By Bamidele Ademola-Olateju
There is a moral paradox at the heart of our food-for-vote democratic process. There is something very wrong in our value system when thieves and suspected drug barons like Buruji Kashamu turn politicians after raising billions of Naira from drug running, illegal arms deal, outright theft from the public till, inflated contracts and all kinds of questionable sources and then spend their loot and ill-gotten wealth on winning elections. These bad monies are laundered into the system to convince us to trust them with the responsibility of governing us. Competition for votes from the struggling masses, who are still beset by bread and butter issues, compel our politicians to lie and abandon issue and idea-based politics to giving RICETIES. Riceties is the distribution of common staple foods, chiefly rice, to the poor in exchange for votes. The distribution is done wearing the cloak of deception such that the politician is presumed to be nice, caring and generous.
The Ekiti example has shown how desperate politicians can get and how we aid them in lying to us. It is a veritable example of how we employ our mouths and stomachs in mortgaging our future and the future of our children. Lying inevitably undermines trust no matter how long it takes to uncover the truth. After the Ekiti elections, can anyone truly blame the politicians for misappropriating public funds and using their in dispensing patronages instead of investing in critical infrastructure?
No! Fayemi became a political failure who lost in a landslide because he did right for his people. He lost for trying to build an enduring legacy instead of pandering and catering to our basest instincts. Fayemi actually won! Only that his winning will be affirmed in the future. Nigerians have every cause to worry about the increasing political dishonesty and monetization of campaigns. Were these monies spent for free? No! The sponsors who spend on behalf of these politicians are not Salvation Army. They expect to reap big when their candidates win. Given the rate at which we accept rice and printed shirts; we are destined to trail behind in development. There is no short cut on a Palm tree, we cannot eat our cake and have it. We will continue to Milan our fate and trail less endowed nations when all we care about is now, when all we care about is the tarring of our stomachs instead of roads and the infrastructure of our palate and intestines instead of critical infrastructure. Given our desire for instant gratification, there is no incentive for an aspiring local government chairman, governor or president to tackle the urgent problems afflicting our communities, our states, and the nation.
As the Ekiti election proved, today’s stomach-driven campaigns are fixated on the logistical effectiveness of rice distribution to the exclusion of actual manifestoes and developmental issues affecting the electorate. Issues and development have become a secondary concern where possible or even a rarity. Riceties has become the preferred brand of deception favoured by politicians. With an amoral middle class showing total indifference and complete apathy, politicians advance misleading versions of themselves to the masses. No one checks them because the educated class is totally aloof and uninvolved. Voters are in a quandary: they want to believe what they are seeing, what they are hearing, and accept what is being shared. Everybody wants to “chop” their own and that is why we are where we are and who we are.
We are generally a bad people; no one should be surprised our society throws up thieves, murderers and fraudsters to lead us. These people are raised among us and are a reflection of us. Politicians’ predilections and prevarications have some connection, however sketchy, to the truth and to the society they are seeking to represent. Will a Fayose have the guts to run for the position of a city clerk in the United States? Of course not! A Fayose would have been cooling his heels in some medium security prison long ago! In four years, at the end of Fayose’s tenure, I sincerely hope no one should accuse him of non-performance. He has a blank cheque to embark on no-fault governance and I expect his tenure to be licentious. No one should fault him please because Ekiti people elected him with their eyes open. He presented nothing and was elected over nothing; it is their choice let them live with it. We thank them for letting Nigerians learn a new principle with Fayose’s election. That is; a person can be deceptive without saying a word or anything false. In Ekiti, we saw concrete achievements presented as politically indefensible, elitist and a total misplacement of priorities. Dr. Fayemi’s well-intentioned infrastructure heavy tenure was effectively taken out of its original context and depicted as a waste of resources.
To be fair, Mr. Fayose is the kind of politician we deserve. He knew what his people wanted and he packaged it for them. To us on the outside, it is deception. To them it is realpolitik. The governor-elect deserves some credit, he has defeated two incumbents, in a state that is easily the most educated in the nation and whose elite are unbelievably aloof to the electoral process. I admit, the man – Fayose – is gifted at misrepresenting himself to his advantage. In his first coming, he contributed nothing to making Ekiti better and there are no indications his second incarnation would be better. But who cares? He is today the master and go-to guy at manipulating people’s beliefs, inducing them to accept false claims, patently false appearances and laughable inducements in exchange for their votes.
From a moral standpoint, deception is wrong because it involves embezzlement of trust. Deception in the first instant occurs because a certain level of trust exists between the parties. Politicians seek votes by pandering to voters, making them feel they are accessible and ordinary like them, thus gaining their trust. It is when the trust begins to take root that deception starts. Deception does not occur unless one party trusts the other. After deception comes exploitation of trust, using the electorate for their own ends. In every area of human interactions and endeavour, betrayal destroys trust in relationships essential to human institutions – family, business, education, and representative government. That is why the health of a democracy and its continued existence depends on the ability of its leaders to garner popular support for their policies. Support requires widespread trust in those leaders. Indeed, the trust of constituents is one of a political leader’s most valuable assets. Lying to voters squanders that trust and diminishes his or her capacity to lead and or govern.
Bamidele Ademola-Olateju is on Twitter @olufunmilayo