• Friday, July 19, 2024
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Crowd-pulling rallies: The new wave of Nigerian electioneering

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Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is gradually drifting from its well-known audience-seeking method of buying and chewing “agbado”, a Yoruba term meaning maize. This mode of gaining public sympathy – which pundits say was hitherto one of the major ways to luring citizens, particularly eligible voters – is now being replaced by the ever-growing mobilisation of crowd to test popularity, whether rented or filled with those who willingly support candidates through the rallies.

The citizens have over time been used to the way candidates purchase this nutritional convenience food to appeal to people’s emotions and identify with the masses with a view to sending a message that they are “commoners” and do not have a recognisable status among the populace.

For some time now, especially since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) blew the whistle to kick-off campaigns for the race of the crucial 2023 general election, the different social media platforms have been agog with crowd-pulling strategies at various venues through photos and videos of different rallies involving youths, women among others.

These marches, according to keen observers, are to strengthen the support bases of the various candidates, and one of the solidarity rallies that will remain indelible in the minds of many Nigerians as well as inscribed in the annals of the nation’s independence journey was the simultaneous 62nd Independence Day celebration and the “Obidient” movement rally.

On that Saturday, the mammoth crowd made their marks from Lagos, Kaduna, Bauchi, Osun, Delta, Edo to the United Kingdom, among many other cities, canvassing for Peter Obi and Datti Baba-Ahmed, presidential candidate and vice-presidential candidate of Labour Party (LP), respectively.

The crowd roused passers-by, motorists, traders, and their optimism seemingly nullified the growing narrative that the Labour Party’s fan base is mainly online and do not have the “structure” to contend against bigwigs like Atiku Abubakar and Bola Tinubu, who are perceived to have the deep pockets and structures across the country, even at the grassroots level.

Stubbornly reacting to the problems they have been buffeted with for many years, the cheerful Nigerians – irrespective of age groups, ethnic divide, religious affiliations and occupation – rallied support for Obi’s candidacy, chanted pro-democracy songs, couched their campaign with “we nor dey give shishi”(a slang meaning we do not give any money) and unanimously maintained that they will become the structure to catapult Peter Obi to Nigeria’s seat of power.

The supposedly small, yet feisty group of supporters, eventually evoked reactions among fans of other parties who initially looked incredulously at the way the crowd were boisterously happy and dogged to ensuring a candidate who will bring a refreshing change emerges winner.

Apparently challenged with the solidarity walk on Independence Day, the All Progressives Congress (APC), Nigeria’s ruling party, borrowed a leaf and galvanised support for Bola Tinubu, the party’s presidential candidate. The lead-off rally was staged by the women’s wing of the Lagos State chapter of the party as well as in Imo State, where some women led by Chioma Uzodinma, wife of the governor of the state, displayed their support for Tinubu.

This was later followed by another popularity contest that was organised by Musiliu Akinsanya, popularly called MC Oluomo, chairman of Lagos State Parks and Garages Management Committee. The pro-Tinubu rally, themed ‘Mother of all rallies,’ according to the convener, MC Oluomo, was to demonstrate massive support for Tinubu’s presidential ambition.

Last Monday, Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the PDP, flagged of his campaign in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. He met a rousing reception by a huge crowd of party men and supporters.

Speaking on the recent rallies by the different political parties, Tony Abolo, a Benin-based communication expert, said what is happening in the political space is because Nigerians are fed up with the repeated deceitful ploys employed by those aspiring to take up elective positions, adding that candidates have evolved into using mass mobilisation in order to display their popularity strength in the build up to elections.

He charged journalists to play a crucial role in the election by questioning promises, manifestos and holding the candidates accountable because Nigerians have had enough of the platitudes, thus “I will, I will.”

“Society evolves and as it evolves, it has symbols that have meanings and values. As at then, when maize among other food items were used, it was a meaningless activity designed to trick the electorate because they were not sincere about their actions. Candidates display the eating of maize for political purposes but people have discovered that all those behaviours were fraudulent and because they are fraudulent, Nigerians no longer look at such.

“So, the kind of electorate we have now are more educated, sophisticated and they have seen through the insincere talks from politicians. Therefore, they believe that if you want to canvass for their interest, then you must find a way to galvanise them. So, what we are seeing is political and social mobilisation. This is why they are using rallies, demonstrations and public expressions of their own intentions.

“In overseas, you see genuine empathy with the people, genuine expression and identification with whatever class you want to identify with.

“In this political season, the Obi group started it. They said they want to show the people that they are revolting and it climaxed on October 1 with many cities identifying with Obi. So, they started it first before the APC started their own rally. This means there was the self-investment in the cause they believe in. The Obi group ares just natural believers in what they believe in and the cause they have identified with. So, that is the difference.

