Kayode Fayemi lost and Ayodele Fayose won. The overwhelming consensus, even with people that were Fayemi aficionados before the elections, in blog after blog and op-ed after op-ed, is that Fayemi was too elitist and Fayose was a man of the people; that Fayemi lost because his policies were too cerebral (ergo, the Ekiti people are a thick bunch) and that Fayose, with all his travails and alleged character flaws, is the man whose governance and policies favour the people more.
Analysts are all agreeing that while roads, bridges, healthcare and raised educational standards are all fantastic ideals, a governor who would be re-elected must “empower the people”. The governor-elect, true to his pre-electoral reputation, has already declared that he will empower the people of Ekiti by awarding them contracts, whatever that means. He understands, it has repeatedly been said since the elections, what is euphemistically referred to as “stomach infrastructure”. Ekiti is full of poor, hungry people and Fayose, with his common touch, is more connected to the people and understands better the importance of stomach infrastructure, the arguments go. Unlike the outgoing governor, who was simply too elitist (like Fashola of Lagos, it is frequently added).
Elitism has suddenly become this dirty word, this contraption by which elections will surely be lost. And the sure banker route to electoral victory is ensuring that as an incumbent governor, you maintain the status quo and keep the rent-seekers and hangers on happy, lest they rebel against you and deliver each single local government in the state to the enemy.
Is Fayemi’s “elitism” is something to be apologetic for? Obviously, in the zero sum game that is our current political arena, some populism is required in the quest to retain political power and the fact that Fayemi will cede his office to Fayose, come October, shows that elections are still largely a popularity contest. However, the question must be asked, of those who would think, whether or not the status quo is desirable. Do we want people to win elections so they can beat their chests and dance victory dances, or do we want people to win elections because we believe they will govern in the best way possible? In a country where we complain about the First Couple’s frequent foot-in-mouth gaffes, why was it ultimately wrong for this governor to be of the desired mould?
The question is moot and yet it is at the same relevant to the on-going examination. Shall we continue to wallow in the incompetencies of today, so that our stomachs may be serviced, or should we look at where we need to be and do the things necessary to help us get there? Do we, as a society, have values about this sort of thing, or is our value system limited to compelling all women to be married before they hit 30? Is “elitism” a bad thing for politicians because it supposedly lost Fayemi the elections?
It certainly sounds nice to have governors who buy food by the roadsides and share the monthly federal allocations around, but any buffoon can do that. In fact, there are many buffoons doing this all over Nigeria at the moment. Is this buffoonery preferable to development and does the fact that the people of Ekiti rejected a progressive governor make this buffoonery right? What exactly is the point of governance?
We cannot, on the one hand, criticise governors who celebrate mundane, basic amenities like boreholes and motorcycles, yet make a governor renowned for prudence and excellence feel like his conduct and policies as a governor were regrettable.
There is no society that has progressed by working with the thinking prevalent amongst its lowest echelon. Such thinking, as is evident with this “stomach infrastructure” argument, is inherently short-termist and therefore inferior and unreliable. Societies progress when the greater good of the greater number is pursued and if this is being “elitist”, then elitism is a good thing and I would be happy to belong to the elite.
When we say people (or “the masses”) are poor and hungry and that this poverty is what directs how they vote, can we objectively say that their choices are rational? Or is rationality a subjective thing, depending on the abjectness or otherwise of one’s poverty? Granted, the game is about winning and, no matter how much Arsene Wenger says it, coming anything other than first is not like winning a trophy. But is winning elections the sole aim of governance? How can we clamour for good governance but deride a man for not throwing scarce money away, in the name of stomach infrastructure? How can it be bad for the governor to have focused on real infrastructure?
There have been attempts to rationalise what happened in the Ekiti elections. You can read my favourite pieces here and here. It would seem from the analysis that one cannot be a purist in Nigeria and hope to remain in power and this is a very fearful thing. It means that there really is no incentive to lean away from the malaises that we all agree are holding the country back – the corruption, the nepotism, the impunity. You see, a blanket empowerment of the people by awarding them contracts means that you are discarding due process in tenders as a governor. It connotes that “the people” will be awarded these contracts irrespective of their qualification or suitability. It means that you will feed the entitlement mentality of “sharing” and “making the money flow”. It means that you have already compromised on good governance. It means that the change of Nigeria, of your state, does not lie in you.
Luckily for us, Fayose can only be governor for four years and no more. Perhaps he will be more concerned with his legacy, as will not be eligible for re-election, given his previous term as governor. Maybe he will mix his populism with some pragmatic elitism and flip the script for 2018.