“My people, I, High Chief Omosetan Omorele Iletiya promised that if you vote for me, within my first 100 days in office, I will ensure that NEPA, sorry I mean PHCN will supply 24 hours electricity to your homes. Our railway system would work again, water will run in your taps, no one will ever sleep under the bridge anymore; no member of this great community will ever go to bed hungry. I am a man of my words, if you vote for me in the coming election, I promise to have police deployed in front of your houses so that you can go to bed and sleep with your two eyes closed. As a token of my commitment to you, before you leave this ground, you will get one chicken and sachet pure water each. Thank you.”
Promises such as the ones made by High Chief Iletiya, above, are very common among our politicians when campaigning for election. In a desperate attempt to win election, our politicians would promise us heaven on earth, even when they know within themselves that what they are promising the people are unrealistic. They also induce the electorates with various gift items to influence them to vote for them. However, over the years, the electorates have come to realize that all are but empty promises. The people have realized that those they call “honourable” are men without honour and cannot be trusted. Hardly have they ever fulfilled their promises to them.
The beginning of distrust between the leaders and people can be traced back to per-independence years. As revealed by the first prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, our early nationalists portrayed vision of prosperity they could not realize in their bid to rally the people for freedom. Soon after it was granted, our nationalists could not maintain the inter-ethnic peace which had been enforced by the colonial overlords. The elites who had commanded popular support before independence had to demonstrate their continuing legitimacy, and in competing against other parties, they could not resist the temptation of appealing to ethnic, linguistic and religious loyalties. Up till now, we have not deviated from that path and have even become worst. The motto of our current leaders appears to be “power at all cost” even if it means shedding the blood of the people they want to represent. Their interest has always been to secure their own future and that of their immediate family rather than the future of the country. As soon as they get to power they damn the electorates. Trust in the corridor of power has been completely eroded. As it is today, no matter the personality, once a person decides to run for public office, his integrity will be called to question by the people. In some quarters, it is believed that good people don’t get involved in politics. The erroneous believe, that majority of those seeking public office are only out to enrich themselves made people to find solace in collecting their own share of the “national cake” by making as much money as possible from them because when they get to power they will be out of their control.
But how do we deal with this distrust?
Obviously, without trust it would be very difficult to get the cooperation of the people on various policies of the government. Therefore, to get the people to trust their leaders, politicians must deal with the people with integrity. Politicians must put an end to vague promises they know cannot be achieved. They must take note of the various promises they made during their campaign and ensure they walk their talk when they win. Where a leader is unable to fulfill his electoral promises due to reasons clearly beyond his own control, he should present his case to the people and avoid trying to play on their intelligence.
The people too must be realistic in their expectations. Most of our challenges as a nation cannot be completely solved within few years, so when a politician come knocking our doors with promises we know he cannot fulfil, it will be better to shut the door against him than put hope on such a person. More importantly, the people must not fall for the gimmicks of politicians who try to induce them with money and other gift items to influence their vote. Politicians who throw money around during elections are businessmen, when they get to power their first priority is to recoup their investment with interest, and probably try to make more to spend in their re-election. Finally, we must recognise the sincere efforts of some of our leaders to solve the various challenges affecting our society, and it is our duty to support them to move our nation forward.
Shola Olayiwola is a freelance writer. He loves to write and defend the course of his country.