By Abimbola Adelakun
By now, people are understandably fed up with the ‘viral’ images of Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State eating in one ‘amala joint’ or the other. Those photos show the governor playing gastronomic politics. He is either buying food or helping those who run the bukas in food preparation and ingurgitating morsels of food.
Ever since Fayose won his governorship election by playing ‘grassroots politics’, he has been consistent in the game. He repudiates the aura of his office to identify with the grassroots people (read: poor and often unlettered folks) by either eating with them or relating to them at a personable level. Never mind that he is unlikely ever to educate his children where his ‘grassroots constituency’ school theirs or, in fact, use the hospital or sanitary facilities that they can access due to their income level.
His identification with the “grassroots” is merely patronising; he appropriates their feeding culture to bamboozle credulous onlookers who confuse a state governor taking advantage of his people with actual governance. Say what you will, Fayose’s obsession with food, at least, reflects his understanding of a society of spectacle such as ours. He knows that we readily lend our eyes to extravaganzas and he takes advantage of the public’s addiction to farce and buffoonery.
Fayose’s food fetish engages my thoughts today because as undisciplined as it may seem for a governor to be publicly consumed with food, his activities, in fact, mirror our political culture. His preoccupation with his mouth and what passes through it is a parodic enactment of the endemic corruption in Nigeria, a malaise that is frequently denominated through the registers of mastication. French anthropologist and sociologist, Jean-Francois-Bayart, used the phrase “politics of the belly” to describe the mode of government in Africa. The politics of the belly fosters a corrupt system where people become obligated to political power through their habits of consumption.
n Nigeria, the politics of the belly is reflected in the ways that successive governments have run on the wheels of mutually permissive corruption called, “chop-make-I-chop.”
The phrase “Come and chop” describes appointment into political service. Those who have sold their conscience to corruption and have been consequently silenced are quiet because it is bad manners “to talk while eating.” Geopolitical zones that desire their own people to be appointed into office remind us that it is their “turn to eat.” Corruption itself is regularly referred to as “chopping money.” The evidence of chomping in corridors of power is signified through our leaders’ distended bellies that are frequently hidden behind flowing ‘agbada’ and ‘babanriga’.
Fayose himself popularised trickle-down economics of making the proceeds of corruption available to the masses and branded it “stomach infrastructure.” The irony of Fayose’s audience being flattered by the “big man governor” who deigns to descend to their level and eat with them overlooks the simple fact that their money pays for those meals. The opportunity cost of the time that he spends on playing politics in bukaterias could be spent more judiciously on fostering governance. Yet, he does not only make people to watch him ‘chop’ meals; they sponsor the ‘chopping’. Perhaps, they do not realise that he is shitting on their heads by making them applaud him while he is at it.
Fayose’s cunning, in fact, presents a realistic depiction of the vulgarity that characterises governance in Nigeria. What he represents through his reiterated pretentiousness is the modus operandi of the entire structure of the Nigerian political system. The architecture of governance in Nigeria is based on the principle of eating and shitting – first, they eat the money that belongs to the people and then, they shit on their heads.
An example is the Senator who flaunts more certificates than character, Dino Melaye. Melaye recently announced the launch of his book titled ‘Antidotes for Corruption’. That Melaye, a man who typifies many of the things wrong with Nigeria, will write a book on corruption is, first, a sad joke. That the people, who one would consider honourable, would be listed as “guests of honour” is a shameful irony. Even weirder is the fact that the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who wrote the book’s foreword, is answering charges of corruption himself. If there is anyone who should not have anything to say about corruption, it is both Melaye and Saraki. But no, they are the ones sponsoring a book on alleviating corruption in Nigeria!
If Nigeria were a country that takes itself seriously, Saraki would not occupy the exalted position of Senate President. He is being investigated by the EFCC, yet he superintends the screening of the agency’s chairman. The level of illogicality one witnesses in Nigeria becomes so vertiginous that one requires the abnormal to feel normal.
The absurd in Nigeria is more perplexing than what any mind can dream of as a work of fiction. Respectability and accountability died in Nigeria long ago and there are no differences between statesmen and those who seek to execute us. There is neither honour nor integrity in governance in Nigeria, and the more our democratic culture regresses, the easier it gets for our leaders to empty their bowels right on our heads.
Melaye and Saraki are not the only leaders who engorge themselves on the public and turn around to excrete pretentious nonsense on their hapless subjects. We can start from the All Progressives Congress itself. The party that promised Nigeria “change” and other dazzling promises two years ago is the one whose biggest celebration this year has been the renovation of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja. From promising Nigerians lofty things, such as sponsoring a constitution amendment to entrenching true federalism, they have become the gods of small achievements. A routine renovation of public infrastructure became an opportunity for an unambitious APC to self-congratulate.
The APC has expended the past two years on tales about how the opposition Peoples Democratic Party’s rapaciousness destroyed Nigeria’s commonwealth, but right before our eyes the party opens its doors to let in the members of the same PDP into its fold. One is momentarily confused about the ill-logic until one is reminded that the APC has never quite taken collective intelligence seriously. They have never had qualms loudly criticising the very act they embody. After they had consolidated themselves into power, one of the projects they embarked on was to preach a gospel of change to Nigerians, telling us that the change we desire can only begin with us, the people and not the leadership. We live in Nigeria where big men “chop and clean mouth” yet they blame Nigeria’s issues on the toro-kobo people hustle to survive.
From top to bottom, the governing principle that rules Nigeria is one that excretes on the people. Recently, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, declared that he could not be corrupt because he disliked money. Even the tortuous way Amaechi made that immodest pronouncement shows that he thinks his audience are so infantile that he can expel the content of his orifices right on them.
We are talking about Amaechi who, as a state governor in 2012, bought a $50m jet for his exclusive use. As the internet reminds us, he bought the private jet at the same time that a flooding disaster took place in Rivers State. But the aircraft was, of course, his priority. That same 2012 was the time Nigeria was embroiled in a crisis over fuel subsidy, an opportunity Amaechi seized to play to the political gallery.
The same Amaechi unabashedly issued a press statement to clarify that his jet cost N7bn and not N9bn. Also, was Amaechi not the one who signed the Fringe Benefit Bill of 2012 that granted him an execrable amount of money and goods as his pension? We should be thankful that the man does not like money.
Whenever one sees the ruling class opening their mouths to “chop”, the rest of us should just brace ourselves for what will soon be coming from the other end.