Oil Corrupts Elections: The Political Economy of Vote-Buying in Nigeria

by Hakeem Onapajo, Suzanne Francis, and Ufo Okeke-Uzodike


The extant perspectives on vote-buying have produced three central arguments around its causes, which are the factors of poverty, the electoral/voting system, and the nature of politics in the state. Going beyond these perspectives, this study presents the argument that vote-buying can also be explained by considering the nature of the political economy of a state, especially when the state is oil-dependent. The Nigerian case study demonstrates this argument. We employ the “oil-impedes-democracy” framework, which is a strand of the resource curse theory, to argue that the incidence of vote-buying in Nigeria’s contemporary elections is prevalent because of the oil wealth associated with politics and elections in the state. This is because abundant oil wealth intensifies elite competition, which explains the use of all strategies to win elections including vote-buying. This is also facilitated by the fact that the political elite, especially the incumbent, have adequate access to oil wealth and spend it to “buy” elections and hold on power. Voters, on their part, also prefer to sell their votes during elections to have a share of the “national cake” given their perception of the wealth associated with politics in Nigeria and the poor service delivery by politicians after assuming state offices.

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Hakeem Onapajo is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the School of Social Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Suzanne Francis is Senior Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Ufo Okeke-Uzodike is Professor, International and Public Affairs Cluster, School of Social Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg Campus.