Friday, 27 June 2014

In defence of ‘stomach infrastructure’

Niran Adedokun

One of the major undoings of the elite in any society is the disdain and disrespect with which they hold the common man. Those who have had a few opportunities in life walk around with some air of superiority, which does the society no good in the long run.
This involves almost all of us, including those who speak eloquent high sounding Marxist language in the effort to convince us that they are on the side of the people. We all just hate and disrespect the mass of the people, even if unwittingly.
It is from the depth of this sneaky disregard that some self-righteous person coined the phrase ‘stomach infrastructure” in explaining what a lot of self-proclaimed reform-minded Nigerians see as the unexpected result of the June 21, 2014 governorship election in Ekiti State.
As a result of the arrogance of most educated sympathisers of progressive politics, we sat down on the arms of our chairs convinced that the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, was destined to win the election in spite of the acclaimed popularity of Mr. Ayodele Fayose of the Peoples Democratic Party and the crack that the defection of Opeyemi Bamidele caused in the APC’s mighty fortress.

When that did not happen, we had to find an explanation in what we saw as the sellout of the populace. I have read several arguments which criticised the choice of the people concluding that they were obviously content with receiving bags of rice and other inducements from politicians like Fayose over the physical development that Fayemi’s four-year administration is said to have brought to the state and the prospects that it holds for the future.
How conceited can some of us be? How unfeeling can we be of the grinding poor conditions under which over 70 per cent of Nigerians, those who really vote, continue to live? How can so many of us who have not even stepped out of Lagos and Abuja depend on sponsored television programmes and judge the mass of our people in such cruel terms? How should even those of us who claim to fight for the people allow the same people suffer double jeopardy, one in the hands of pretentious and uncaring government officials and the other in the hands of those of us who claim to have their backs?
In passing this sort of judgment, we lump ourselves with those in the ruling class who get into positions and forget to cater to the needs of people who voted them into power. On assumption of office, a majority of our leaders import their friends from overseas, or at best from cities like Lagos and Abuja. These friends become the new lords in town in just a matter of months. They ride the latest cars in town, buy the choicest of properties and generally take over our capital cities.
Our leaders pride themselves on the construction of new flyovers, on massive road projects in state capitals, on new government house buildings, on a select model primary and secondary schools, on fantastic hospital buildings that have been approved for construction and the newly awarded city landscaping contracts, all of which are almost always carried out at severely inflated figures.
These are the things that we read about and we glorify political office holders. A leader demolishes a market in the name of beautification without making alternative plans for the poor people who cannot afford to hire new shops and the elite go to town celebrating the latest achievement of the government without giving mind to the hundreds of people whose livelihood have been distorted by that decision. Leaders pursue hundreds of hapless citizens from man-made slums, the elite scamper to buy them over without questions about what alternative provision has been made for those sent packing. We hear of housing schemes in the tens of millions and we wonder where are the low cost housing schemes of the late 1970s and early 1980s? We do not seem to think that the common man should live at all.
But the people see through it all. They are only poor and not stupid. They see the transformation in the lives of the men that they stood in the blazing sun to elect into office just yesterday. They see how they have dumped them for new friends. They see the very big cars that they now drive and how dark-googled men with heavy guns under their jackets scare them from even waving at the people who promised to be their friends forever. They hear about the heavy amounts of money that go into security votes monthly, they know that their children no longer attend school in Nigeria, they realise that the United Kingdom, the United States, Dubai and India have become the hospital for them and their family and that private jets have become their staple means of transport.
They see all of these and cannot reconcile it to their own worsening situation. They hear of new school buildings but cannot afford to send their children there. Hundreds of thousands of their youth roam the streets without jobs. They see hospital buildings but cannot afford to pay, so they suffer and die in silence since no one is thinking about health insurance at the community level. Even the prospects that they will ever get a primary health centre have been taken away by the refusal of the governor to conduct local government election.
In spite of all the promises, they see no improvement in the ways in which they farm, even the access road to their farms have become worse than they were. The back of their wives have bent over from fetching well water, there is no hope that they would ever taste pipe borne water again. Electricity has become an occasional visitor to them. They regret the day they voted this person into office and vow to wait for the day he would come back to them.
Of course, he is bound to come. And when he does, they take what he has for and take what his opponent has and then, go ahead to vote for the opponent. Cunny man die, cunny man bury am, no winner no vanquished!
We then hurriedly pick up our pens and throw words of anger and disappointment at the people who have already suffered so much. We take the moral high ground and vilify them for putting their votes where their stomachs are.
But we are merely being dishonest if not hypocritical. Have we not all come across Abraham Maslow’s “Theory of Human Motivation,” where he suggested that it is almost impossible for man to sacrifice his psychological needs (water, food, shelter and warmth) for anything?
Unless the political elite learn to speak the same language with those who elect them, finding a middle point between the provision of infrastructure and the development of the people, we really, as Americans say, ain’t seen nothing yet

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