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Beyond another chop-and-quench silly season

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[FILES] Voters queu to cast their votes at a polling station. (Photo by Kola SULAIMON / AFP)

If one man offers you democracy and another offers you a bag of grain, at what stage of starvation will you prefer the grain to the vote? – Bertrand Russell

All things being equal, local council elections are due this weekend in Lagos and Ogun State. And as expected, grassroots’ politicians and politicking are up in full swing, courting potential voters with honey-tongued and all manner of delicacies. But beyond this jeun-ko’ku (chop-and-quench) psychology of politicians, it is incumbent on the electorate to exercise moderation, and stay clear-headed at this begging opportunity to reset the clock of good governance bottom-up.

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Indeed, it’s been days of street campaigns across neighbourhoods. Aspiring councillors, chairmen and their loyalists across parties have been taking turns to constitute nuisance in the name of electioneering campaigns. With a long line of rickety vehicles and speakers blaring at deafening decibels, they had thronged to streets without consideration for residents or other road users. Not minding the chaos, candidates tried so hard to woo anyone in sight to vote for them on Election Day.
 
In my Isolo area of Lagos, the noisome rowdiness has not been different. The twist was that the freebies that came with the campaign train happened to be sachets of noodles! I was surprised to see it on two occasions. Recipients that had buffeted their way to receive one could not conceal their disappointments as they intermittently scrutinised the lean pack like they were seeing it for the first time. In disgust, someone said “Just N50 noodles!” It was a detour from those days of rice, garri and beans largesse. So much for the local council campaign!
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This week brought a better prospect for pre-election gluttony. Muslim’s ‘festival of rams’ coinciding with election weekend elicited a bonfire of cow barbeque and carnival-like atmospheres at residents of most of the candidates and party bigwigs. Party faithful and loyalists all milled around to have a slice of the pie. Beg, borrow or steal, aspirants had to live up to expectations with elections just hours away. The people called it “stomach infrastructure” and that has been the insanity in the build-up to elections in this part of the world. Remember that the peak of such obscenities was the free reign of vote-buying in Osun, Ekiti, Ondo and Edo recent gubernatorial elections. Electorates were paid between N1000 to N6000 via electronic transfer per vote cast. The beneficiaries in Osun and Ekiti enthusiastically called it “d’ibo, k’o se’be” (“vote and cook a pot of stew!”).
 
Let’s face it, vote-buying, by cash or foodstuff, will not end anytime soon. First, there are no serious sanctions or the willpower to discourage money bags and ‘willing buyers from blatant abuse of the electoral process. The second is that the ‘willing sellers among the electorate too are hungry and have no hope in the aftermath of the entire process. Lest we forget, the country is hard, with attendant hunger in the land. Without profitable jobs for the majority, the cost of living and prices of basic foodstuffs have lately spiked between 100 to 300 per cent. Middle-income earners are complaining, just as the so-called rich are getting overwhelmed by the number of dependents in their care. That is the situation of things, but more to the advantage of politicians.
 
It is not by accident that politicians readily use that bait to capture the hoi polloi in this political game of numbers. As it is, hunger and deprivation are terrible malaise that hit right at the soul. Julien Lamettrie (1709 – 1751) once remarked that there is no rage or extravagance that hunger cannot drive one into. Food nourishes what a fever heats and excites. Its deprivation causes the soul to languish, rave and die. Hunger sometimes lures men to think that the soul resides in the stomach. Indeed, “the famished hears no sermon,” says an African proverb. “May we not eat the food of our enemy (a popular prayer); but what if our friends do not cook?” Lastly, “Bi onje ba kuro ninu ise; ise buse” (take away hunger from poverty, the rest is negligible”). That is the socio-psychology of hunger that undercurrents this silly season.  
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But there is more to socio-political affairs than a mass of people driven by the stomach and swayed by the pang of hunger. It is shortsighted to stake the political future on a few morsels of eba (cassava paste) or bean pottage. Don’t get me wrong. For as many as can survive on N50 worth of pasta, and what have you, should be at liberty to collect the offering. However, no one should be conditioned to vote against their good conscience and conviction. As a people that owe it a moral duty to the self and others to choose the best to lead the rest, we can all endeavour to look beyond pecuniary reasons and understand that grassroots’ elections are the most crucial to getting things straightened.
 
First, the local council poll is a day of reckoning. In the class of political officeholders, the Council chairmen and councillors are the closest to the people, and yet often the most irresponsible. However, they cannot have absconded without notice, and ditto for their performances in office. If your life is more tolerable than it was four years ago, then vote for those that made it possible. If not, try something new. It smirks of poor understanding of public service and its demands for public officeholders to hurriedly make feeble attempts at fixing age-long potholes and atone for inept leadership with wraps of semo ahead of Election Day. Residents of Ado-Odo/Ota in Ogun State rightly challenged Governor Dapo Abiodun on his campaign trail over parlous road network in that area. That is the beauty of Election Day. A government that cannot make roads accessible has no moral quotient to ask for votes. By the way, four-year is too long a period to be bequeathed to mere excuses.  
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Second, charity begins from home. Getting it right at the grassroots can upset the status quo upwards. As a community-based election where everyone knows almost everyone, electorates should vote for candidates that they know irrespective of the party. Ideally, flag-bearers of the ruling party should be at a disadvantage given their poor performance across the board. In some wards, a councillor needs about 1000 votes to edge it. Even the least popular among our multiple political parties should be able to summon that. It, therefore, behoves on grassroots electorates to save the country from the stranglehold of dominant parties with zero value to general well-being.
 
Above all, it is still largely in the hands of Nigerians to orchestrate positive change and not settle for less. The country badly needs leaders that think of the future; not politicians stuck on the next election. The much talked about restructuring should begin with massively electing accountable representatives that can be trusted with local council autonomy. It can be delivered by electorates that are not blinded by today’s social-economic discomforts and assuaging political Greek gifts. Ire o!
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