Vote-selling behaviour and democratic dissatisfaction in Nigeria

Is democracy really for sale?
Chatham House briefing ISBN: 978 1 78413 534 8 DOI: 10.55317/9781784135348
People place folded ballot papers in boxes on the ground.

Raj Navanit Patel

Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Philosophy, Politics and Economics, University of Pennsylvania

Vote-trading has become a widespread practice in Nigeria, where democracy has struggled to be fully consolidated due to the country’s complex political landscape and its entrenched corrupt political class. Where acute socio-economic hardship persists, vote-selling traps citizens in self-sabotaging, clientelist relationships with political leaders.

Data gathered in 2018, in the second household survey conducted by the Chatham House Africa Programme’s Social Norms and Accountable Governance (SNAG) project, shows that three-quarters of people believe it is broadly unacceptable for anyone to exchange their vote for money or a gift. At the same time, they assume that at least half of people in their community would be likely to sell their vote. Voters are evidently conflicted on the issue. The SNAG research underlines that vote-selling is mostly driven by an individual’s own material circumstances, and highlights the dissatisfaction of Nigerians with how their democracy is not working.

The briefing analyses how social beliefs and expectations have contributed to the establishment of an incentive structure where individual voters seek to maximize a short-term material advantage at election time. It offers suggestions for effective interventions to increase voter awareness of the negative long-term effects of vote-trading and galvanize collective action against the practice.