By JD Ephraim
In earlier discussions , we tried to understand the concepts of “politician”,and “politics”.
Now, we will discuss how poverty influences the nature,texture and colour of politics and thereby giving it a new terminology – the politics of stomach infrastructure.
Stomach infrastructure is an interesting terminology that gained currency in recent political discourses. You begin to wonder what infrastructure has got to do with the stomach. But we do know that the stomach is that organ in human beings and animals that stores food in the process of digestion. But not in the present sense. We also know that “infrastructure ” has to do with basic facilities, services,and installations needed for the functioning of the community or the society.It could be the underbuilding. But it is not in this sense.
Somebody who is new to popular Nigerian political parlances would begin to wonder what is meant by
“stomach infrastructure “.Literally speaking, could it be the basic facilties, services,etc, needed for the organ in a human being which is used for storing food in the digestive process ? However, this is often used in politics. You hear of politicians doing politics that”take care of their stomachs”, and so, you refer to it as, “politics of stomach infrastructure “.
To a serious minded citizen this terminology is derogatory when used to refer to the kind of politics politicians are playing.But it is the reality.We all know who a politician is, or is supposed to be and what politics is, or is supposed to be, but when it is being used in reference to a human stomach, then it gives cause for concern. For instance, what has politics as an activity got to do directly with the stomach ? We need to refresh our memories of what politics is, and who a politician is.
In every human organisation, there is the need for decisions to be taken by a few on behalf of the rest of the members. It is this decision-making that is referred to as politics.
There is no one acceptable definition of politics. While Aristotle saw man as a “political animal”,Lenin on the other hand defined politics as, “who does what and to whom? ” Some other people define politics as the ” allocation of power and responsibility ” , and the ” making of authoritative decisions including the authoritative allocation of values”.
Politics has to do with settlement of disputes; reconciliation of interests, in organised groups.
Harold Laswel would say that politics is “who gets what,when, and how ? ”
There are differences in society, because society is not homogenous. These differences and non-homogeneity give rise to conflict of interests or disagreement.There is need therefore, for politics to reconcile these conflicts in organised groups.All governments are political and their decisions are therefore, political.
It is an attempt to escape from the ” state of nature” , as alluded to by the 17th Century English Writer, Thomas Hobbes. He argued that man is by nature selfish. Therefore, conflicts would ensue and to ensure the existence of mankind, certain basic needs must be satisfied, in universally accepted ways, which man must comply with for orderliness. Where there is peace, politics is possible, and where there is no peace, there is war; although some writers would say that war is a continuation of politics by other means. At the end, they will come to the conference table.
Man is a political animal, but not every human being is a political man. People get into politics to pursue interests such as economic, social and even psychological. Therefore a political man is a person who sacrifices all his interests ( including stomach infrastructure), to acquire the status of influence. Therefore, to such a person, politics is an end and not a means to an end. That differentiates the professional politicians from those playing politics for their”stomachs”.
THE STOMACH INFRASTRUCTURE POLITICIAN : Here, we will discuss the kind of person who does not see politics as an end but sees it as merely a means to an end(the stomach). To such a person therefore, politics is the “acquisition of infrastructure ” to satisfy his “stomach”. Even where influence is acquired in the process, the sole purpose is not for service of the community or group, but he sees it as” infrastructure ” to satisfy his “stomach”.
This is a deviation from the standard understanding of a politician in the leadership structure of society.
The politician as a class in the leadership structure helps to form the normative basis of the leadership structure mainly because they are required to manage political developments and are responsible for the conduct of the strictures, building them to achieve societal goals, fostering new forms of techniques, social relations and the overall quality of life. In doing this, the politicians take both the rewards and the sanctions as political entrepreneurs compelled to focus on ends instrumental to development.
The politicians serve as brokers between the forces of modernity and the forces of tradition.
