The Politics of Rice and Beans by Oladimeji Abiola
I often tried to avoid writing about this, but as it is now, I have to address it. I have observed thus far electoral campaigns in both Osun and Ekiti States with non-chalance until yesterday, when I was tagged in a Facebook picture of two images side by side.
They both have something in common: A young man in Ekiti who appears to be an undergraduate student poses with a customised bag of rice, apparently from Ayo Fayose’s campaign group. Mr. Ayo Fayose is the PDP governorship candidate for Ekiti state.
The other image is that of a sachet-water- a gift from Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola. He is the incumbent and aspiring second-term candidate for the same seat in a different state. He is from the leading opposition party in Nigeria, namely APC.
It is justifiable and debateable to ask if it is bad politic for politicians to dole out gifts during election campaigns. I do not intend to answer this question, at least not for now. By the way, I got a branded pen from a political party in Bayreuth days before elections into the city council.
In the same vein, something happened yesterday. Chief Arisekola, a business mogul from the ancient city of Ibadan, a very influential personality and heavy-weight in the politics of Oyo state, passed away. Accolades and tributes have not ceased to come-in, commending the memory of the deceased. Oyo State Government declared days o mourning in honour of the late philanthropist. Many see him in this good light.
A friend broke the news to me. We discussed this personality in a different light. We talked about Chief Arisekola`s open support for the regime of late tyrant General Sani Abacha, the late dictator whose hobby included flagrant abuse of human rights, corruption and assassination of dissidents. There are even speculations that Chief Arisekola is one of those who supported the arrest of the late Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (MKO), the winner of the freest and fairest election in the history of Nigeria and eventual incarceration.
We dwelled more on these aspects of Chief Arisekola. It must be said that Chief Arisekola only fed the masses in Ibadan from the crumbs of his own part of the national cake, that is illegal profits from the wealth of the country. This man means different things to different people. Chief Arisekola is at best a politically controversial personality with too many negative benefits for the country. It cannot be denied that he fed fat on the people’s wealth. At least that much is true about this controversial person. At large, he is a no-good for Nigeria and her politics.
Chief Arisekola’s politics is the politics of rice and beans; a politics of no purpose, as is the case in electoral campaigns in the two states mentioned earlier. Generally speaking, this is the sum-total of Nigeria’s politics at its best.
The difference between this patented Nigerian style of politics and the pen-gift I got in Bayreuth is good governance. Politicians like Mr. Fayose are only interested in winning- by crook means or more-crook! They only come out at the next election to share more rice, more beans, and more lies! In contrast, the electoral promises of political parties in Bayreuth are easily noticeable in the society.
Juxtaposing the two brands of politics, it seems doing election campaigns with gifts is part of modern politics. This is but only modern so long the gifts shared are not directly equated to the only dividends of office accruable to the masses!
Ibadan has another example of this brand of shameful politics. The late Lamidi Adedib, popularly called the strong man of Ibadan-politics. Chief Adedibu did not only feed the masses in Ibadan, he terrorised anybody he felt deserved punishment.
Some analysts argued that this man became politically eminent because he was generous. He shared political booties immediately with followers! Chief Adedibu was also very controversial. He was to some a hero, to others the worst political example any country could throw up. Nigeria seem to have them in abundance.
Bertold Brecht was definitely right when he said first comes a full stomach, then comes ethics. We can hardly blame the masses for patronising controversial leaders in the society. They are not always much-concerned about probing the source of the wealth of such leaders. Many ignore too quickly the implication of these soft-bribes from politicians.
There is no shying away from the fact that sharing bags of rice and beans etc cost money. Same goes for other less expensive gifts. Pens or confectionaries are affordable and reasonable gifts. Dolling out gifts during election campaigns is not a bad idea, the problem is rather about what is appropriate.
Supplying foodstuffs as electoral gifts is complicated and requires heavy spending. This is bad for the Nigerian masses and politics at large. Nigerian politicians are such that want to get back *invested-money* once they win election. They never cared anyway. Such gifts only give them another bad-good reason to suck the treasury drier than they would have if they shared no gifts to woe the electorates!
Unfortunately, the Nigerian society is simply extremely materialistic to understand this truth. We celebrate just anybody, be it dictators, terrorists or unscrupulous elements in as much as they dole out gifts and favours in abundance!
That agelong saying warning that man shall not live by bread alone is very instructive and cannot be more relevant than now in and for the Nigerian context. We can only wish and hope Nigerians and their politicians will during elections look beyond their stomach in the interest of the country.