Following the country’s celebration of Democracy Day, BAYO AKINLOYE examines some items politicians usually distribute as dividends of democracy to their supporters before, during and after elections
I come think about this demo-crazy. Democrazy. Crazy demo; demonstration of craze – crazy demonstration. Poor man dey cry, rich man dey mess – demo-crazy, democrazy. Crazy demo; demonstration of craze, crazy demonstration,” the iconic voice of Fela Kuti wafted through the air of Ojota in Lagos State as a political party’s supporters lined up to collect their fair share of small-sized transparent bags of rice.
Elsewhere, across Nigeria, similar scenarios could be conjured as the nation’s political parties try to outdo one another in distributing items that range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Every election period is a moment of shrill, thrill, and freebies.
No matter how Fela must have felt, the Nigerian electorate have always longed for dividends of democracy in whatever form such trickle down to them from the high and mighty politicians they somewhat help to power.
Such items, popularised by Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, as ‘stomach infrastructure’, usually come in various sizes, shapes and contents. Though politicians have been sharing election campaign materials like handkerchiefs, hand-held fans, jotters, etc., prior to 2014, many of them upped their ante in the build-up to the 2015 general elections.
In a year that was considered as a make-or-break time for the country with elections hotly contested at every level, and as the nation slowly descended into recession, politicians came up with “empowerment items” to distribute to their constituents and supporters.
By no means exhaustive, SUNDAY PUNCH compiled a list of amusing items that politicians distribute to their teeming supporters.
Such scenes of 2015 where a political party set up an akara joint for the public to stop by and have their fill – was thrown up recently when photos of Governor Samuel Ortom-branded wheelbarrows went viral online.
The Benue State governor, however, denied the pictures of wheelbarrows bearing his name.
Ortom stated that his consent was not sought and he did not give approval for anyone to inscribe his name on the said wheelbarrows and directed the agency to immediately remove the inscription from all the wheelbarrows.
Some days ago, photos of the wheelbarrows with the inscription, ‘Governor Ortom for you’, went viral on the social media. In a bid to completely dissociate himself from the ‘empowerment’ wheelbarrow, Ortom had ordered that a query should be issued to the Executive Secretary of the Benue State Emergency Management Agency, Mr. Boniface Ortese.
Following that, it was the photo of the All Progressives Congress senator from Kaduna State, Shehu Sani, which has kept Nigerians excited about how far their politicians go to “empower” their constituents.
Sani was seen in an online photo, posing for the camera, distributing transistor radios to some people, who looked so happy to receive the devices.
Unlike Ortom, the firebrand senator has not dissociated himself from the radios, or claimed that the image was Photoshopped.
He, however, told SUNDAY PUNCH, “It was last year’s #WorldRadioDay. A day set aside to appreciate the importance of radio in information and communication. But some people lifted it to make mischief. And everyone knows that northern masses listen to radio more than they read newspapers. There’s nothing wrong with that.
“When I shared computers, they shut their mouth; when I shared sewing machines, they shut their eyes; when I shared medical kits, they shut their ears; when I shared radios, they opened their mouths, eyes and noses in mockery.”
In 2016, ahead of the Ondo State November 26 governorship election, dour loaves of bread, branded “Aketi”, a moniker for the then APC governorship candidate, Rotimi Akeredolu, flooded the Sunshine state.
Though opposition parties labelled the bread “poisonous”, it did little or nothing to deter Aketi’s supporters and those in search of literal daily bread to stay from the freebie. The bread might have contributed to Akeredolu’s electoral victory as the opposition did not appear to have offered those hungering for daily bread better alternatives.
Akeredolu, now a governor, had denied that he was responsible for the bread.
The Director of Media and Publicity of Akeredolu Campaign Organisation, Mr. Steve Otaloro, said the bread was meant to discredit Akeredolu.
He said, “We are not aware of any bread production let alone distribution. I am saying this with all honesty. It is the work of some fifth columnists to discredit and distract Akeredolu from focusing on the November 26 election. But they have failed.”
