In an average democratic clime or semblance of it, the election year is always a very interesting year. After the government might have gone to sleep six months after the previous election is won and the juicy offices and portfolio are shared, all parties are usually united in corruption, shaking hands and sharing the commonwealth of the people without rancour, leaving just the few that feeds on the leftover of their dogs to toggle on reactionary differences that don’t really exist within their caucus in the media. Then they suddenly kick back to life with politicking when the election season arrives, becoming proactive and seemingly caring, springing up buoyant citizen driven ideas to impress the unthinking literate and illiterate citizens with ideas that involves cash movement and physical fund distribution in a somewhat drastic move to systematically raise funds for the coming election campaigns without making it obvious that the campaign funds is the actually target of the whole “dramacadabra”!
In underdeveloped countries (like Nigeria) practicing democracy, a greater percentage of the citizens are always below the poverty belt called “impoverished”, they are intentionally disenfranchised by the ruling minuscule decimal and properly monitored and maintained in an abject state of poverty in preparation for the next election cycle so that a minute fraction of their stolen wealth can be re-presented to them again as the dividend of their democracy, and used as an incentive to force their support for another round of onslaught on public resources for personal gain and plush living while the impoverished are encouraged to endure a little longer. Their banners fly with the promises of change but nothing changes, the political class only cross-carpet to old or fresh grounds that guarantees them access to the rudder that turns the access to the treasury their way, only the name of the platform they use gets to change, not the life of the people and definitely not the designed for only rubbing the palms of the electorate with a few silver coin along their way to the gold port, a design I will refer to as the “Silver Cycle” for this essay.
The Nigerian silver cycle is continually changing and the politicians are coming up with innovative ways to keep up without losing ground. In recent past, the few silver coins budgeted for the cycle is usually apportioned into two bags with a grand plan to rig elections and claim the gold port again. The strategy was usually a deposit of empty promises, fear and the end result is usually a few casualties in the political circle and an unimaginable number of casualties among the populace. One half of the portion is given to the people that control the markets, traders and locals (depending on the target area) with promises of more, and the other half is handed over to hired muscles which in the case of Nigeria is usually the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and cult/youth movements agitating for one useless thing or the other. The portion that goes to the latter groups is usually cushioned with weapons to guarantee desired result. The strategy is simple, the votes of the locals who racks up the majority is bought with both persuasion, promises, gifts and other affordable and the votes of the seemingly sophisticated that don’t fall into the affordable is discouraged with violence. The votes are protected in areas under the undeniable control of the politicians while the out of favour territories are served with doses of terror and ballots boxes snatching on the days of election; only the points required in the political mathematics are left to count. This approach worked for seasons unending until it became obvious to those that are dying for the cause of the ruling elites that they are just pawns in the political equation, patronage reduced and the budget for violence got sliced further into two with one half of it going into marshaling social media brigades, and the other is retained for foot soldiers that are yet unafraid of death.
As the 4th republic continues to thrive since 1999, the silver cycle continued to morph as more people become democracy literate even in their marginalized conundrum. The impoverished majority that are being controlled by proxy through the local leaders are gradually realizing their vote is worth a penny at least, and are gradually interested in getting the penny directly as against feeding on empty promises, a situation that has graduated into direct vote buying from the voters by politicians and the local political representatives acting as agents between in the silver cycle. This change in the model has challenged the politicians with a new situation, and since they are not interested in developing the country they milk, and also need to keep the people impoverish to maintain control, they needed to innovate to ensure that they stay in charge, and they seem to have responded effectively, coming up with a newer model that ensure that the new demand is indeed for the purpose they designed.
All the politicians had to do before now was find a way to legally and illegally steal enough money from the purse of the nation to fund the silver cycle in the electoral year, but now they also have to ensure that funds get to the targeted voters whose votes are available for sale as against just depending on the agents that were mere merchants of promises, a decoy the voting populace have out-learned. To achieve this new target, the political mathematicians, strategists or scientists (depending on the perspectives) came up with a multifaceted approach that feeds on the impoverished status of the voters who are now conscious that their votes are actually valuable even though they are yet to realise the true value of it and the power they wield in it.
To keep the poverty stricken and impoverished electorate under required control, a number of the party faithful are usually drafted into the civil services directly or through well-crafted unguarded social-welfare programmes to service the block and as required, salaries are neither improved nor paid, all that is ensured is that those in the loop are left with enough funds for survival, creating shortage of funds and abridged purchasing power for the employed, resulting in shortage of finance in the informal sector which automatically affected trade, guaranteeing continuous poverty and a whole new level of dependence as required to maintain the cycle. The government keeps up appearances with physical projects like roads and social/government facilities construction that are of no direct financial value to the people, and the projects are kept perpetually under construction to create an air of “We Are Working”, increasing the hardship of the people with expectations while the political class profits from it. With such atmosphere in place, every semblance of money becomes valuable and attractive to the populace and as elections approaches, the government begins to unveil initiatives that makes it appear even caring. Suddenly, the minimum wage is announced to be under review, there is suddenly enough money to pay a full salary in those States that have been paying half or nothing for more than a year like Osun and Ekiti State that owes 10 months’ salary arrears or more. They suddenly declare a bonus, creating a short-lived state of ease, an illusion makes the down trodden grope at anything in sight. Irrelevant projects get completed with fanfares and pictures for election posters and campaign materials are prepared. Socio-economics projects get rolled out and one of such is the #TraderMoni Project that was just launched by the Federal Government of Nigeria in preparation for the 2019 election.
