When the Colosseum was built in 70 AD, Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian Dynasty knew he had birthed something beautiful, yet so evil. Rome was in turmoil, the imperialistic kingdom feared that its own people were going to rise up and revolt against its corrupt and despotic ways. The Emperor knew that something had to be done to keep the people excited enough to consistently debase their problems. The Colosseum was born; the battleground for gladiators and wild beasts from all corners of the Roman Empire. It was entertainment enough as competitive bloodshed and butchery took their minds off their oodles of troubles, the resistance was disabled. The crumbs were enough; why give the people what they are asking for when you can give them something less and they love you even more?
For all of time, politicians have concocted strategies on how to keep the people docile even in their captivity. Psychology calls it Stockholm Syndrome, the Afro-beat luminary Fela Anikulapo Kuti called it Shuffering and Shmiling. In Nigeria, we have no colosseums, but our government has devised schemes even more diabolical. Walk with me, I’ll take you on a journey.
Now in all honesty, do you believe that the Nigerian politicians of today really desire to solve the challenges that bedevil us? If your answer is yes, then I have a Dragon to sell to you. The trick is this, a man is more malleable when he’s extremely deprived of his bare necessities to the extent where a better life seems like a fantasy. Ergo, if the Nigerian political system keeps you poor and consequently hungry and uneducated, every basic project will look and feel like the Eiffel Tower. Boreholes, new classrooms, patching of potholes, procuring of transformers, facelift projects, prompt payment of salary; these and many more obligatory deeds are met with such loud adulation by the electorate. Like my friend would say, poverty is an industry in Nigeria.
The fact is our government has failed us more times than Wenger did Arsenal, Nigerians can agree on that; whether in the booming corners of our beer parlours or in bubbling stalls of our newsstands. But what we always fail to add is how often we keenly extol them when they throw us bones like the commissioning of a single borehole in a drought-stricken village. For those who don’t know or have forgotten, there still is (for some reason) a Ministry of Water Resources in Nigeria, they are budgeted for every year. Government helps the people find happiness by fixing the pain of the deprivation they facilitated. So you see why we would accept five thousand naira as payment for our votes? Because idealism makes no sense to a hungry stomach. A hungry stomach wants instant gratification. A hungry youth would turn a thug for money because idealism doesn’t keep his belly full. A market woman will sell her vote for a bag of rice because she has mouths to feed at home and will somehow still “vote her mind”. The people don’t know what they deserve so it’s easy to keep them compliant. Poverty and ignorance are the oppressors’ weapon. We need crumbs!
The job of a politician around here is easy really. First, he makes fairy tale promises, gets himself elected, makes some more futile promises, then blames his predecessor for the first two years and in his final two years, he does just enough to get himself re-elected. Rinse and repeat! We excuse this obvious madness and mediocrity, hence, it festers. No ideologies, no issue based policies, no progressive projects, just immediate small fixes because that’s exactly what the people need. Anything to escape the darkness!
So when we see a Fayose sit down and laugh with market women or a Yahaya Bello commission a 300kva transformer or an Oshiomhole come down from the state government-owned SUV and walk a short distance to commission a 2-year-old primary school renovation project or a Governor Emmanuel Udom stop his convoy to buy boiled pear, we fervently remark “He’s such a good man, let’s vote him again”. Our compliance will be rewarded…with crumbs!
The truth is until we decide to go hungry instead of settling for crumbs, this scheme will know no end. We have to tell the government that they cannot campaign with vague promises like “I would give you good roads” or “School would be free for all” or “There will be no hunger in the land”. We should never settle for this idiocy again, for the sake of our children, for the sake of generations yet to come. We have to dull the need for instant gratification and consider that if we don’t cry out for what we rightfully deserve then we might remain in these chains (of mental slavery) we so gleefully wear.
The trade-off is simple.