The previous year before Aketi bread became popular in Ondo, former President Goodluck Jonathan and his deputy, Namadi Sambo, had photos of their merry faces on the nylon used to package their campaign bread. Bread is a Nigerian staple and does help to ‘empower’ the growling stomach of hundreds of Nigerians who live on less than $2 a day.
Garri, groundnut and sugar
Garri, groundnut and sugar
As with a country in which penury mixes freely with opulence, rich politicians usually craftily package what some have termed Greek gift in hunger-themed fashion. It was so with the packaged garri, groundnut and sugar items distributed by Jonathan and Sambo in the twilight of their reign. It was unique and unlike other things shared during that period, it looked chic compared to the bread distributed by some politicians. With many homes, struggling to drink garri neither with sugar nor groundnut, the Jonathan-Sambo hunger-themed item came in handy. It, however, did not get them the needed votes to remain in power.
Nigerians love eating rice – not minding whether they cook the most delicious jollof rice on the continent or not. And, politicians too love to distribute rice. There was “Iresi Aregbe”; there was “APC rice”; there was “Fayose rice”; even Governor Amosun “Ibikunle rice”. In simple, nice-looking, usually transparent bags, the rice was distributed to eager, waiting hands of their supporters. To many, the bags of rice were part of dividends of democracy, while some political observers described the rice distribution as “politics of hunger.”
Children love noodles, so do adults. They are easy to cook and require no extra spending on condiments. Though relatively cheap to buy a pack, political supporters are noticed to be in frenzy when noodles are being shared, be it at ward levels or at big rallies. Politicians in various political parties tried their best to win the hearts of the teeming populace by branding noodles bought from companies – PDP-branded noodles easily caught the eye in 2015.
‘Stomach infrastructure’ linchpin, Fayose, has no pretence about who he is or what he can do. He adds panache and credibility to everything he shares to the citizens he governs.
It is not uncommon to see the Ekiti governor distributing items like rice, milk, groundnut oil, beverages and even seasonings to a petulant crowd. He took the game to a higher level when he distributed live chickens to people in the state.
“When we banish hunger, we can talk of roads and other social infrastructure. A hungry man may not value a road that is tarred because his major concern is to have food to eat,” Fayose had said in 2015.
In the scorching sun savouring the many promises of politicians, sandwiched among throngs of people dripping with sweat and dirt, going back home without a soap to bathe may not encourage another appearance at such a rally. If politicians are said to be misled, not on the distribution of soaps, some noted.
They claimed that there are homes without soaps either to bathe or wash their clothes. The APC took great advantage of that glaring need by distributing nicely packaged bar soaps in 2015.
Two years ago, Akinwunmi Ambode was not a popular figure – if there was anything popular about him, people said it was the fact that he would be another stooge of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. That was two years ago. And, during that time, he delighted hundreds of Lagosians who love to make telephone calls even with N50 credit. Akinwunmi and his party, APC, distributed N100-worth recharge cards to people who had demonstrated their support for him and the party.
Having failed at least twice to win a presidential election, Muhammadu Buhari went through all forms of transformation, in image and lingo. From the ascetic-styled campaign he was known for, he became a glamorous old-school leader the country would need going into a jet-age future. He was seen using a mobile device – a tablet; he was seen in photos wearing tailor-made suits; playing with his grandchildren and wearing a constant smile that was rare.
Buhari and his running mate, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, did not leave their political destiny at that. Their faces were seen on exercise books, which were distributed freely – to the likely delight of parents whose children did not have enough books to write on. Their faces were also seen on bags of rice too, among other items.
“Let your light shine,” the inscription on the matchbox said. Matches are useful for households who use kerosene stoves, lanterns and candles; and for smokers to light their cigarettes too. Perhaps, the Peoples Democratic Party thought about that when they were packaging matches for distribution to their loyal supporters.
The matches would also have come in handy at that time because power supply was epileptic.
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