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Ekiti Epiphany: Politics Beyond Idealism

June 27, 2014

We must quit thinking that "third-world" politics is all about writing "deep" articles, composing tweets and writing profound Facebook posts and screaming ourselves hoarse about how things ought to be run from our AC-ed rooms and offices.

The most amusing thing about Nigerian analysts, the outspoken observers of our political evolution into a pseudo-democratic nation, is our shared hypocrisy in reacting to outcomes of predictable public issues. 

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This can be seen, most recently, in our responses to the outcome of Ekiti governorship election. In this build-up to the next presidential election, I have personally transformed from being an uncompromising idealist into being an unequivocal realist. You will recall I even wrote, frustrated, in my Friday column at one point, to congratulate Goodluck Jonathan as 2015 President-elect – a year in advance! 

What happened in Ekiti is a mere restatement of our tragedy as a nation, where a politician is seen as Santa Claus and thus his primary duty, when elected, comprises uninterrupted three-square meals on the table of every voter and a constant flow of gifts in kind and cash. Realistically, this is an expectation impossible to maintain. Worse yet, not only is this the genesis of corruption in government presenting a ready-made excuse for mediocrity and underdevelopment, it’s a nightmare for even the most honest of populists because one's faith in one's ideals (a belief that votes can be vehicles for change just by their nature, by their use) is shaken and one is at the gates of a dangerous but luring cynicism. Yet, that Santa Clausism is the form of politics the people desire and a man, a politician, who comes to the arena with better plans for solid development, will be punished for his foolishness of NOT being Santa Claus.

Reading the commentaries of Ekiti people in the past week, I have learnt that the outgoing Governor, Kayode Fayemi, despite holding Town Hall meetings with the grassroots and setting up welfare system to cater for the old, was still perceived as “elitist” in having his government dominated by "technocrats", some being "non-indigenes". He has hired these last instead of hiring the "actual politicians" to assist him in entrenching the principles of prebendal politics. Outgoing Governor Fayemi is also “unpopular” with the political philanthropy-awaiting masses and threatened school teachers. He is also "insensitive”, perhaps because his “modernist” approach to developing Ekiti was seen as unbearable by parents who think the new tuition fees of the state university are unreasonable and unaffordable, and by farmers who think his agricultural policy is a scam, by maybe even job-seekers who think his employment scheme is a gimmick. These are all detailed in a feature on the Ekiti election by my good friend, Femi Owolabi, for The Scoop NG. He reported a voter saying: "(PDP runs) a 'chop make I chop government'. Money didn’t flow well in (Fayemi's) government... APC is now pumping in money at the die (sic) minute to election.”

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But I forgive the masses. Our politicians undermine the conditions of their unschooled and hungry followers, schooled and unemployed followers, poor and hopeless followers, the enterprising and economically unfortunate followers and even the sick and the destitute, as well as the financially handicapped illiterates and dropouts who in turn are to rely on these same politicians’ policies. There's something not quite right, something incestuous and sad about this--this is what Achille Mbembe called "the politics of death".

The current politicians wouldn't have been faulted if their understanding of populism wasn't limited to distributing food items while the chunks of their budgets are invested in their private businesses. We inherited a structurally flawed system with a particular class unfairly subjugated and taken for granted by the political establishment. Members of this class are the countrymen whose only dividends of democracy are the "gifts" they receive from the politicians in exchange for their votes every election year. They exchange this great abstract value for a far less but real value, a sack of rice for example, because they're hungry and a hungry man is an irrational man. And the politicians in turn, elected to redeem the welfare of the masses, deliberately avoid doing so simply to keep them dependent and asking for handouts. This is our present lockstep. Dear countrymen, dear masses, the blunt truth is that these "gifts" you are being given were paid for with your own public funds or are otherwise the proceeds of an abandoned or inflated community contract. It is your loss when a politician who tries to match the value of your vote with an equal value in infrastructure is shown the way out. "Stomach infrastructure" lasts only so long as the next trip to the toilet. And imagine how many trips to the toilet you, poor benighted masses, will undergo in contrast to the FOUR years of looting your vote gives the politician. Understand this and see how benighted you are!

