Thursday, August 21, 2014 1:21 pm
By Bamidele Johnson
Certain lessons, presumably, have been learnt from the governorship election in Osun State or the State of Osun (take your pick). The lessons learnt are likely to have depended on what wasn’t obvious to you before the election. Smarter people, especially in the media (new and traditional), have provided arm-long lists of what was learnt from the defeat of Senator (Engr.) Iyiola Omisore as engineered by Ogbeni (Engr.) Rauf Aregbesola. On the popular lists of lessons learnt are: 1) sterling performance in office is key to re-election 2) a candidate’s possession of common touch is as important (or almost) as a stellar performance record 3) stomach infrastructure was not a game changer 4) the will of the people will always triumph over that of tyranny etc.
All well and good. I have also learnt a few lessons which may not offer the same profundity as those already listed in the media, but are lessons all the same.
The first: Never assume a successful formula in one state will deliver the same outcome in another.
Omisore attempted to copy “word for word” the campaign manual written by Ayo Fayose in Ekiti. Fayose, the exponent of public maize-chomping, paraga-sipping and okada-riding, perhaps, was speaking to a public that views those actions as evidence of genuine connection with the masses. He smiled while chewing maize or riding on okada.
Fayose, a master of theatre, chewed lustily. Omisore didn’t. While he ate maize in public, sometimes grabbing two cobs at a time, he didn’t smile; he scowled. He simply lacked Fayose’s exuberance, something that might have told the voters that his affair with maize was an act of bogus affinity. His ride on okada was similarly joyless. He is, perhaps, not the most expressive of persons. But for a man with the physique of a pitbull and a face like a mastiff’s, the people could be forgiven for seeing menace instead of his desire to be seen as one of them.
He certainly wasn’t helped by the view that he represents menace, something that grew from his presumed complicity in the murder of Chief Bola Ige.
Lesson Two: Closely related to the first one. By the time general elections come next year, maize won’t be as ubiquitous as it is this year. The elections will be in April, when the maize harvest will still be at its infancy. Maize may also have lost its potency as a vote winner. Politicians may have to look for some other items to chew, drink or do in public. They’d be better served by what is popular in their constituencies.
To the Northern politician, who is so persuaded, I recommend kulikuli, kilishi, suya (Ebola permitting) or fura de nunu.
And where alcohol is not prohibited, burukutu should be consumed in public, with camera lights flashing.
For those seeking stronger connections, getting a pedicure and manicure from those itinerant abokis with unsterilised tools is the way to go. In this season of “the blood you are sharing”, a candidate that shares blood with the masses, via unsterilised manicure tools, should connect more tightly.
Guys East of the Niger, I am convinced, will get more mileage if they eat ube while assisting traders in Ariaria or one of the many markets to sell auto spare parts, fabrics or second-hand underwear.
Those in Edo and Delta states should consider eating starch and banga at motor parks, preferably contriving to make an ample quantity of the oily soup fall on their expensive suits and brocades. Aspirants in Cross River and Akwa Ibom states similarly must find a way of getting their apparels embroidered with afang or edikaikong.
In the Southwest, a wrap of amala or pounded with okro or efo riro, accompanied by 20 pieces of meat––commercial driver style––will do the trick. Of course, it could cut the other way, as people may view anyone eating in that fashion as constituting a threat to public funds.
Whatever item is chosen should be consumed with maniacal relish, even if simulated, and preferably noisily. The poor, says a Yoruba proverb, eat greedily and noisily, while the rich pick their food. Since the appeal is to the poor, the politician is advised to eat like the poor.
Lesson Three: Former president Olusegun Obasanjo does not love Nigeria.
The former president cannot be divorced from Omisore’s election into the Senate in 2003. While in prison custody for Ige’s murder, without the opportunity to campaign, he astonishingly won a senatorial seat. His election was held up as an evidence of sympathy for him over his travails. That appeared confirmed as a ruse.
Since 2003, Omisore has contested three elections, losing two. A bid to return to the Senate in 2011 failed in spectacular fashion. This year, even with federal might behind him, he came up short again.
Lesson Four: “Stomach infrastructure” is the past, present and future of our politics.
The loss of Ekiti State by the All Progressives Congress in June, in some circles, was cast as the triumph of stomach infrastructure over physical infrastructure. Rice, noodles, detergents, money et al were presented as having swung things in favour of Ayo Fayose of the Peoples Democratic Party. Stomach infrastructure, I am convinced, played a part in that election.
How big a part it played is what I don’t know. The fact, however, every candidate with the means erects stomach infrastructure. That has been with us for as long as I can remember. While it now has a jazzy moniker, it is by no means new as many were trying to present it. During the Second Republic, essential commodities, especially rice, were given to the needy by the late Lamidi Adedibu of the defunct National Party of Nigeria. I lived close to his home, so I saw the items being shared. One Abimbola, then a chieftain of the National People’s Party in Oyo State, did same, not on a similar scale, in his house on Oluyole Estate, Ibadan. I saw it in the Third Republic and I am seeing it now.
Kayode Fayemi’s wife fed the poor in Ekiti. His government pays and still pays a stipend in social security to a category of old people. In 2011, photographs of mini-bags of rice bearing the face of Senator Gbenga Bariyu Ashafa were prominent on social media, just like those of Fufu Aregbe and Omisore Rice have been prominent this year. Stomach infrastructure was here, is here and, I suspect, always will be. Though sad, that is the situation. But dressing it up as a new phenomenon is either dishonest or a hint of ignorance.
– Johnson writes from Lagos