By CHIOMA GABRIEL
Stomach infrastructure, a new vocabulary quietly crept into our political dictionary in this dispensation.
The vocabulary crept into Nigeria’s political lexicon after the Ekiti governorship election when voters were given gifts of bags of rice and other foodstuffs to vote in certain directions. Distributing foodstuff during campaigns in Nigeria did not start with the Ekiti election. It has been happening in many parts of the country but it was heightened during the Ekiti election.
Politicians have started handing over to Nigerians, the dividends of democracy in cash. The naira is becoming worthless and ordinary citizens are parading dollar notes, courtesy of politicians.
Nigeria appears to be sliding down to the dark days in roller skates. Men are beginning to live by appetite alone and nowadays, men celebrate being given fish to eat, as against being taught how to fish. Advocates of stomach infrastructure believe that government cannot be investing heavily on infrastructure when the stomach is empty. To them, both development and stomach upgrade could be done side by side.
After losing to Fayose with a wide margin in the last Ekiti gubernatorial election, the All Progressives Congress candidate and former Ekiti state governor, Kayode Fayemi accused Fayose of dwelling mostly on stomach infrastructure instead of focusing on infrastructural development and other people-oriented- programmes.
Political parties usually mobilize their members to sell their standard-bearers to the electorates and it is not an easy task to organize several meetings or mobilize people to attend their rallies/campaigns. The easiest way to gather these crowds for these events is through stomach infrastructure. Use what you have to get what you want appears to be the cache.
Hence during religious festivals and campaigns, politicians personally go about the city distributing bags of rice, chicken and physical cash.
During and after the last gubernatorial election in Ekiti state, the current governor, Ayodele Fayose personally distributed goodies to Ekiti people. Fayemi did same too.
Fayose reportedly distributed about 80,000 chickens, 100,000 bags of rice and cash gifts to the people of Ekiti State under the stomach infrastructure progamme of his administration for the last Christmas celebration.
The national leader of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Tinubu also personally distributed stomach infrastructure to Lagos residents during the yuletide.
After Asiwaju Tinubu distributed his own funded by his NGO, it was perceived to have political undertones and the then PDP Secretary in Ekiti state, Dr Tope Aluko accused him of copying Fayose’s stomach infrastructure initiative. According to Aluko,
“Tinubu distributed 2,000 bags of rice, vegetable oil, sugar and little cash to people from various parts of Lagos State. They abused us for providing immediate succour for our people. They described stomach infrastructure as an insult to Ekiti people. They said it does not add value to the people; that it diminishes their self-esteem, self-worth and that it denigrates what politics ought to be about. “However, their party leader in Lagos has adopted the same concept of stomach infrastructure by personally sharing food items to people. After condemning the concept, isn’t it rather too late that the APC people are just realising that poverty should be addressed by providing immediate succour?
“Poverty is poverty; it knows no religion and it has no tribal mark; and it affects everyone.”
Dr Aluko further said that the Fayose-led government would never shy away from the people’s welfare.
“Fayose will continue to run peoples government. He will continue to identify with the masses by putting food on their tables. Most importantly, Fayose will provide gainful employment for the youths and assist traders with soft loans so that they can feed themselves,”he said.
Many serving political office holders would reveal that every day of the week, from dawn to dusk, their political supporters, constituents and allies besiege their homes and offices for one support or the other. These people are not meeting their political representatives to advocate for bills to be passed on their communities need, but for their own personal needs. They demand for payment of school fees of their children, funds to help them pay their house rent, support towards the new bride they are about to take, assistance towards the funerals they need to organize and other mundane and personal requests.
In the South-West, two Nigerian politicians, both deceased, used the weapon of feeding their loyalists to win votes. Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu and Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki perfected this manner of politicking.
Adedibu was prominent in Oyo state and was popularly called the strong man of Ibadan politics and promoter of ‘Amala’ politics.
Saraki was the strongman of Kwara politics and these were kingmakers. They played key roles in the emergency of governors and other political office holders in their states of Oyo and Kwara respectively. By providing food for the hungry, they were able to buy their loyalty and use their influence to win elections for their proteges.
But not many understood that these politicians were doing so at the expense of physical infrastructure like the schools, hospitals, roads, electricity, water and other dividends of democracy.
Nigerian politicians who are unwilling to share money openly or secretly to buy support are regarded as non starters and rookies in politics.
For their supporters, making such demands is their own way of securing dividends of democracy. The millions of Naira these political office holders get as salaries and allowances are known to all. These constituents think that if they do not get their share from the contestants during the electioneering period, they may never see their representatives again until the next election. Unfortunately, this phenomenon poses a grave danger to the survival of Nigerian democracy.
Yet, the electorate would turn around to complain about roads in bad conditions after years of continuous democracy, the problems of power, unemployment and security, among others.
The Nigerian voter is still asking to be given fish to eat instead of being taught how to fish.
However, stomach infrastructure does not give automatic electoral victory at elections.
Recently, President Goodluck Jonathan claimed his administration has succeeded in cutting the widespread poverty in the country by at least 50 per cent, adding that his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, fully subscribes to the principle of “stomach infrastructure”.
He said the PDP believes in stomach infrastructure because the party must ensure that there was food security and job creation in the country.
The president said that any leader who claimed not to believe in stomach infrastructure was not ready to lead, as “you cannot lead hungry people.”
Democracy during campaigns appears to be measured through what is distributed to the citizenry by politicians. Designer bags of rice bearing the insignia of politicians have flooded the communities. Welfare and provision of basic amenities such as good roads, electricity, water as well as employment generation, security of lives and property have taken the back seats , yet, these are the issues the citizenry complain the most about. So much money has gone round during the campaigns to today’s election. From traditional rulers to the common man, money sharing became the game. It was dollar reign in many areas.
Nigerians, like the biblical Esau are selling their birthrights for a mesh of porridge. They are selling the destiny of their future generation to dare-devil politicians. Hard work has ceased to be the watchword as instant political gains have taken the centre stage. It is now ‘money for hand, vote for ground’ and the citizenry who benefit from these largesse are prepared to kill for it.
Foot soldiers of political leaders connect with the electorates to know their opinions and wants and often times, these foot soldiers advise their party candidates on what to do for the masses and it is always first thing first, stomach infrastructure.
All the political parties are as guilty as charged.