By Ben Edokpayi
Interestingly, as a registered Democrat I have voted in many American elections, but only once in Nigeria. This was during the second republic, with Shehu Shagari at the helm, before he was overthrown by a Major General Buhari-led military coup.
Even then in the 1979 vote that ushered in the second republic I was too young and naïve to understand the significance of attending a campaign before getting out my vote. And so many years after registering as an 18 year old to vote in my first elections, I finally got to attend my first-ever campaign in Nigeria last weekend, albeit as a neutral observer.
And what a great and revealing experience it turned out to be at two APC rallies in Edo North, that attracted party heavyweights including the state governor and his deputy.
The campaigns –in Afuze and Sabon Gida Ora, deep in the heartland of Edo State, afforded me an opportunity not only to see how politics plays out at the grassroots level but also a chance to get a pulse on the dominant issues as the elections approach on February 14 and 28.
The day began by mingling with patrons to chow down some pounded yam with egusi (melon seed) soup at Madam Lucy’s across the street from the Michael Imuodu center where the SabonGida Ora rally was held.
The place was bustling with party faithful, all passionately engaged in speculations and theories about the elections, as they tried to pass time for an event billed to start at 12 noon.
Off course in a gathering dominated by APC stalwarts, any opinion to the contrary was drowned out. “If you vote for change I will buy your next drink,” promised the owner of the place as she attended to a group of men and women at one table. It was not clear what kind of change she was advocating for.
As we later (after a brief stop in one of the candidate’s house) joined the crowd of approximately 5,000 I wondered why the politicos would advertise a 12 noon start time (for the SabonGida Ora rally) when they knew it was impossible to fulfill. Still the crowd waited patiently in the sweltering heat.
Of course there was plenty of water and entertainment to keep everyone occupied one way or the other. From blank stares in the crowd, animated pockets of discussion, cultural dances and a hired clown everyone including the old, the young and the infirm, all seemed to find a way to connect with what was going on at the center, named after one of Nigeria’s most famous labor leaders, the late Michael Imoudu, who is from the area.
But the long wait was still irksome for some. “ If he say 12 pm let it be 12. Most of them here never chop since morning,” said one fellow in obvious irritation as the crowd waited for the governor.
As we all patiently waited I decided to randomly poll the crowd to see how many had collected their PVCs. Out of seven eligible voters that I asked, only three were able to confirm that they had received their PVCs.
When the governor Adams Oshiomole finally arrived around 4:50 pm (after a stop in Akoko Edo) his energetic deliverance obviously made up for the long wait, from the way the crowd responded to his speech.
Before Oshiomole spoke, the lineup of speakers focused on everything ranging from the controversy over Buhari’s certificate, Boko Haram, Corruption, the Chibok Girls and the worsening power-supply situation. And of course as the opposition party they had a field day trying to make the incumbent political party look bad.
“ We go rescue Nigeria from the precipice. Other countries don dey abuse us,” said Oshiomole, who is obviously one of the best off the cuff speakers in Nigeria.
As he spoke further, Oshiomole tried to run a thread of disillusionment with the ruling party, in his speech. His promise was that Buhari will provide a panacea to the nation’s myriad problems.
“Today the problem of Nigeria is that the roof is leaking. We can’t even defend the country. That’s not the promise of Independence,” he told the crowd, adding that “next month will be time for a great decision that will determine the quality of life for this great nation.”
As the governor spoke on the podium, surrounded by party big wigs, the electric atmosphere from the stage reverberated throughout the arena. But the party stalwarts obviously forgot to factor the women into their line-up of speakers.
I noticed that the local women’s leader of the party was never given a chance to speak to the audience, which had more women than men. Halfway through the rally in Afuze, she stepped down from the podium to join other women in the covered area for a feast of rice and stew. I think it was just her way of saying I am tired of waiting for these men to include me in their plan. May be it was the locale, but I think the party has to do better if it wants to carry its women along as it is done in other climes.
For instance at the 2012 Charlotte, NC convention to nominate Barack Obama as the DNC Presidential candidate, the women were well represented, and they included Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Caroline Kennedy, actress Eva Longoria and even a University student named Sandra Fluke.
Obviously, a primary objective of the rally was to introduce one state and one federal legislator, campaigning on the APC platform, to the gathering. And I think the governor did well in that regard as he asked for one elongated gbossa (or salute) for the two candidates from the area, who I got to meet earlier over a feast of rice and stew in a convivial atmosphere complete with a pastor who appeared after they all disappeared for a meeting to prepare for the governor’s arrival.
Really, I could not understand how I ended up waiting for a political rally with a pastor in tow. But I guess faith is also a factor in these rallies and the local political landscape.