Too poor to revolt?, By Wole Olaoye

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Reading Time: 5 mins read

Veteran politician Sule Lamido may not parade a chain of degrees, but he does appear to exercise his cerebral faculties admirably when trying to explain away the cul-de-sac to which he and his colleagues have transported Nigerians. This country, famed for having the happiest people on the planet, has always managed to step back each time it reaches the precipice. Optimists describe the phenomenon as resilience while people like Lamido propound their own theory: that the weaponisation of poverty by the ruling class is a sure deterrent to revolts of any kind.

Before you dismiss the theory offhand, consider his argument: “Nigeria is too weak to break. Who will break it? The ordinary person in Jigawa or the ordinary person in Sokoto or the ordinary person in Bayelsa? Is it the Igbo vulcaniser or the Yoruba woman selling kerosene by the roadside or the okada man in Delta? They don’t have the capacity to unite because they are burdened by poverty. We have taken away from them their dignity, their self-esteem, their pride and self-worth so that they cannot even organise.”

Elite Conspiracy

He went further: “Up there, we (the elite) unite . . . We will never allow Nigeria to break because once it breaks, we will lose. But the common man loses nothing. What is he losing? He is already in hell; he cannot lose anything more than this hell.”

The former governor of Jigawa State admits that the political elite, of which he is a prominent member, has reduced the  “common man” to a squalid state of wretchedness and mendicancy. We only need to recall the photographs of thousands of people queuing in front of the mansions of politicians for handouts during the end-of-year festivities to admit that Lamido’s assertion was spot-on. People in search of stomach infrastructure can’t muster enough energy to fight for their rights. They’d rather go on their knees to pick the crumbs that fall from the tables of their political masters.

When we see the ruling elite quarrelling among themselves and calling each other bad names, it’s all part of a  game intended to fool the public. In reality ,they are united in quietly sharing the loot and delivering little or no dividends to their various constituencies. They have a stake in keeping the country exactly as it is—weak and confused and easy to exploit. 

Researchers will have to dig deeper to establish the nexus between the candid observations of a twenty-first century Sule Lamido and the worldview of the famed Greek philosopher, Socrates (c. 470–399 BC). It was as if Socrates foresaw how democracy would be abused by our ruling elite. That must account for why he didn’t think highly of a government of the people, for the people and by the people.

Socratic Logic

Socrates’ reasoning was simple: “If you need any recommendation regarding your health, then you go and see a specialist, i.e., a doctor. If you need to get your shoe stitch, even then you need a shoe specialist. Similarly you need specialists for every work whether it is big or as small as a shoe stitching. Then how can you say that choosing a government or regulating a state could be done by common people and not specialists? Giving a right to vote to every other citizen whether he/she is uneducated, uninformed, or could be manipulated easily by leaders, is thus not appropriate.” 

Socrates considered democracy as a government by the mob that could be easily misled, by demagogues, leaders/representatives that manipulate the common people. In his view, selecting a government or running the affairs of state should be the work of specialists in that field who have the right knowledge and skill of interpreting who is the right leader/representative. He said common people don’t have the intellectual tools to understand the indirect effects of complex processes of government and how the representatives manipulate them. So they could support any person simply based on emotions or their intuition. More often than not, they’ll make the wrong choices.

The ghost of Socrates haunted the public arena last week as mind-bending disclosures were made about how Ministers were playing Monopoly with billions of Naira from the public till. At first, netizens said the figures were too elephantine to be true and that some mischievous people had added salt and pepper in their bid to demonise the public officers involved. Alas, everyone’s jaws fell to the floor when the dramatis personae, in their attempt to exculpate themselves, actually confirmed the horrendous details of their indiscretion.

Corruption is a coup d’état against public morality. It was not surprising therefore that the prompt manner in which the government isolated two of the principal actors attracted commendation from political leaders across the political divide. Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) supported the clampdown on those responsible for the scandal and urged the government to rein in all those involved. Perhaps, if we are still searching for an issue that could bind political leaders together across the aisle, the fight against corruption is a sure magnet.

Rented Protesters

As one revelation rolled over the other, the usual spectacle of supporters for hire hugged the public space. 

“She is our highly respected daughter; she is being framed by those who are jealous of her achievements!”, some whined. 

“This is a plot against women. Why is the man involved not on suspension too?”, others asked.

Yet some others spun a tribal yarn: “This is a calculated attempt to marginalise our geo-political zone!”

When the masses whose commonwealth is being frittered away by the privileged elite take to the streets in defence of the political leeches, then you know that the fire in Babylon was started by Babylonians themselves. 

It was Godwin Daboh who famously said that the reason for his anti-corruption stance, even though he was no saint himself, was that if we all continued to steal at the rate at which politicians of the Second Republic were alleged to be stealing, someday there would be nothing to steal again. In my cynical moments, I wonder if the statement ultimately means that we should not steal everything today so that those coming tomorrow will have something left to steal. 

And that reminds me of the childhood rhyme

It rains on the just

and the unjust fella

But more on the just

’cause unjust stole his umbrella

But I digress!

Rats

As a self confessed democrat, you won’t hear me saying anything against democracy, except to plead that we continue to fine tune it to plug all the loopholes that democRATS, autocRATS and other RATS exploit to dig their incisors into the national pie. This is not the forum to debate why evil seems to always give good a black eye. But don’t ever forget that the Arab spring was ignited by the revolt of an unlikely Mohamed Bouazizi, a poor vendor!

As for Socrates, his prediction is pretty grim: 

“Democracy must fall because it will try to tailor to everyone: The poor will want the wealth of the rich, and democracy will give it to them. Young people will want to be respected as elderly, and democracy will give it to them. Women will want to be like men, and democracy will give it to them. Foreigners will want the rights of the natives and democracy will give it to them. Thieves and fraudsters will want important government functions, and democracy will give it to them. And at that time, when thieves and fraudsters finally, and democratically take authority; because criminals and evil doers want power, there will be worse dictatorship than in the time of any monarchy or oligarchy.”     

                   

Me? I say, God forbid!

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