Rally for Peter Obi
Rally for Peter Obi

“Prior to the 2023 elections, we may see town hall meetings, face-to-face encounters with politicians, and it will likely evolve to other better means in the coming years,” Abolo said.

He further said: “Between now and February is a long time for campaigning. There are rallies that are propelled by convictions. Our people are sentimental and some are waiting to make up their minds closer to the dates. We have heard all these stories of ‘I will, I will’ since 1960, are they going to keep telling the same thing in 2022?

“Politics is about sentiment. If it is sentiment, which underlines our behaviour as a people, then you may expect that people can be swayed to the mood or whatever they want. In the sense that, if there is a huge crowd and people are chanting along the road, people will be swayed along that way.

“Well, there will be money inducements because Nigerians have been impoverished and people may take money but it is not going to be like that. We observed in Edo, when people collected money and voted the other party. People will take their money and do what they want to do,” he added.

Patrick Ogiefa, a legal practitioner and one of the participants at the recent rally on October 1, said the different rallies were to test the popularity of various candidates within a particular environment as well as to create awareness about certain issues confronting the masses.

Read also: 2023: Massive crowd as Obi’s supporters rally in Lagos

“What we are seeing now is a movement. It is a revolution. They say he who makes a peaceful change impossible, makes a violent change inevitable. And that is what they are going to witness. On that Independence Day, people came in their thousands to express their anger towards the government. We experienced pain on that day because we want to rescue Nigeria. If there is no pain, there will be no gain.

“People are coming out to protest against the type of leadership we have. It is a new method because of the necessity on ground. It is to let the government know that they have failed the people. We did it to tell the people that nobody is comfortable. We used to have the poor, middle and the rich but that is no longer the case. It is either you are rich or you are poor. The necessity today is the realisation on ground. If the government had been fair and have been doing their duty, there wouldn’t have been need for these marches,” Ogiefa said.

In his piece published in ThisDay on Sunday, October 9, 2022, titled, ‘My crowd is bigger than yours,’ Chidi Amuta, a publicist and media personality, said: “To mark Independence Day, Mr. Obi’s supporters trooped out and massed up from all corners of Lagos: Festac, Ikeja, Surulere, Lekki, Victoria Island, Ikoyi etc. The mammoth crowds were literally everywhere, even on tiny street corners in the slums and outskirts. Even the Lekki Toll Gate was overwhelmed as the thousands of youth gathered at the Toll Gate. At the climactic moment, the gathered youth burst spontaneously into an emotional rendition of the Nigerian national anthem. At that moment, even the police personnel sent to enforce the court order against rallying at the Toll Gate stood at attention to respect the national anthem.

“As it turns out, the tumultuous OBI-dient rallies were replicated in other urban centres of the country: Uyo, Calabar, Zaria, Benin, and Warri among others. Some aspects of the OBI-dient rallies stood out in their supreme symbolism and emotional solemnity. A toddler dressed in a national green outfit carrying a tiny flag of the Labour Party emerged as a befitting poster child of the campaign. In Warri, a squad of physically challenged citizens rallied on their wheelchairs chanting the national anthem with hope in their eyes.”

According to him, “Not to be outdone by the OBI-dients’ increasing showing of popular support, the other major party campaigns have latched on to the crowd-sourcing challenge. Barely a few days after October 1st, a huge collection of women supporters of Mr. Bola Tinubu of the APC massed up at the Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos. “Shortly afterwards, a mammoth crowd of Tinubu supporters marched in the streets of ancient Ibadan. All these took place as Mr. Tinubu himself was away in London on a private vacation of sorts. In a similar move, Mr. Kwankwaso of the NNPP showed his Kano support base with an equally tumultuous outing in Kano last week. A contest for crowds is in the offing.

“On his part, Mr. Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the PDP defied the internal wrangling threatening the cohesion of his party to put up a show of strength in Bauchi a few days ago. The crowd of supporters that trooped out to welcome Mr. Atiku in Bauchi is a potent message to all those who are yet to understand the geo-political heartbeats of the 2023 presidential election. It was a tumultuous crowd that stepped out to own Mr. Atiku and his campaign for the presidency this time around.”

Amuta believes that “From all this, the public assessment of the 2023 elections will be gauged by the size of the crowds that mass up in support of the various candidates. What is likely to play out is that over time, the size and momentum of these crowds will come to reflect several factors playing in favour of each candidate. Factors such as religion, geopolitics, gender, and the youth bulge will emerge to be reflected in favour of each candidate. These factors are yet in incubation as the campaign organisations of the various candidates get to work.”