Politicians serve the function of goal specification, fostering institutional coherence and central control of the state system. They aggregate interests and articulate goals. This is classical understanding of the term” politician ” and his functions in an organised society.
However, the other type of politician is that who is not concerned with the above functions and when the goals of the functions seem to be achieved , they are incidental fall- outs .This type of politician is concerned with his stomach and how he can fill it. That is his pre-occupation. This leads him to sacrifice many values of politics that should otherwise make him a good politician.
Such a politician is forced to concentrate on satisfying his stomach and capturing the ” ” “infrastructure” for it. This behaviour is caused mainly by poverty which is prevalent in the society. Such politician is driven by economic want so much so that he forgets or is ignorant of the real functions of the politician. He is often accused of lacking in ideology. But his ideology is his stomach.He engages in politics of “stomach infrastructure “. In other words, it is politics of poverty or poverty of politics.
Poverty is used to describe a state of several things.I could be lack of money, ideas, development, democracy etc. You can use the term to mean lack of anything.
Poverty describes a situation of want and all the consequences that manifest as a result of lack.It is a situation where one does not have enough for all the things material and essential to ones existence. It is a state of being poor.
Poverty also refers not only to a state of something, but to its quality as well. However, poverty is often referred to as the quantum of money one has- either in terms of liquid cash, or in assets , which can be converted to cash at any time.
One is therefore poor and is living below the “poverty line”. By ” line” , we mean the official level of income that is necessary to be able to buy basic things one needs, such as food, clothing,shelter,medicines, etc.
Some politicians play ” politics of stomach infrastructure ” , because the country has not been able to develope. This may continue unless we redefine, or reframe our development paradigms. This needs leaders. But the leaders would be thrown up by the kind of politics politicians are playing. If it continues to be tat of stomach infrastructure, then the wrong kind of leaders will always be thrown up. Leaders who lack emotional and executive intelligence to be able to selflessly take patriotic decisions.
The Obasanjo’s government thought of a paradigmic shift that was hoped to land the country within the top twenty most developed countries in the world by 2020.This has been achieved astoundingly IN THE REVERSE. People often take paradigmic shifts to mean offering structural palliative. We now have COVID-19 P alliatives. But a paradigmic shift has to be a complete change in the way we think, plan, and do things.
In highly capitalistic economies where private capital and private enterprise are held sacrosanct, it is a paradigmic shift if and when government begins to pump money and capital into private enterprises and fundamentally changing the regulatory rules .This happens during periods of deep recession as the world is currently experiencing due to the aftermath of COVID-19, although, the effects of the recession varies according to country.
Nigeria does not lack development literature. There is the prevalent argument that classical theories of economic development are no longer valid in framing development agenda. Nigeria thus suffers from an array of development agenda that have not been put to use and today, Nigeria, especially the northern part, is referred to as the “POVERTY CAPITAL” of the world.
If the state of the economy controls the political realm to a large extent,It is therefore, not surprising that instead of politicians to be concerned with the classical functions of politics, they are preoccupied instead, with how to fill their stomachs, in other words, stomach infrastructure. Again, instead of politicians occupying themselves with infrastructural development and paradigmic shift in the way they plan think and do things for the socio- economic development of the country, they are preoccupied, in politics, with individual existential problems, and thus politics for them is politics for the stomach or “stomach infrastructure “.
Politicians who are supposed to take decisions on behalf of the society are, in view of this, preoccupied with thoughts and activities of stomach infrastructure. The issue of who gets what, when and how, has the denominator as the stomach. Who does what and to whom has the underlying consideration of stomach and nothing but stomach and its infrastructure.
Where ever there are disputes, conflicts,or even consensus or agreement,It is about the stomach.You can substitute “stomach” for “self”. The colour, the context,and nature of political disagreements, or even decision making or decisions taken, are all about the stomach or the self. It is in consideration of these we term our politics, not classical, but politics of trying to fill the stomach, a substantial cause of this being poverty in the society. Where there is poverty, there is no political ideology.