Ricism: How Nigerian Politicians Steal Votes by illegal Means
The latest neologism in the Nigerian political economy is ‘ricism.’ The author defines ricism as “the use of rice, other foodstuff (beans, tinned foods, salt) and essential commodities (kerosene, farm tools, textile fabrics, crockery) by politicians to induce voters to make on the spot decisions to vote for them.” The democratic political economy of Nigeria is determined by the ‘vote,’ and the vote is determined by ‘rice.’ How did Nigeria get into such a mess?
The 2014 Ekiti state gubernatorial elections was a glaring example of things to come in 2015 general elections. Bags of rice bearing the names of two main contenders: Fayose and Fayemi, and their respective party logos were very visible in the campaigns. Fayemi who lost the election is even seen in an iconic photo wearing a chef’s apron serving rice to would-be voters. Fayose announced on social media that God made him win. Is God corrupt too? The 2014 Anambra state gubernatorial candidate, Ifeanyi Uba, shared kerosene to his electorate but still lost the election. What did Uba’s opponents share to the electorate, how much of it, comparatively?
Ricism as practiced is legalised vote-stealing in that the politician who can provide the most rice and other commodities often appears to win. Furthermore, the politician who practices ricism cannot be charged or convicted for such an openly immoral attempt at vote-stealing. We should very circumspect about those who valiantly claim ricism has little or no effect on the outcome of elections. Why import ship loads of (low quality) rice from Thailand to share to voters in your constituency if it is ineffectual in elections? It would be naïve to presume that ricism alone is a universal election winner. Ricism would require very good strategy or sheer luck to win some elections, in others it would be an overwhelmingly decisive factor.
Ricism beneath the surface is a function of many things; hunger, poverty, uncertainty, learned helplessness, hopelessness, cynicism. Nevertheless, at an even deeper level it is necessitated by fear… stultifying fear. There are hundreds of causes of fear in urban and rural Nigeria, usually created or exacerbated by the ubiquitous failure of politicians. Yet, the fear is experienced by both politicians and everyday Nigeria. Ricism becomes both an electoral persuader and a ‘fear of violence’ antidote. In Nigerian culture “you do not eat (food) from a person then harm them’ (physically) is still sacred in community activities, violence against politicians and their key supporters is thus pre-diffused. That aspect of culture is now very tired and overripe for disintegration.
Within the Nigerian polity most everyday Nigerians sincerely want to have a genuine say in elections through their vote and they overwhelmingly deserve to. They were the ones who were mobilized to protest and fight successfully against almost two decades of military rule while the politically ambitious were comfortably in exile, only to return to enter easily into positions of power. The very devastation military rule is accused inflicting on everyday Nigerians are now used by “democratically elected politicians” to deprive, degrade, neglect and manipulate them. Under such unfavourable conditions politicians have it easy with the electorate since they can be cheaply “bought” with rice. The electorate are seriously discontented and angry but are yet express such in definitive terms.
Military rule might return to Nigeria under the circumstances. Whether that happens or not, the moral is that the everyday Nigerian will remember that he or she was given a token of rice by the plate or the bag (and nothing else) once every four years so as to be persuaded vote in politicians who go on to leave office immensely much richer on that same vote. The everyday Nigerian will not be in hurry or even remotely interested in protesting or fighting for another ‘return to democracy’ and the politicians would have only themselves to blame. The West that aggressively promoted ‘democracy in Africa’ now realises it was easier to do business with singular monolithic military dictators than a fiercely competitive multiple political interests.
The 2015 general elections should be an opportunity for politicians to contest and win elections then deliver a better society for everyday Nigerians and entrench democracy as visibly the best political system to live under. That is unlikely to happen. At the moment everyday Nigerians are not convinced of the superiority of democracy over military. These people have heard of the ‘dividends of democracy’ but have not seen or lived it. The adulthood of the everyday Nigerian is short. With life expectancy at under 50 years of age, Nigerians have one generation of adult life and living half a generation, 15 years, without seeing the ‘dividends of democracy’ is testing their patience to the limit.
Democracies only mature when at every stage of their development the essential requirements of the people are sufficiently fulfilled, and electorates are only tolerant with democracy when there are practical reasons for them to continue to trust in it. Democracy cannot be taken for granted by politicians for too long.
- PERSPECTIVE is published every Monday. Dr. Nane is an errant scholar and economist. Follow him on Twitter: @Grimot