There are essentially two types of politicians in Nigeria today; those who genuinely care about the people and would do everything within their powers to see that democracy works for the betterment of the people. The other politicians are those that pretend to care about the people and do everything to make the people believe they care, yet are about just keeping the people oppressed. The battle of these opposing ideas are what separate most of our politicians; more than whatever political party they claim to belong to.
Anyone who really intends to fix Nigeria and virtually all our states must be ready to step on toes, including those of the people themselves. We have gotten so used to things not working and general disorder it would take a really determined reformist to set us straight. For instance, we are quick to call “a man of the people,” a populist who goes around sharing rice and beans with money likely stolen from the people while believing that that leader who makes access to education is not “doing enough” because s/he is not “sharing the money.” We want quick rewards when what we need are sustainable rewards.
The story is told of two oil-producing communities in the Niger-Delta. I do not remember the exact names of these two communities but they actually do exist. The Oil Company had asked them what they wanted, one community asked for cash directly, the other community asked for power. They both got what they asked for. Today, while the community that asked for power continues to have power all day, all week and all year – the Oil Company powered the community via solar – the other community is essentially still in the dark. The cash they got? Spent on what people spend unearned money on, wasted and long gone. One even heard the community that chose cash has been making trouble about the Oil Company not giving them power while giving their rival community. Talk about eating one’s power and wanting to have it.
The community that chose cash is replicated in most of Nigeria today. People prefer to have politicians, “spray the money” than task them on development. You would think that communities would task their leaders on making qualitative education affordable if not entirely free or that the politicians help rid their communities of criminals but you are likely to see people assume that a politician who shares food with them cares more than that business-like leader who allocates resources according to the critical needs of the people.
Nigeria’s resources are limited and they will always be. We must decide what our priorities are and then see that those we entrust with our resources are matching our resources to our most critical needs. There are always forgone alternatives when a resource is expended. When a politician steals public money, the value of the money stolen is the number of projects that the money could have helped deliver to the people. It is a zero-sum game. When you spend on one thing, you lose a chance to spend on another. When you find a leader who understands this, your role as an active citizen is to see yourself as a partner of such a leader and help spur them on.
Ours is such a difficult place to do the right thing. Stopping at the red sign of the traffic light, especially in Abuja, makes you look like you are the one breaking the law. Supporting a government to get into power and not seeking to be appointed makes you look like some sort of fool who doesn’t know the way to riches, deserved or not. Choosing to match limited resources to the critical needs of the people is not such a popular move in this clime. It is often about doing what gets the most people screaming and what gets them feeling happy with your “stomach infrastructure” programmes.
We can choose to end this limiting political reality by calling attention to such hypocrisy. We cannot move forward as a country if our most popular and most powerful politicians are those who feed on our collective gullibility to get rich on our collective wealth to return to feed on our collective helplessness to offer us food for the day or night till the next time they come dancing with us; to our own continuous slide towards enduring poverty!
This must end. We must as a collective, call out politicians who busy themselves with such frivolities; sharing meat when they should be sharing books. If it ever was cool in the past, not today! We know better now.
© Japheth J. Omojuwa