My Crowd Is Bigger Than Yours - A Journey Back In Time, by Morak Babajide-Alabi
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My Crowd Is Bigger Than Yours – A Journey Back In Time

By Morak Babajide-Alabi

The last-minute announcement of the postponement of yesterday’s first leg of the 2019 General Elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is a clear indication of an organisation that has meticulously planned for failure for four years.  There is nothing wrong in shifting the date of an election if necessary logistics are not in place. But the announcement should be done ahead of time.

For INEC, a few hours before the commencement of the election is the ideal time. Then you wonder what the officials have been planning all the while. Yet, they gave the impression that they were busy and well-coordinated. Now we know better.

Well, as we have an extra week to pray so these officials get their acts right, let us journey back into history. We love to operate on “schedule” and “patterns”, and we can see this is what INEC is trying to do. Have you forgotten the 2015 elections postponement? We love history, and so we forgive the 2019-INEC.

Once again I reach into my archives to prove the point that Nigeria is at a standstill. The article below was published in this column on January 18, 2015. Make your conclusions if you think there has (or not) been any change.

At the onset of the 2015 electioneering campaign for the general elections in Nigeria, observers anticipated that two major issues would dominate the campaign. They are corruption and insecurity – especially Boko Haram’s threat to national existence. However, it is disappointing that these contestants have so far not lived up to the expectations of the analysts, observers, Nigerians and the world at large. The candidates have been carrying on as if they care less about the Boko Haram insurgency or corruption in Nigeria.

While the international community is concerned particularly by the Boko Haram threat, our politicians prefer to make “blanket” campaign statements on it. They acknowledge Boko Haram, and the fact that there is insecurity in the country, but have refused to accept that the threat is more than the mere rhetoric they are “dishing” out on the issue. They talk about corruption as if they will wish it away once the election is over.

On insecurity in the country, the politicians have been playing the “hide and seek” game. They have refused to outline their plans on how they are going to “get” the country back and make it safer. If there is one thing Nigerian politicians do best, it is expecting voters to read their minds and understand what their plans for the country are. They are nonchalant to the cries of the masses. All they care for is how to get to the “end point”. We do not blame them, because a typical Nigerian politician gets to “power” before formulating policies. So, for now, they have no clue other than the textbook solutions.

As our politicians are busy massaging their own egos and dancing “on” the Boko Haram issue, the country is gradually becoming a joke. The world is amazed at our “composure” while our “roof is on fire”. But they are concerned for us every time Boko Haram commits its genocidal acts. With recent happenings in France, Belgium and other places, the world fears for us as they believe we seem to be comfortable sitting on a big keg of gunpowder.

This was vocally expressed in UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech at the White House on Friday, January 16, 2015. He specifically mentioned Boko Haram as a big threat. So also last week (2015) the British Parliament convened a special session to discuss Boko Haram against the background of its latest attack of genocide on Baga town.

The concerns of the international community have not rubbed off on our politicians. This is why none of the candidates has issued a policy statement on how they would fight the “devil” called Boko Haram.

The 2015 general elections in Nigeria is definitely throwing up so many surprises as we coast towards D-Day. Never in the history of elections in the country have there been so much excitement, anxiety and anticipation. From Zamfara to Aba, the campaign trains have been sights to behold as we all revel in what these politicians launch every day.

The campaigns have not been limited to only the podiums. For the first time in Nigeria (again) politicians are taking their stories, dramas and “mediocrity” to the grassroots. It is now in the country’s political campaign “manual” to walk down the streets eating “roasted plantain”, ‘jumping” on “Okada” and pretending to be “common men”. The masses are amused. Not quite sure of what to make of these “desperado” politicians, they look at each other, shake their heads and feel sorry for themselves. They know they are being deceived (again) by the “comic acts” they comprehend they will only see on televisions after the elections.

Nowadays, it’s not out-of-place to sit next to a major politician in “public transport”. They hop in and out of “molues”, disobeying the law of the land that ban “preaching”, and “campaigns” on public transport systems. They hang onto the rails of “Keke Marwa” smiling to everyone on the street. These politicians are showing us how ordinary they can be before elections. In one moment, they are in churches, taking Holy Communion and the next moment they are in mosques with rosaries and doing ablutions before prayers. Some have even taken the campaign further by visiting shrines and covens and eating concoctions that will ensure “deliverance” of their victories.

The presidential campaigns have been really interesting. They have been moving from one state to the other, changing “regalias” as it suits the states they are in. The attendances at these campaign venues have also been impressive. The masses are trooping to venues, although not in expectation of impressive speeches by the politicians. No. The majority are attending by “coercion”. They are coerced into attending and be part of the crowd because they are civil servants and have been mandated by their governors to either be there or lose their next wages. Most are “financially” coerced.

They are not disappointed, though. Rather. they are amused. The quality of their speeches is below what you will expect from kindergarten politicians. In every campaign, the pattern is the same. They come on board, raise clenched fists (Fidel Castro style), scream down the microphone the party slogans and a few “curses” on the head of their opponents. The crowd cheers and dance to music blaring from the speakers. The politicians are happy and spurred on by the reactions of the crowd, and they rain more “curses” on their opponents.

For the first (?) time in the history of political campaigns in Nigeria, the size of the crowd in attendance is a major determinant of success. No one cares about the quality of the speeches. We are judging the contestants by how big their crowds are. It is, therefore, no surprise that the political parties are accusing each other of parading rented crowds.

Social media is living to its billing. Daily the pictures of campaign rallies are “showcased”. It is becoming more of “show me your crowd, I will show you how big ours is”. I have a feeling that the pictures of the large crowd are to convince the undecided voters on the social media to put their vote where the crowd is. A new dimension is fans circulating pictures depicting scanty venues at opposition parties, all to belittle their chances.

It is my hope that as the election campaign hots up, there will be new momentum to the campaigns. Will there be television or radio debates for the other contestants as witnessed in Lagos State? Please let there be.

As written for the column “Diaspora Matters”, Sunday Vanguard February 17, 2019.

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