Editors’ note: The writer, Buchi Obichie, draws a direct link between poverty and ‘bad votes’. She opines that Nigerian politicians are more interested in giving out foodstuffs so they can gain votes; than in implementing sound economic empowerment schemes that would benefit the country.
A bizarre but not unusual scenario played out at the Government Secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja on Thursday, February 28 as civil servants struggled to get bags of rice provided by the governor-elect of Lagos state, Babajide Sanwo-Olu – who was a candidate at the time.
Sanwo-Olu, clearly adept at the political shenanigans in Nigeria, was simply employing a method which even though crass in nature, has been used time and time again by politicians to solicit votes from the masses during election seasons.
And this method is not party-specific. It is used by politicians in various parties…whether the umbrella or broom party, or the others whose names people don’t really care to remember.
From APC rice and bread to PDP noodles; onions and few cubes of maggi wrapped in nylon bags or even garri nicely packaged with groundnuts and sugar (minus water), politicians are geniuses when it comes down to the art of ‘stomach infrastructure’, especially during campaigns.
So, while Sanwo-Olu would share rice, Ayo Fayose would have no problem distributing chickens…it’s standard practice.
To an observer from a developed country, such scenarios would most likely be labeled as “unsophisticated”. However, in Nigeria, it is simply the business of politicking being conducted!
But why do they do this?
In my opinion, Nigerian politicians are not really interested in teaching a man to fish or all the other norms of ‘economic empowerment’. They are only interested in employing whatever strategies that would aid them in achieving their goals i.e. getting into office, amassing wealth and becoming highly placed members of society.
And to that end, they would rather share foodstuffs than implement policies that would lift people out of poverty.
I think there is a ‘dark logic’ behind such strategies.
You see, a very wonderful thing happens when a person has the ability to meet his/her own needs and that of their loved ones. When you get to that point, a light-bulb comes on in your brain which brightens all your actions.
You begin to reason more clearly…to make informed decisions as regards not just your immediate surroundings, but even your country. You start asking hard questions and putting people to the fire – especially when they declare their intentions to seek political office. And you do this without remorse, because you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
In that situation, it would be extremely hard for you to be ‘induced’ to act contrary to your conscience.
But when you cannot meet your own needs – and I speak within the context of the Nigerian electorate during campaign seasons – you will most likely be easily ‘swayed’ by something even as little as condiments.
In such instance, you’re not thinking about the prevalent realities in the country. You’re not thinking about poor infrastructure, the failing economy or all the other symptoms of bad governance. You’re not even thinking of the kind of country you want to bequeath to your children and grand-children.
You’re only thinking about your stomach…about how hungry you are at the moment and the fact that this short-term problem can be solved by this politician who is simply asking to get your vote for a loaf of bread.
He may not say that to you outrightly. He may coat his true intentions with sugary grammar about how he is concerned about your well being – much more than the other man (his rival). But the end point is the same – he is here to ‘buy’ your votes. And he can only ‘buy’ your votes because of your current economic - and by extension, mental - situation!
Have you ever wondered why a man like Professor Yemi Osinbajo would lose his polling unit and his boss, President Muhammadu Buhari would win his? Two men on the same ticket, but with different outcomes at their respective polling stations.
To me, the answer is as clear as night and day.
Osinbajo’s polling unit was located in Victoria Garden City, Lekki…a highbrow area of the Lagos metropolis. The people who reside there are mostly middle class and super rich. They’re not the sort of people who queue up for APC rice or PDP noodles…they can feed themselves!
Buhari’s unit, however - asides the fact that ‘tribal politics’ is deeply entrenched in the North - is made up a high population of people below the poverty line; and I say this with no iota of disrespect whatsoever.
So when these two different groups of voters come in contact with politicians offering sweet words and maybe provisions in exchange for their votes, how do you think they’ll respond? I’m sure you’ve already worked out the answer in your head.
(Please note that I am not inferring that either Osinbajo or Buhari offered items for votes – even though some would say the TraderMoni scheme was really a money-for-votes programme. I am simply speaking hypothetically!)
See, a man who can provide for himself is a man who can think objectively…and a man who can think objectively, is a ‘nightmare’ to the average Nigerian politician – before he gets into office and when he’s there!
On the other hand, a man who is impoverished is a man who reasons on the basis of ‘immediacy’ i.e. the ‘here and now’…one whose vote (and loyalty) can be bought by the highest bidder. And this man can easily be forgotten when the politician is in office!
After Sanwo-Olu distributed his rice, his main opponent, the PDP’s Jimi Agbaje, berated him. Sanwo-Olu didn’t get angry. He simply gave a standard response which was right out of the playbook of hard-core Nigerian politicians.
He said in part: “How politically naïve he is. Why will a governorship candidate not consider the civil servants who will help to execute all government policies, programmes and agenda as major stakeholders during his campaign? We cannot but accede to the fact that the PDP candidate is truly a learner.”
And a learner, Agbaje was!
Because only a political learner would not have known that ‘stomach infrastructure’ is the key to unlocking the store-room to many a vote!
Forget all that talk about civil servants and government policies blah blah…in my opinion, all that was just sugary coating masking the hidden message!
At the end of the day, what all this tells us is that our country is in serious trouble.
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In 2019, the World Poverty Clock announced that Nigeria had become the poverty capital of the world. There are more impoverished Nigerians than economically vibrant ones. Therefore, there are more people who can be ‘bought’ than those who can’t.
This situation is good for politicians but bad for the country…and since this is a geographical entity where politics is played on the basis of individual gain rather than servitude and selflessness, I dare say that real change is probably not in the immediate future.
Where do we go from here?
This opinion piece was written by Buchi Obichie.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of Legit.ng.
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