But more than anything, I’m happy that our wisdom has been restored by the outcome of Ekiti governorship election, with more people finally becoming realist analysts of our politics. I have been interacting, debating and arguing, screaming myself hoarse, just to highlight that Nigeria is bigger than our blogs. Perhaps the urban middle-class is coming around to my long stated position? The politician as a Santa Claus is the only image the masses have of a "good politician". Speeches and promises and the urban middle classes pseudo-intellectual “surutu” are a waste of their time. And as much as I respect the decision of the people of Ekiti State who, under the sun, with branded bags of rice waiting for them at home, voted for their choice candidate, I have a question for some of us activists: would the voters have taken Ayo Fayose serious if he had not spoken the language of the masses, which is the provision of items for "stomach infrastructure?" 

So, what next for APC? APC, to some, is "old wine in new bottle", but being the first time the opposition emerges with the strength to put the incumbent government on its toes, I am, as a citizen unimpressed with the status quo, willing to settle for another shape of bottle over the old one now no longer convenient to carry! This is the peak of my realism as a citizen in search of the "fresh air". I think this is the time for the opposition, for whom I have sympathy, to play politics beyond impracticable idealism. APC needs, for the coming election, a presidential candidate with street credibility, identifiable by the masses: a Buhari or an Atiku or any member with their clout. These are brands that don't need re-introduction to the masses, being one-time Head of State and Vice President respectively. As for the personality of these two, I've my opinions, favourable and damaging in respects. But I am firm in my belief that with a well-built party structure, especially at the grassroots, they can be rebranded and managed for the greater Nigerian good. Our politically immaturity is so pronounced that if a visionary Fashola emerges as APC presidential candidate today, with his thoroughly modern ideology, and stands against a rugged James Ibori, whose pocket is big and intention destructive, Fashola will lose in a free - and (un)fairly induced - election. It's that simple, that brutal.

There is another problem though: a huge number of our political analysts see alignment with, and sympathy for, a political cause as compromising, because they confuse neutrality with objectivity. It's absolute self-deception to say that you're neutral in choosing the side to promote between the oppressed and the oppressor, especially when the oppressive incumbent has failed the people, is unresponsive to apolitical activism and deaf to the clamouring for a progressive society. So, to say that I'm neutral in my political choices means I have no sense of perception at all, knowing that this crucial decision determines my well-being as a citizen. Objectivity, to me, is one's ability and wisdom to criticise his own when they err and others when they oppress him and his.

Also, in their analysis of third-world democracy, our writers have shown an absolute ignorance of practicable political idealism. Which is why, as they condemn Bola Tinubu as a "thief and nothing but a thief," they cannot name an alternative capable of ousting the GEJ-led opposition forces. While they promote an impracticable idealism in their pursuit of stainless political saints, they should be prepared to be "ruled" by GEJ again from 2015. It's that simple.

We, the urban middle-class activist potential pressure group, have no option than a stratagem to get the existing members of the establishment competing to serve us--to compete to offer us the better, the best deal, for our votes. We must ally to remind them that unless rural community developments and the welfare of the urban masses too are given the same attention as building bridges and installing streetlights in our cities, only money and of course "rice", not promises, can get you votes from this manipulated class, largely based in villages remembered only in election years. 

This is why we need to get off our bums. And the price for victory, whether by the PDP or APC establishment, will not, must not, be mere bags of rice. We must demand bridges and free trade zones, specialist hospitals and quality education. I am a political realist, I will be bribed but I will be bribed only with something concrete, like roads and hospitals and electricity, not bags of rice and maggi. And this is a message to the political elite, the Establishment--Gimba Kakanda will be at the forefront of a new block with new demands. If you want my vote and my block's vote, come and negotiate--we speak the language of civil engineering works and economic infrastructure.  That is the return on my political education over the last months. And political education isn't acquired in classrooms, it's acquired in our ability to strip ourselves of polarising sentiments in making political choices.

We must quit thinking that "third-world" politics is all about writing "deep" articles, composing tweets and writing profound Facebook posts and screaming ourselves hoarse about how things ought to be run from our AC-ed rooms and offices. For so long as we are content with screaming and writing about failed governments without struggling to infiltrate the ranks of the "laboratory politicians" whose incompetence cause these troubles, for so long we are complicit in the fall of this nation. I'm checking out. I'm taking a stand. May God save us from us!

Gimba Kakanda @gimbakakanda (On Twitter)

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