Nigeria’s political dictionary grows by the day. At every election junction, a new term is added to the list. However, one of its recent additions, ‘stomach infrastructure’ is so soon already having problems with a palpable fear that it is on its way to extinction.
Stomach infrastructure, a term which refers to the sharing of food and gift items to ordinary people by government became popularized during the events leading to the rather shocking victory of Ayo Fayose the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) over the then governor, Kayode Fayemi of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the 2014 governorship election in Ekiti State. PDP was to formally adopt it as a party policy.
Speaking at a Presidential rally in Benin City, Edo State on September 27, 2014, former President Goodluck Jonathan explained that the policy was premised on the philosophy of what he called “you cannot lead hungry people”. It is a philosophy that many, especially the downtrodden of Nigeria cannot fault. Unfortunately, the Fayose government of Ekiti known for stomach infrastructure has been unable to pay workers salaries in the last 5 months let alone to engage in distributing food and gifts.
Expectedly, governor Fayose has not had it easy with his workers. The latter after issuing several warnings on the subject resorted to full scale strike. Those involved are workers under the auspices of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and Joint Negotiating Council (JNI). The strike has since paralyzed governance in the state with all entreaties to the workers by different stakeholders rebuffed. The threat of ‘no work no pay’ issued by the governor was similarly ignored just as the allegation by the state government that opposition politicians were behind the strike was discountenanced by the workers as ‘cheap blackmail. The workers could also not be bothered by what they perceived as the recruitment of some National Union of Road Transport Workers to carry-out solidarity demonstrations in support of Fayose.
A comic dimension to the strike saw the governor declaring that he had gone on sympathy strike with the workers because as a ‘caring’ governor he shared their pains. While appreciating the governor for sharing their pains and anguish, the workers made it clear that they would appreciate and commend him the more if he pays at least two or three months salaries out of five months owed.
The position of the workers makes some sense because as Goodluck Jonathan said earlier, ‘you cannot lead hungry people’. The point was probably best put by one public analyst, Kitan Badmus who imagined that “the main thrust of stomach infrastructure is that life starts and ends in the stomach. The stomach must always be pacified otherwise it will complain.” Fayose, the exponent of stomach infrastructure had himself made the same point now and again. Indeed, as soon as he was sworn in for the second time as the elected governor of Ekiti State, he appointed a Special Adviser on stomach infrastructure. He also publicly explained how the scheme would work to a team of journalists in Abuja in October 2014. According to the governor “I’m grooming chicken, buying rice, yams, plantain, and the rest of them.
I am sure if I give it to families during the festive period, they will be happy. So, my style without apology is that stomach infrastructure is a way of life for me, I will relate well with my people to alleviate poverty and hunger.” 3 months later, cash gifts and other materials especially food items which the media reported to be no less than 100,000 bags of rice and 80,000 birds were distributed to a cross section of the people of Ekiti State.
The scheme no doubt worked when all was well. With the fall in oil price and disruption to oil production, the nation’s economy has substantially dropped to the discomfort of all. As usual, politicians have begun their blame game. Dapo Kolawole a former Commissioner for Finance in Ekiti state slammed the governor, over his inability to pay civil servants’ salaries. Kolawole is convinced that Fayose would have had money to offset at least 3 months salaries if the governor had been prudent with the state’s resources. On the other hand, there is the argument that the state was plunged into debt by the former ruling party in the state-the APC.
Unfortunately none of the arguments can resolve the problem. Even the decision of a lawyer Kabir Akingbolu to sue the governor at a Federal High Court in Lagos on charges of abdication of responsibility and desertion of duty post will also not help more so as our bogus constitution does allow a governor to be sued. However we call on governor Fayose to accept responsibility as the current chief executive because if the opposite was the case, he would have taken the glory of the past considering that government is a continuum.
We also urge him to learn from the present crisis that it is better to teach a man how to fish than to give him fish just as our people must learn to stop applauding those who can only give fish. It is also hoped that other governors would do likewise as the failure to pay workers salaries is today, a common feature in a number of states. On this score, we commend Governor Samuel Orton of Benue State for working out an amicable strategy of preventing workers strike in his state which we commend to Fayose and others to emulate.
As our people often say everything has its plus. It is thus noteworthy that the current strike in Ekiti has occupied Fayose thereby reducing the political heat he often generates for the nation in his self appointed position as opposition leader to President Muhammadu Buhari. Second, the tight economic situation has greatly reduced pleasure travels to Abuja from the states by those in the corridors of power to Abuja which usually congested our otherwise beautiful city. Sirens are no longer as loud as before just as the airports have also become less chaotic with fewer chartered flights. If we are lucky to get back a robust economy in future perhaps social infrastructure will replace stomach infrastructure in Nigeria.