Another season for Christmas rice or rice politics…yet the commodity not in circulation

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By Samuel Abasiekong-Abasiekong

Until the advent of democracy in Nigeria in 1999, we only knew of Abakaliki rice, uncle Ben’s rice and local rice. Other names are often heard such as, sand free rice and sand rice

The seeming departure of some Nigerians from their native food to have multiple menus on their dinning table have added much value to rice and graded it to be a social class meal rated in preference over native food during festivities and public ceremonies.

Same as garri and soup, cassava flake locally known as fufu, eba or agbu with soup combination is rated in high premium by Nigerians and other West African countries and in Central Africa. But rice in however way it’s cooked depending on the country culture is a preferred meal for most Asian countries, Europeans and countries in the West.

As a plus to rice being seen as a status symbol meal in Nigeria during ceremonies another categorization has been given to some rice eaten in Nigeria at the festive season of Christmas and new year.

In Nigeria, eating of rice at Christmas and new year in all Christian States since 1999 is either the individual or the family is celebrating those two religious commemorations by eating Christmas rice or being a beneficiary of “Rice Politics”.

But in a quick survey on the availability of “Rice Politics” in most states in Nigeria, the feedback is that politicians have relaxed their implementation of this strategy this years because of the high cost of the commodity.

A respondent in our inquiry of her expectations of rice from politicians in the festive season, said she doesn’t expect much from that angle given the fact that the present administration had made rice unaffordable nationwide, at such I will still buy few cups to cook for my family, I expect very much less from our political representative and the Governor. If they were going to be rice to share by politicians, before today 20th December, you would have seen rice exchanging hands and flying everywhere, But now that we have not seen or received any rice, we are still going buy it ourself and still celebrate Christmas, she said.

Christmas rice is any quantity of rice an individual or family buys without any financial assistance from anyone. We will not dwell much on Christmas rice on this piece, but on “Rice Politics”.
But “Rice Politics” is when rice is used as a bet to woo the recipient to support the political aspirations of the donor. In another word it’s rice given to a potential voter for political bargain.

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“Rice Politics” is properly sitted in few States of the South. While in some southern States, politicians usually gives the beneficiaries 10Kg,25Kg or 50Ks of rice, in northern States, a modu of rice and less than a handful of spices suffix to lobby the electorates for political aspirations.

The introduction of this strategy in politics has made the game outrageous expensive in the South.

Akwa Ibom State which we used as a pilot State for this analysis has been noted as where “Rice Politics” is one of the major contributory factors to the victory of a politicians at the poll.

Rice politics started in Akwa Ibom State in the era of former Governor Obong Victor Attah. Obong Attah became governor of Akwa Ibom in 1999 with less opposition than he encountered in 2003 when he wanted to return for second term.

In his second coming, he has political tigers such as late Dr. Ime Umanah and Late Air Commondor Idongesit Nkanga to content with.

Obong Attah’s main contenders were not mere men. They were round pecks politicians with proven records of honest Stewardship in their previous respective engagements.

Thus, to ensure he buys the hearts of a voting block he could easily reach out to, Obong Attah introduced “Rice Politics” by sharing 50K bags of rice to almost all civil servants in all ministries and parastatals and agencies of government. Some Directors had two to three bags and other staff at the lower echelon of civil service were paired to share a bag with two persons.

The wisdom behind “Rice Politics” was that every family has a civil servant. So by collecting the rice and eating same, the beneficiaries and their household will vote Obong Attah for second term.

The stock taking of the impact of Rice Politics on the electorates was seen by Attah successor as a rational strategy to win the hearts of the electorates.

Thus Rice Politics was adopted into other strategies of former Governor Godswill Akpabio in most of his campaign and consultations.

In some cases Akpabio used to add bags of salts, sachets of spices such as Maggie cube and vegetable oil but the next administration didn’t do that.

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In Obong Victor Attah and Chief Godswill Akpabio era, they were always gratifying their targets with 50Kg bag of rice. But when the immediate past Governor of the State came he added an esthetic to Rice Politics by branding them to show that it was donated by Akwa Ibom State government.

Udom’s rice which was claimed to be harvested in Akwa Ibom State government farms, milled and bagged in the State was reduced into sizes of 10Kg, 25K and some 50Kg.

Rice Politics which has hitherto been adopted by politicians as another tool to initiate consultations with the political class and the masses at the grassroot is now seriously politicized.

Rice Politics is what has made political aspirations in this part of Nigeria very expensive. Nowadays, and often times than not, individuals politicians add live goats, yams, smoked fish when they want to consult high profile political stakeholders.

When rice alone is given to a large number of persons the main intent and purpose of the donor is to use it as a bet to woo supporters and voters for his next political aspirations.

But often times the middle men and the channels assigned to take the rice to the targeted voting blocks play politics with it. And that’s what makes it “Rice Politics”.

In all seasons of Rice Politics, a large chunk of rice sent to the masses are often diverted by the middle men who refuse to give it to deserving persons and targeted voting blocks, but put it on sales and some donate it only to members of their families and few friends.

The strategy of rice politics which has surreptitiously sneaked in into Nigeria politics and rated as a potent weapon to curry supports is no more practiced by Governors alone but also by other aspiring politician and all those who are already in an elected positions.

In Obong Victor Attah, Chief Godswill Akpabio and Deacon Udom Emmanuel days in office, rice was very much affordable. Whether it was Uncle Ben’s or local rice, politicians were able to afford truck loads of the produce to give to their constituents or to some target class of persons, socio-political groups or organizations in the State. But today the price of 50Kg of rice goes for N50 thousand Naira and much more depending on the brand and quality.

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In previous years and administrations rice politics usually start from the first week of December. At that time politicians will be watching the quantity of rice donated by Mr. A, B and C and the competing or opposing politician may decide to double or triple his own donations to same recipients or other constituents.

Thus as it stands would there be rice politics this year in Akwa Ibom State? Would the incumbent Governor Pastor Umo Eno plays rice politics as his predecessors? With the high cost of rice per bag, would the state government gives rice at all?

Hoping that Pastor Umo Eno will soon roll out his own rice politics in the State, I will like to appeal to the Governor to redesign an honest formula and strategies to circumvent diversion of the gift as it was always happening in previous administrations where rice were misappropriated when sent out to the people at the grassroot.

The governor should include a feedback contact ( phone number) on all bags of rice given out to enable recipients acknowledge delivery.

Where Nigerians can no more buy a cup of rice because of its high price per cup a donation of rice to the masses who can’t afford it at this festive period will be very much appreciated by the electorates

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About Samuel Abasiekong 997 Articles
Samuel Abasiekong, Senior Journalist, Newspaper Publisher, Author of many literature text books, French-English, English-French languages Translator and Interpreter, Public Relations/Advertising Expert, Multi-sectoral Counsellor & Consultant, Nigerian Red Cross Society Volunteer, News Editor & Reporter @ 9News Nigeria