By Oscar Chinedu George
The so-called concept of the stomach infrastructure has gradually crept into the Nigerian political lexicon, especially after the shock victory of PDP’s Ayodele Peter Fayose over the then-incumbent APC’s KayodeFayemi in the 2014 Ekiti state gubernatorial elections. He was accused of utilizing the “stomach infrastructure” to entice the electorate. This, to me, is highly misplaced.
The concept of the stomach infrastructure might be new in Nigeria’s political lexicon, but it’s not an entirely new phenomenon. It has always been there with us, dating back to the days of the pre-independence regional elections across the country. Politicians who appealed to the conscience of the masses via their stomach always had the upper hand against those who tried to use other measures. From then till now, almost all the elections that have been conducted in the country irrespective of the level have been won and lost courtesy of the stomach infrastructure.
The distribution of this rice gave rise to the term “stomach infrastructure”. Moshood K. O. Abiola of the Social Democratic Party was able to overcome his opponents and win the highly controversial and subsequently annulled 1992 presidential election by relying on this very stomach infrastructure. It is on record that he went around the country campaigning and distributing bags of rice and other edibles to cheering Nigerians who were held spellbound by his seemingly bottomless pockets that he was ever willing to dip into and generously dish out the goodies that flowed to the long-suffering and economically disadvantaged plebeians.
I can authoritatively assert that he was able to gain the love of Nigerians and massively garner their votes not because of the policies he promised to initiate and put in place when elected into office, but because of his large-heartedness which appealed to the masses. He knew exactly what the masses needed. He once wore the shoe and knew where it pinched. Today, however unfortunate it may be, the masses are still in need of the same thing. That is why I see nothing wrong in the investment into the stomach infrastructure.
Nutrition is a priority. It is indubitably sine qua non. It is the fundamental responsibility of the government of a country to ensure that the physiological and safety needs of its citizens are met. Food, as part of the physiological needs, is the most basic in man’s hierarchy of needs, according to psychologist Abraham Maslow. It is only a well-fed man that makes use of the physical and social infrastructures that are built for him. Before one is able to work, he must first of all eat. A hungry farmer cannot muster the strength to till the ground. A hungry father cannot send his wards and children to school – except when the education is free, which is not the case in most parts of Nigeria. Only a well-fed voter will be able to withstand the torture of queuing up under the scorching African sun for several hours at a polling unit in a bid to exercise his constitutional right. A hungry voter will either collapse or go home to eat.
All over the world, food is deemed more important than everything else. It is a precursor to good health. You’ll recall that when giving prescriptions, the doctor always tells you to “take this drug three times a day after food” or something similar. Food is good and so is investment into the stomach infrastructure. Anyone that thinks or says otherwise should go hungry for sometime and pass through what millions of poor Nigerians go through on a daily basis. The reality remains that many Nigerians are hungry with little or nothing to eat and any politician that looks after their nutritional wellbeing is an astute statesman, a humanitarian and a shrewd politician. I will doff my hat for him.
However, in the midst of it all, we should not be carried away and turn a blind eye to other things that really matter. Excessiveness of anything is bad. Investment in stomach infrastructure, however good, must be a short-term measure and not a long term policy. It should be in paripassu with strategic investments in physical and social infrastructures. Food only meets an immediate, basic and pressing need, while adequate physical and social infrastructures as well as stable institutions increase the possibility that those pressing needs will always be met in the future. Neither of these measures should be neglected, ridiculed, castigated or cast aside. One way or the other, they contribute to the sustained improved wellbeing and upliftment of the masses.
Oscar Chinedu via email@example.com.