By Loretta Oduware Ogboro-Okor
In April 2021, I wrote a commentary on the “Nigerian Rice” and how it is a key player on the political horizon of our Nation. I explained how it is a game changer, vote inducer and civic right derailer with special powers to sway elections in our country, in favour of the highest rice sharer. Many persons sent me rejoinders…telling me how certain hospital management executives are not hungry for rice and yet they wallow in corruption the most. Others asked me why some Surgeons who can already afford a decent lifestyle operate on patients that do not require surgery. Yet some more pointed out how many already rich men and women who become Local Government Chairpersons embezzle monies that could shame the budgets of other countries.
How about several State Governors who do not understand that paying the salaries of the workers in their States is more important than amassing wealth for their generations yet unborn who may likely wage world war four over their inheritance? Were these Governors hungry for rice too? Celey Okogun, PhD, wrote recently in his “We the People Series” how a well-known Nigerian once complained that those whom he had paid their children’s school fees were among those with the lowest threshold to be lured away. They were quick responders to the rice and other financial inducements distributed by his opponents during the money-sharing-rice-disbursing event otherwise called elections in Nigeria, for which he contested. His central message, like those of some of the respondents to my initial article is that he does not believe the reason people sell their votes is Poverty!
On the surface, one could very well agree with his line of discuss. However, I beg to differ. I say yes, it is Poverty that propels a person to sell their vote which is the greatest tool of societal development!
It is the same Poverty that makes a person with ten houses already, to go after an eleventh house at the expense of the enhancement of other persons and at the cost of our commonwealth. (Please note, that I am not saying do not build your ten houses or more if you have made your money through legal and hardworking means and that is your choice way of spending your honest toil yields). It is Poverty, that will make a Federal Minister who already lacks nothing, divert the monies meant for national projects in his Ministry, to his personal account. It is Poverty that will make a boarding house Principal, to sabotage a solar power project that can supply steady electricity so that he or she keeps buying diesel at an inflated price not minding that the epileptic power supply is affecting the learning of the Nigerian leaders of tomorrow.
“The Nigerian Rice” is a metaphor for any form of inducement at all levels in our country. So, for those who called my mobile to tell me how the corrupt Independent National Electoral Commission official did not need rice, to create “kaleidoscope-isomers” of original election results, read in-between the lines. Read in between my lines and see how this Poverty which is the foundation of the bane of Nigeria’s problem, is not “Physical Poverty”. No, it is a special kind of Poverty. It is one I term “Poverty of the Mind and Soul”.
This is a Poverty type that wreaks havoc in double proportions. It is an exceedingly difficult kind of Poverty to cure. Suffice it to say, it is a malignant type of Poverty. One that is different from the benign “Physical Poverty”. In my book, titled My Father’s Daughter, I explained how incredibly early in life, my father taught me about these different types of Poverty. He taught me how to guard my Mind and Soul from becoming infected while self-guiding myself to paths that evade societal stereotypes which promotes “Poverty of the Mind and Soul”. He always said to me “Physical Poverty is easy to correct my daughter. However, Poverty of the Mind and Soul is something that mortgages men and women for eternity. It prevents their growth, limits the use of their talents, and stunts the actualisation of their true potential for the upliftment of humanity”. To truly actualise your calling in life, you must levitate above “Poverty of the Mind and Soul”. My Father taught me the basic tenets of delayed gratification and the joy of taking pride in the works of our hands.
“Poverty of the Mind and Soul” is the reason why an unemployed child will come home with a brand-new Lexus Jeep and build a mansion in three months to the shouts of praise and thanksgiving to God from his parents. These shouts are then chorused by his community members with the ancestors as backup singers. “Poverty of the Mind and Soul” is the reason why several mothers will send their female daughters on exile to prostitute in foreign lands while the fathers, shamelessly await the dividends of the ungainful employment monthly. The same “Poverty of the Mind and Soul” is why our many young men and women do not understand that they can become anything they set their hearts to be and work diligently at making a living for themselves without having to sojourn through the deserts or drown in the Mediterranean.
It is this same “Poverty of the Mind and Soul” that will make some Ministers of God and keepers of religion turn the congregation to their Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) and cash cows, manifesting questionable miracles and healing styles at the expense of the poor in spirit. Our society is the vortex of the “Poverty of the Mind and Soul”. It is where we create catalyst stereotypes. These catalyst stereotypes are the societally imposed standards which persons are pushed to fulfil. Majority of us struggle to fulfil these pseudo-standards that lack substance so that we can feel a euphoria that “we belong” in the whirlpool of our self-inflicted aliment of the mind and soul just to please ourselves without consideration for our collective patrimony.
“Poverty of the Mind and Soul”, is sadly, an easy one to induce, despite the difficulty of curing it. People who have a hollow filled with silica for where their hearts used to be, exploit “Physical Poverty” strategically using it as the remote control to catalyse “Poverty of the mind and Soul”. Following which they then perpetuate it by feeding it with all manner of inducements metaphorically represented by the Nigerian Rice phenomenon. Like every other malignant tumour, this kind of poverty, requires radical resection, powerful chemotherapy, and maximum dose radiotherapy to manage it. Liken the resection to each Nigerian, cutting out the lack of value for human life and the worship of all things superficial which we engage in.
The chemotherapy is an infusion of an all-new mindset that erodes immediate gratification and flows into the crevices of our minds to cause a change in paradigm that resets our minds to be true to ourselves, remain tenacious, work hard, and be dedicated to duty. The radiotherapy of course will be a sledgehammer dose of us re-learning how to celebrate excellence and propagate measures that enables us to interrogate leadership while holding it accountable right from our family unit to the national level. As with all malignancies, treatment works best when caught early. The reason we must catch them young – those who will be the liberators of our Nation from this terrible form of poverty must be groomed in airtight family units filled with self-esteem and steaming with hearts, minds, and souls devoid of poverty. This is where you and I have a lot of work to do as mentors of our youths and keepers of the future of us.
For Nigeria to evolve, each of us must resolve to take us back to those days of old. Those days we now read about how there was a Nigeria where “Physically Poor” persons had dignity in labour. Where items for sale were left outside, people took what they required and left the money beside it. Our society valued “a good name more than riches” and the people stated facts alongside interrogating issues without the fear of being seen as dissidents. Until we employ the measures above, we will remain poor not because of material lack, but rather, because of the void in our minds and souls, selling not just our votes but the very essence of our Nationhood.
Loretta Oduware Ogboro-Okor is the Author of the Book My Father’s Daughter