WHAT THE GOVERNMENT OWES THE PEOPLE
Now that the campaigns and elections are over and the winners have been sworn in at both the federal and state levels, I think that the best next step for us now is to hurriedly put aside the convenient, barefaced lie that any political party is “better” than the other so we can frankly and meaningfully engage our new set of rulers. Yes, one party may have succeeded in packaging itself better than the other or rather out-lied the other, but it would be terribly naïve, and, indeed, tragic, to ever embrace the grand illusion that some band of _“REDEEMERS” _is in town and that they are any bit different from the people that just lost out in the power contest.
Although, our politicians try very hard to hide it, “stomach infrastructure” has remained the most enduring theme, if not the sole motivating factor, in Nigerian politics. Long before it received popular expression during the recent governorship elections in Ekiti State, late Sunday Afolabi, a minister in the unmissed Olusegun Obasanjo regime made it clear to Nigerians that those who were given political appointments have been invited to “come and eat.”
And so, in keeping with the tenets of this _“DEMOCRACY OF THE STOMACH” _(apologies, K.O. Mbadiwe), since General Muhammadu Buhari was declared the winner of the presidential elections, the traffic to his Daura, Kaduna and Abuja quarters has reportedly tremendously increased. The crowd seeking his ears will even multiply now that he has been sworn in as Nigeria's executive president and thus acquired full powers to invite people to “come and eat.”
Indeed, he is the new man on the throne who has taken possession of both the yam and the knife, and so people are falling over themselves to pay him “courtesy calls” – another name for negotiating the welfare of the stomach! Some are plain about their mission – to seek how a piece of the yam (or even crumbs) could reach them, while some others hide behind the popular phrase of negotiating “for my people.” But we can only know the people driven by altruistic motives by the kind of requests they table.
Only recently, a deluge of condemnations greeted the reported visit of some personalities from the South East to Buhari to “plead” with him to not discriminate against the zone in the sharing of appointments. The visit rankled many people for several reasons. The South East has grown past “begging” anyone for anything in Nigeria and those who are still trapped in that debilitating past should hasten to update instead of continuing to constitute an embarrassment to the zone.
If Buhari and his All Progressive Congress (APC) think that they would never need anyone in the South East to remain in power since they would always be able to deploy clannish (plus religious) sentiments to secure the bulk vote of the core North and the South West (and that the bad marriage that that sustains that collaboration will never fail), why should that give anybody a migraine, when it could easily be translated to political advantage?
There is the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) there which is being currently mismanaged by people who have remained incapable of appreciating the party's founding ideals and great prospects and so have not been able to conceive a broader role for the party beyond being an appendage of the ruling party. These people can be assembled and reoriented, and more visionary leaders found for the party, to position it to benefit maximally from the misguided overconfidence of the current ruling party or its easily predictable implosion in the near future. The APC is what it is today because one man, Bola Tinubu, had the foresight and patience to nurture a small political party (operating in just one state) into a formidable force and so was ready to negotiate from a position of strength when like-minds came knocking on his door before the last elections.
Okay, assuming Buhari accepted the request of these gentlemen that went to Daura to see him and now appoints somebody from the South East as the minister of Science and Technology, for instance, how would that improve the life of the rice farmer at Onueke or the fresh fish seller at Otuocha? In a country like Nigeria where public office is seen mostly from the point of view of what it will bring into the pocket of the public officer, won't this just be another “juicy” job for feeding the appointee, his family and hangers-on?
And who actually sent these men on their grossly distasteful mission (which many now suspect was purely self-serving) to Daura? If they had a list of nominees which they wanted to submit to Buhari, shouldn't they have been plain about it, instead of hiding behind the “interest of the people” to pursue what clearly smells and tastes like a personal agenda?
There is a lesson here too for other zones from where some people have also gone to do their own negotiations, also “on behalf of their people.” Those whose heads have been swelling because their “brother” would soon occupy (or has already occupied) one “important” post or the other (and they are all over the place mocking those not so blest) should hasten to ask themselves how such a development would improve lives in their various zones. Obasanjo, for instance, was Nigeria's president for eight years, yet the road leading to his community, like most of the roads in the South West where he comes from, could be described as the road to hell. As president, each time he wanted to visit his community, he would fly from Abuja to Lagos and a helicopter would pick him up in Lagos and drop him gently on his farm in Ota; while the rest of his kinsmen, like all other Nigerians during his failed presidency endured the hell that were Nigerian roads.
So, shouldn't a sorry case like this cause people to first undertake a realistic appraisal of what they think have become their political and other gains before making undue noise? What I, however, think should be of interest to any rational Nigerian is how a particular regime would improve the lives of the citizenry and move the country forward.
Every zone in Nigeria has very critical matters crying for the attention of the government. These should occupy the most prominent spaces in the minds of the people who reside there instead of wasting their time and energy on naive celebrations of the number of people that have been _“invited to come and eat”_ from their zones or states. The time and effort deployed for such distractive and self-deluding frivolities should instead be channeled towards seriously engaging the new regime and ensuring that those infrastructural deficits that sadden the people daily and impede development in those zones are drastically addressed to put smiles on the faces of the masses.
Take the South East for example. The problem of the zone has never been the dearth of appointments but the criminal neglect visited on the area by successive governments, which sometimes looks like deliberate policy passed from one regime to the other. For instance, federal roads in the zone should rank as the most horrible anywhere and one keeps wondering why it has remained so. There is also the issue of the dredging of the River Niger to establish a seaport in the zone to boost industrialization, a project that is long overdue, and which will help in no small measure to equally boost economic growth and development in the country. But successive regimes have chosen to behave as if they are scared of industrial revolution in the South East and so deliberately neglected this all important project. I even heard (although, I am yet to confirm this) that there's a coastal community somewhere in Abia State where just a little clearing and dredging would grant access to the sea and a seaport would be born.
Again, the “international” airport in Enugu was recently commissioned with a lot of fanfare, but there appears to be a deliberate policy to grossly limit its operations by ensuring that other airlines are not licensed to use it, aside Ethiopian Airlines. Why is this so? Now, there is also the second Niger Bridge which has been mired in and delayed by needless controversies when it ought to have been completed long before now. Indeed, these are more important to South Easterners than a million federal appointments. And anybody purporting to seek the welfare of the zone, but sidesteps these very significant matters, is wholly on his own, and clearly pursuing a self-serving agenda.
The same applies to other zone too where some people are looking away from the real needs of the people to pursue “stomach infrastructure” in the form of appointments. It is time to give the masses of Nigeria what they really need, what really will improve their lives, instead of using some dubious concern for their welfare to pursue clearly self-serving goals.
***Ugochukwu ejinkeonye is a columnist with Daily Independent Newspaper. His column appears every tuesday on the back page of the paper.