who is attempting suicide. Such a person is insistent on destroying the fundamentals of his existence. From the point of view of our various faiths, we are exalted to do the right things. I am not aware of any religious teaching that encourages selling the vote.

There are a thousand and one reasons why you should not sell your vote. The party or candidate asking you to sell your vote does not believe you are human. He sees you as automation, an animated character that should be manipulated for his selfish ends. He sees the electorate as some form of animals in the bush and himself as a hunter with a right to a fair game. The politician demanding that you sell your vote sees himself as an investor, not a Father Christmas and he intends to recoup whatever money he has doled out a million fold or as much as his conscience (which is dead) allows him.

The second line of engagement is that if you decide contrary to reason to sell your vote, what is the price tag of that vote? How much will you ask the political investor to pay? In other words, in the process of commoditization of the vote, what value do you place on it? The current approach of accepting a few kilogrammes of rice, sugar, salt, wheat flour or a few thousands of naira, recharge cards, wrappers for women, etc, devalues the price of the vote. It sells the vote at a very cheap take away price. If you must sell the vote, then go for its actual price which I intend to compute shortly. The first reality is that when you sell the vote, you lose the right to complain about bad governance and policies championed by the person who bought your vote. You took your entitlements upfront; you sold your un-harvested acres of food for a pittance. So, there must be a way of quantifying the good governance and policies you would have enjoyed but for the vote buyer.

What you stand to gain under a good government can be encapsulated under the right to an adequate standard of living. This right is a bundle of rights and it will include sound and adequate education, health, housing, food, water and sanitation, constant power supply, good infrastructure including roads, railways, air transport, etc. The good government will guarantee law and order and will not tolerate criminals and insurgents under any guise; less crude oil will be stolen; corruption will be minimized and available resources will be deployed for the common good. Our children’s performance in the school certificate and university entrance tests will improve and our educational systems will start turning out world class graduates. Very few of our women and children will die in childbirth and immunization preventable diseases. Electricity will be available for the greater part of the day and the cost of running generators will no longer be there. The green option of solar and renewables will be exploited and there will be less pollution in Nigeria. The roads will be in good condition that travelling will be faster, cheaper and more enjoyable while railways for the long haul will also be available. Improved transport will reduce the cost of living and connections will be established between farmers in the hinterland and the urban centres where the food is most needed. The employment situation will improve. Now let us imagine that every citizen contributes resources (the vote) to maintain this manifestation of good governance. By selling your vote, you fail to make your own contribution available.

Let us also try to put a figure to every citizen’s share of the resources that would be used to maintain this right to an adequate standard of living for all. At current costs, for a family of six – husband, wife and four children, living an average life that is without opulence but satisfies the basic necessities, depending on their exact location in Nigeria, they will require about N1million a month to live the good life that protects their human dignity. For that family, it will mean an annual income of about N12million. Therefore, the political investors, from the local government councillors up to the presidency that comes to buy your votes should cumulatively be able to pay this sum of N12million annually. This can be progressively divided between them. Presidential and National Assembly candidates will be required to buy the vote for not less than N6million annually; Governorship and State legislature candidates will cough out N4million naira while the local government candidates the remaining N2million. These annual figures will be multiplied by the four year tenure and demanded upfront. The figures will also be prorated based on the number of family members or where an individual takes care of only himself.

The thesis is that we need not commoditise the vote; but where we chose to do that, we need to get a good bargain. Demand a fair price for your vote if you must sell it. Since selling the vote implies the loss of the power to demand accountability and empowering the political investor to loot ad-nauseam, then, let us get the right money for the vote. If every citizen and family insists on this pay off from the political investor, I am sure they will not be able to afford same. They will stop the dehumanization of Nigerians through the pittance they offer. In conclusion, do not sell you vote, but if you must sell it, shine your eyes and don’t come cheap.