The #TraderMoni Project is presented as an initiative for providing soft loans valued at “Ten Thousand Naira” (N10000) to traders without any collateral or interest, with the allowance to pay back the amount within months, but from all indicators marked out by a typical Nigerian election year, it is evidently a doubled edged sword for raising illegal funds legally for the coming election in 2019, and a vote buying mechanism for the same. Although it is true that similar initiatives has been deployed in other developing countries of the world with appreciable success recorded, those countries and the success recorded are the product of ingenuity, not because the initiative was deployed as a mechanism for direct and indirect vote buying as obtainable in the Nigerian experiment.
The growing trend of vote buying is actually not a bad thing in an underdeveloped country with a growing democracy like Nigeria (my opinion), it is a sign that more people are gradually realising the power of their vote even if it is totally sad that the premium they place on it is nothing to breathe for compared to its true worth, it is for me a step in the right direction, and a pain in the ass of the buyer that needs to buy from more instead of the usual practise of settling a few in bulk with guaranteed peace of votes being returned in favour. Perhaps for the Generalissimo of “stomach infrastructure” in Nigeria, Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State, vote buying is nothing to be ashamed of, but for the Presidency whose reign has always been cloaked with an armour of integrity (not APC as a party), it will be a shameful tactic to employ, hence a grand design called #TraderMoni, targeted at the “Swing States” like Lagos, Kano and Rivers as well as others with a somewhat diverse population, and a major determinant of elections outcomes, or a quick fix tool for driving immediate elections as seen in Osun State. The interesting thing about this loan is that is not routed through a normal commercial bank but the Bank of Industry which is inaccessible to the targets, and the only legal identification required for accessing the loan is the voters card (as seen on the application form), so if you can’t vote, you can’t access a supposed traders oriented government initiative. What an initiative!?
It might appear that the amount attached to this design is meagre ($28), but in a country where the average human lives on less than a $1 per day, it is a whole month of sustenance for the marginalized, and a real life capital for the trader whose whole business value at less than half of the amount on a daily. The total trade value of the merchandise of an average trader in a regular Nigerian market (especially the ones in the open without stores) is less than ten thousand naira. The average trader selling water, soda, yoghurt or any other thing you can imagine in the market operates with a capital that is less than half of that amount. A huge percentage of traders don’t usually don’t even own/have capitals, they majorly register with a distributor, pick up products on credit and return with the sales of the day to get a portion of the profit for sustenance and repeat the cycle every day. For these people, a chance to own a capital brings a fresh breath to their lives and $28 or N10000 is a whole lot of money for them.
The truth. It is not the lack of access to loan that has crippled them for so long, in fact, a lot of this traders have had access to loans from micro finance organizations like LAPO for bigger amounts with micro interest in the past, most of them even saved on a daily (Ajo/Esusu) but in the end, they spend the loans or savings on servicing other immediate needs like rent, school fees or even health emergency with the hope to keep the cycle alive somehow. #TraderMoni will be swimming in a similar ocean like every other loan they’ve had access to in the past because access to loan is not the major problem, it is the system of government. The government is well aware, involved and regulates the existing micro finance programmes and schemes not because the government is interested in easing the burden of the artisans and traders makes the major voters block via loans provision but rather, its intention is to create a palliative that will guarantee commitment to it at the polls. If government indeed is interested in alleviating these traders from poverty with N10000 with a target of two million benefactors before December, then it should be a grant. A budget of twenty billion naira (N20,000,000,000) for two million people doesn’t even scratch the surface of the one hundred and fifty billion naira (N150,000,000,000) budgeted for managing the luxury lifestyle of one hundred and nine (109) senators to say the least.
Traders need support but they don’t need #TraderMoni to provide them with the capital required. It is the design of the government that has kept them impoverished, inhibiting their growth that needs to change. The trouble of every average citizen (traders in focus) in all sphere is the dysfunctional system of government that burdens them with the most basic function and responsibility of government. If the average trader doesn’t need to pay twice the value on transportation between his home and business location, get arrested by policemen for moving around late after spending a great part of his day in traffic due to bad roads, bribe his way out of the police net for not committing any crime, and still need buy fuel to power his own power generator at home, he will be able to save more, but because the system is left dysfunctional, he is responsible even for his own healthcare, utilities, security and he’s taxed at every point she buys or sell a thing. #TraderMoni is only a disguise by the Nigerian government of self-proclaimed “Integrity” to:
- Legally move cash out from the purse of the government to finance election campaigns
- Use the fund to control the grassroots electorate through integrated vote buying from traders and artisans
- Implement a “Swing States” targeted vote buying/stomach infrastructure project.
I might be right or wrong with submission but I am sure it’s all a tool for keeping the captives captured. I just read online that the Kano State Government has introduced a similar scheme to empower trader, it is the same template but the value in Kano is N20000 ($56). The #TraderMoni train also made it to Osun State a few nights before the eve of the elections, and my friend Dayo Israel that is contesting to represent his Lagos Mainland constituency in the Legislative House caught the bug as well, leaving no wonder on why it is all happening minutes to the elections. Maybe I am misinterpreting the current situation of things and the good effort of the government and politicians seeking electoral votes, maybe not. One thing I am sure of is that if the last administration can capitalize on an internal war on terror to steal and fund election campaigns, and the one before the same, I am convinced that this government of “Integrity” is only using #TraderMoni and other mushroom initiatives to fund the Silver Cycle.
I am Abidemi Babaolowo Oderinlo