By Morak Babajide-Alabi
Let us go a little back into the past. Especially as we prepare to vote this Saturday at Nigeria’s 2019 General Election. I have the strong urge to cast a glance back and reflect on how it was four years ago, in the run-up to the Presidential elections. The 2015 election was projected to be a turning point in the history of Nigeria. The several forecasts by observers were very gloomy, to say the least. Most of them were focussed on rumours of riots, wars and preparations for civil disobedience. They were calculated to be on a scale never experienced in this part of the world.
As we reminiscence now, we do not know what to make of the various reports. Till date, the writers have not come up with counter reports detailing how everything went against their predictions. In the absence of any of these, we have been left with our own thoughts on why the elections did not result in the break-up of the great country of Nigeria.
A school of thought had stated that Nigeria survived because of the maturity displayed by the defeated incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. It was out of character for a Nigerian leader to concede defeat. It was usually a “do or die” affair. But Jonathan was ahead of his compatriots on this level, as he not only conceded defeat so early; he offered his hand of fellowship to Muhammad Buhari – the declared winner.
No matter what Jonathan might later say about the concession, he saved Nigeria from the conflagration that would have enveloped her. Although he has been reported to have said he was forced to accept defeat, it matters not to many Nigerians. His words after the elections are still ringing in our ears as he said: “As I have always affirmed, nobody’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian. The unity, stability and progress of our dear country is (sic) more important than anything else.”
The stakes were high and the politicians were not ready to yield grounds to each other. Most of the major politicians befriended the international media to have a broader platform to publicise their negative portrayal of the motherland. It was indeed an onslaught of propaganda on the nation, so little wonder that the various reports on what to expect after the elections were all negative.
In the height of all these, I wrote a piece, just before the postponement of the February 14 elections, highlighting the dramas and the change in the level of civility with which the politicians approached the campaigns. Now, we have come full cycle after four years. With all the propaganda, desperation and lies we are witnessing again this year; the politicians have definitely not learnt anything.
Please read part of the article as published on February 1, 2015.
In recent times and especially as months turn to weeks and weeks to days in the run-up to Nigeria General Elections, we are noticing a new trend among politicians and their followers. Observers are reporting a “charged up” political atmosphere compared to what it was a few months ago.
The politicians and their supporters are desperate now. They are not hiding this. The slogans emerging from the rallies are becoming more of “cries” of war than the usual party slogans. As the D-Day is fast approaching, more room is made on the podium for Nollywood actors and actresses to showcase their skills. Unfortunately, the time for drama is gone.
The battle line is now drawn. It is a struggle for the soul of Nigeria. And the two major political parties are putting themselves up as saviours of the country. In one corner is the opposition party, which throughout its 4th Republic existence keeps changing in “nomenclature” while gathering (it seems) steam to “chase out” the incumbent. Come to think of it, the cornerstone of the party’s manifesto is “change”.
On the other side is the self-styled “biggest” political party in Africa – the longest reigning party in Nigeria’s democratic history. The unique selling word for the party is “continuity” (Do not “rock the boat”). There are other fringe political parties also praying for a miracle to “catapult” their candidates to Aso Rock.
The politicians have systematically replaced the word “campaign” with “propaganda”. They are trying to outdo each other in rallies, traditional and social media networks. They are definitely keeping to the Oxford Dictionary definition of propaganda, as “ideas or statements that may be false or exaggerated and that are used in order to gain support for a political leader, party, etc.”
Have we not noticed the many lies, rumours and half-truths that are paraded in the media of recent? These are the handiwork of politicians and supporters who would go to any length in order to win elections. The trend is the same. Facts are distorted and shared daily as truth. Pictures are manipulated and shared as originals. Everybody has turned to video producers, as we make and share video clips that are either full of lies or half-truths.
This election will not be the first in the country’s history to be won or lost based on propaganda. It is, yet, going down in history as the most fought based on lies and half-truths. What we are witnessing now is not decent campaigns but “high volume” propaganda where political leaders have descended so low to “encourage” lies as truths. All these are in a bid to hoodwink the populace.
How long must we go before the majority of Nigerian politicians realise that election into public offices is not a matter of “do or die”? If only we can recondition the psyche of these politicians. If we can educate them further that it is all about service and not the luxury of the post or office, there may be sanity. But, with what we are witnessing among the incumbents and their opponents, it is glaring that service is not the motivating factor for contesting.
The concern is not with the politicians though. It is the followers. Nigerian political supporters are known to be die-hard fanatics, who only see the good in their leaders and are ready to “violently” defend any negative story about them. When properly “tuned” and “wired” they can go to any length. They can be very explosive at slight provocation.
Happenings in some states during the Second Republic are still fresh in our minds. Many of us are witnesses to the aftermath of unguarded statements by politicians before, during and after elections. We bring to remembrance what happened in some of the Northern states after the 2011 Presidential Elections. They were unpalatable, but also avoidable.
Let us appeal to the politicians to calm down. They should also educate their supporters that the country is bigger than an individual or a political party. To observers, what happens before, during and after February 14, 2015, will determine the future of this country. We are seeing what is happening now; we do not know what would happen on or after Election Day. But one thing is glaring; Nigerian politicians still have so much to learn and to take in on elections process.
Now in 2019, the politicians are still fanning the flames of disunity, fanaticism and violence. They are on their usual propaganda lane, insulting the psyche of the intelligent Nigerians. Shame.
A part of this piece was first published in the Diaspora Matters Column of the Sunday Vanguard on February 1, 2015.
Updated for the Diaspora Matters Column of Sunday Vanguard of February 10, 2019.