week, the Nigerian government unveiled ‘Nigeria Air’, introducing our latest
national vanity project to the world. Several commentators have raised concerns
on the transparency, economic expediency, and sustainability of the project,
but I am more troubled that the policy interests of our politicians do not
necessarily align with those of a majority of Nigerians.

is true that a national carrier may boost some – theoretical – national pride.
It may even serve the transport needs of upper and middle class Nigerians. But,
for the near 112 million Nigerians who live in some form of poverty, the
prestige and function of a national carrier is as meaningful as draping a
well-embroidered agbada over a starving child. 

proliferation of this type of imitation-statehood policies inevitably
disconnects the people from the state. Consider, for example, the significant
constitutional amendments signed by President Buhari in May. There was neither
debate nor inclination to do so amongst ordinary members of Nigerian society.
Contrast this against countries where individuals have a real stake in the
state: constitutional changes generate near civil-war levels of opinion even
among the poorly educated.

last systematic and deliberate involvement of all Nigerians in a national
policy direction was during the creation of the MacPherson Constitution in
1951. That constitution led to independence. Since then, the Nigerian state has
deviated from popular aspirations and has been shaped by – and for – the
political elite. Yet, many well-meaning people continue to think that, without
a radical reform agenda, the Nigerian state will somehow work for the best
interests of everyone. But disempowered Nigerians are not fooled by this
fantasy. This is why, in elections, they vote for their own immediate
gratification instead of investing hope in a system that has yielded losses for
almost sixty years.

brings me to the Ekiti state election.

arguments on vote-buying in Ekiti reflect a shocking degree of unawareness by
educated Nigerians. The range of reactions – from disgust at the idea of
selling votes to admonitions that one party had simply outmanoeuvred the other
under conventional rules of the game – ignore a worrisome fact: that a
majority of the Nigerian population are squarely and justifiably disinterested
in the Nigerian state

only three categories of people across the country are still invested in the
current Nigeria: (i) the political and economic elite; (ii) the direct
dependents and beneficiaries of this elite; and (iii) the – loosely defined –
educated middle class. The interests of the elite – and those of their partisan
acolytes, sycophants, and cronies – are self-evident. These people are solely
concerned with using the political system as a territorial resource
exploitation system. To control and exploit resources, there has to be a
centralised political state.

between the beneficiaries of our political and economic inequalities and the
disconnected and impoverished majority is the educated middle class. These
Nigerians, schooled in the ideals of statehood and citizenship, try to create
function out of dysfunction. But because they are able to negotiate with the
state from a position of privilege, they are typically invested in the
continuity of the same dysfunctional political system. It is within this
category of Nigerians that the Ekiti vote-buying debate is most pronounced.
Typically, the arguments include: blaming illiteracy (We need voter
), blaming poverty (This happens because people are poor),
recommending practicality (Collect the money but vote your conscience),
or even blaming democracy (Not everyone should be allowed to vote).

these arguments, despite their sincerity, project a disregard for the autonomy
of poor, illiterate, and ordinary Nigerian citizens. These arguments tend to be
condescending in blame and paternalistic in advice; they are projected through
the perspectives and experiences of Nigerians privileged by education. The
muted assumption is that underprivileged Nigerians have an unclear
understanding of citizenship and, therefore, need guidance from their

many poor and uneducated Nigerians may not understand the ideals of
constitutional governance, still they display a very rational understanding of:
(i) the essential inefficiency of the Nigerian state in its current form; and
(ii) the futility of expecting function from a dysfunctional political system.
The people of Ekiti – and oppressed Nigerians in general – are wise not to
grant legitimacy to such a dysfunctional political system. In the absence of
any real participation, a game of musical chairs ensues.

idea that many Nigerians are disinterested in the Nigerian state is hard to
process by our educated middle class. But anyone who has consistently dealt
with the Nigerian state from a position of powerlessness quickly understands the
personal implications of dysfunction. Inequality becomes a daily systemic

that cannot be dismissed simply by the promises of partisan politics.

so, the question is not just how to educate voters or ensure they are well-fed
before elections. The fundamental question is: how do we create a political
system that empowers, and enables the equal participation and involvement of
every individual beyond the ballot box? This question leads to ideas around
strengthening local governance, increasing democratic powers at the grassroots,
and creating publicly accountable oversight institutions. And, at this point,
we are venturing into high-level constitutional and national restructuring. But
this will be a topic for another day.