By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
In 2014, Ekiti governorship election held. The results astounded everyone. The opposition party in the state walloped the incumbent governor. Fayose won in all local government areas. Fayose thumped his chest and bragged about knowing the feelings of the people. He ridiculed the defeated incumbent governor, Fayemi, for being insensitive and aloof.
He dismissed his ideas as too intellectual, too naive. Fayemi and his party had been impeded, harassed and terrorized by federal security agents controlled by Fayose, deployed by President Jonathan. But the election results left Fayemi with no room for grumbling. He conceded the election, and congratulated Fayose.
Fayose rode around town like a political genius. He propounded new theories on winning elections. He espoused his philosophy of ‘stomach infrastructure.’ He suggested that the stomach was the route to the mind, particularly for the hungry. Intellectuals eulogized his political astuteness. Fayemi who had brought innovation into Ekiti governance was left to wonder long-term planning had a chance against instant gratification in the contest for voters’ minds amongst the rural poor. No one condemned the mere tokenism that stomach infrastructure represented. Everyone bought into a shallow philosophy despite the fact that vote buying was an electoral offence. Charm was attributed to Fayose for enticing voters in the crudest way possible.
A cynical citizenry prioritized shortsighted instant personal gratification over durable policies that catered on the longterm for the whole. Drowning in a deluge of failed election promises, anything that didn’t have immediate tangibility seemed forlorn, a mirage. And nothing was more palpable, more concrete than rice, beans and cash. Subsequently, candidates, even those who had sneered at Fayose, incorporated the distribution calling cards and bags of rice into their electioneering.
Others emulated Fayose, the political whizkid, and started frying ‘akara’ at bus stops. They were desperate to improve the prospect of being perceived as accessible and warm. It didn’t matter that the ruses had become too overused, too quickly, to remain a potent trick. Fayose, the professor of ‘stomach infrastructure,’ the owner of Ekiti politics, relished in it. Long-term plans on healthcare and education became the stuff of out-of-touch, overrefined, ineffectual politicians. Anyone who had enough thugs, some unscrupulousness and enough cash became ‘A man of the People.’
In the Anambra governorship election of 2017, votes were openly sold and bought. Voters came to polling units , voted and showed their ballots to waiting agents of the relevant parties. The agents, who came with bags of cash for the exercise, paid the agreed fees in full glare of everyone. The big parties paid 5,000 naira for a vote. That election was deemed free and fair.
In 2018, Fayose, having served his term limit, sought to install his deputy as governor. Governors install their cronies to replace them in Nigeria for prudential, self preservative reasons. Fayose will lose his immunity in a couple of months, but losing the reins of Ekiti government would truly mean falling into the hands of the enemies he recklessly accumulated for himself. Egotistic Fayose , threw himself into the campaigns and occluded his deputy, a professor, the actual candidate.
There was no contest of ideas during the campaigns. Fayose went everywhere with proprietary airs, referring to Ekiti as his fiefdom. Fayemi on the other hand proceeded with the new found meticulousness and pragmatism which he tested in Ondo. Fayemi shouldn’t have been underrated. The comprehensiveness of the 2014,however, always made him the outsider.
Two days to the election, Fayose showed first signs that he was losing composure. The drama he enacted to attract public sympathy on the eve of the election was evidence of trepidation. Ekiti workers who were being owed a mountain of unpaid salaries by the government saw 4000 naira sneak into the accounts at midnight. They were told it was ‘election money.’
The following morning, video clips showing women and men running to the old government house to collect ‘election money’ went viral. His opponents responded. They wouldn’t be termed aloof again. They had to become grassroots politicians (Ekiti brand) too. Ekiti was flooded with ‘election money.’ The concept of stomach infrastructure had become gospel. The electorate was willing to reward instant gratification.
Fayose, the erstwhile champion of ‘stomach infrastructure’ lost the election. He lost his own local government area. But he wouldn’t concede that he had been defeated in his own game, by his own rules. He said his opponent bought votes. Because he had said that he was assured of victory by God, his loss must mean he was robbed. So to help God, he dashed to Ekiti state radio to announce false results and declare his party victorious. The public ignored him and his attempt to incite violence.
He will now go to court. He thinks the election was neither free nor fair. He cannot deny that the money paid to Ekiti workers by him on the eve of the elections wasn’t aimed at enticing them to vote his man. He thinks his opponent bought more votes than him. He says it’s unfair, a disgrace.
It is good that stomach infrastructure has been explored to its limits. And it’s good that those who praised Ayo Fayose’s political genius are now worried about the future of elections in the country. The Ekiti people took money and cast their votes. How much the money influenced them cannot be determined by listening to Fayose and his hypocrisy. But the practice of vote buying in a society where more than half live below poverty line is inimical to democracy.
What is important now, however, is that the government and the Electoral Commission must find a way to stop vote buying. But vote buying cannot be banished until extreme hunger is banished, perhaps. It may be true that vote buying relies more on greed than hunger. But once it has crept in, and once it has corrupted moral values, it would take a full stomach perhaps to eradicate it.
Democracy, western democracy, cannot achieve best results in poor countries without social security nets. If Ekiti with a high literacy level and relatively high employment levels can be so susceptible to vote buying then when the bug catches other more benighted states, elections will become silly jokes.
A cynical hungry disposed electorate cannot be faulted for selling votes. What must count against them is their willingness to treat the vote buyer with adulation that should be reserved for a genuine messiah.
It’s good INEC has admitted the rising incidence of vote buying. It has confessed that the politicians in Ekiti bought smartly. The introduction of electronic voting and the firming up of secrecy in voting will help reduce the scourge. The 2019 elections are here. Unfortunately, the influence of ‘stomach Infrastructure’ is growing.