On Wednesday, May 16, 2018, Hon Ahmed Usman Jaha who is a member of the federal House of Representatives, did something that got a lot of people talking.
Jaha gathered over 5,000 youths in his Gwoza, Borno constituency and handed them shoe shining kits which came fully equipped with polish and brushes.
Jaha’s gift to members of his constituency should worry us, not because the governance bar in Nigeria just got badly lowered once more, but because the recipients were over the moon when they received their gifts--a sad reminder of the poverty and jobless rates in our country and why governments should be doing more to reduce the jobless numbers.
Yet Jaha is not alone. One northern Governor handed out chocolate beverages and milk to Mishai (tea and bread sellers) as his own empowerment initiative.
Another Governor from a north central State handed out wheelbarrows to his peopleas a way of empowering them.
Before elections, politicians seeking one more term in office, storm villages with motor-bikes, tricycles and cutlasses and call all of that “empowerment” and "job creation".
This tokenism speaks of how unimaginative political leaders have become. It speaks of the lack of a rigorous thought process among the ruling elite--the kind of thought process that will deliver real democracy dividends to the people.
Governance in our part of the world has been reduced to tokenism and hand-outs in an age when the rest of the world is arming folks with the kind of vocational skills and education that will alter their lives in more remarkable and permanent ways.
The shoe-shining-kit lawmaker is receiving praise in certain quarters because “that is what his people really need”. But these defenders forget that the people have been so pulverized and brow beaten that anything handed to them would suffice.
These defenders of highly incompetent public officials are a part of the problem. When followership doesn’t hold leadership to account or demand better from leadership, leadership becomes docile, arrogant and insensitive.
We have to do better as followers and leaders. Democracy works a lot better when citizens demand better of government and engage elected officials rigorously. Citizens who have been shortchanged by corrupt leaders would of course consider shoe shining kits major gifts. They don't have too much of a choice, do they?
Shoe shining kits isn’t exactly what a lawmaker should be calling the press to come cover, let's be real here.
How many people in Jaha's constituency have received scholarships in his name? How many schools in his constituency has Jaha renovated? How many books has Jaha bought for school kids? Are there ICT labs Jaha is opening in his villages any time soon? How many have learnt trades like tailoring, mechanics, carpentry or other better paying artisanal jobs thanks to Jaha's foresightedness?
Shoe shining kits? How low can we go?