By Tonnie Iredia
Both the conventional and social media have in the last few days been replete with reports on large crowds of Nigerians gathering at different locations to celebrate their preferred presidential candidates ahead of the 2023 general elections.
There is nothing new about the tendency because in the country’s previous republics, the idea of large crowds to depict a seemingly high degree of popularity of certain politicians was common. Its continuation no doubt suggests that the disposition of Nigerians to politics is still same as that of the stone age.
However, the trend was bearable then because no one bothered about the gravity of using inaccurate statistics to conduct elections. Today, the developed world and all progressive thinkers have gone beyond the obsolescence of elections by trial and error. With improved technology, the global reality now is that analogue electoral methods are unacceptable to the international community.
Countries with stunted growth such as Nigeria which prioritize campaign crowds over and above real voter turn-out and actual votes are the only ones still engaged in organizing noisy rallies to show-off party strength. Last week, the nation witnessed a huge rally in Bauchi by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, while those in support of the Labour Party and the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC were similarly observed in several cities.
As a party that has been greatly underrated for its alleged inability to command big structures nationwide, the Labour Party rallies may not have been too difficult for many to rationalize as a segmented strategy to establish that the party believes more in people than structures.
In the case of PDP, receiving high profile defectors to the party in Bauchi probably explains the mammoth crowd in that state. But the strengththe ruling APC sought to display with its women rallies in Lagos and the South-east region was not persuasive. First, as a party which claims to be the largest in Africa with a reported numerical strength of well over 40million members, a show of strength of large membership is superfluous.
If its records are correct what the APC ought to be doing now is refining and updating its systems and structures for attaining a unity of direction for effortlessly delivering an outstanding presidential victory of a minimum of 50 million votes made up of those of its over 40 million members plus just a few million admirers.
It is therefore baffling that our acclaimed largest party that should lead others is busy anxious to prove the same point that supposedly smaller parties are struggling to achieve! It is also surprising that its rallies have been showing off colourfully adorned women as if it is a pro-women party when its legislators a few months back supervised the rejection of all billsseeking to uplift Nigerian women.
However, it is not only the political parties that should be blamed on this. A huge part of the blame goes to women who are always available to undertake mundane assignments while their male counterparts are busy sharing lucrative political offices among themselves. Nigerian women should be prominent in gatherings where major decisions of in-coming government are canvassed and not rallies where real issues are muzzled by music and dancing.
The point to be made is that those who take the lead in large political crowds should know that they are holding the cosmetic end of the political decision-making stick. Large crowds underscore nothing if not strategically handled. History has shown that in Nigeria, large political crowds are inconsequential as they are deliberately manipulated to achieve hidden agenda. As great as party structures in the country are painted, no Nigerian political party has ever possessed an accurate membership list.
As part of a recent research team that studied political party structures, systems and people in Abuja, the number of fake names in membership registers in our clime is embarrassing. The situation has indeed not changed from the findings in 1989 when the two registered political parties, SDP and NRC had several names of dead persons as well multiple names that could not be accounted for during verification of membership list by the electoral body
In 2015, President Goodluck Jonathan scored less than 13 million votes or 44.96 percent of the total votes cast in the election. But before voting day, his supporters especially the ‘Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria’ had gathered more than 30 million signatures begging Jonathan to seek reelection.
Even if the over 15million votes scored by Muhammadu Buhari of the APC were added to Jonathan’s votes it would still be less than the number of Nigerians who appeared at different stadia in the country to indicate their support for Jonathan in the form of signatures that were received by government officials on behalf of the then president.
Similarly, in 2019, incumbent President Buhari could only score a little over 15million votes to win his reelection although the pledges earlier made by APC supporters at rallies in support of the President totaled over 100 million votes. Interestingly, the INEC register of voters at the time, had only a maximum figure of 84million. Once incredible figures such as these are reeled out, politicians begin to work towards them by renting crowds. Enough of that.
Luckily, there are new candidates who now distance themselves from those contraptions. In his Independence message to the nation, the week before, the presidential candidate of the African Democratic Congress (ADC), Dumebi Kachikwu, took a swipe at political parties and candidates involved in renting crowds for campaign rallies. He described the multitude of people that always throng venues of campaign rallies as a manifestation of poverty and pledged that he would “rather address an empty room than a paid crowd.”
Kachikwu’s position is rational because a rented crowd would not be interested in what any politician says as a basis for understanding the issues at stake in an election. Nigerians must therefore begin to shun rented rallies and insist on issue-based campaigns that enable our citizens to vote wisely and elect credible candidates that can work towards improving the living standards of the people.
Against this backdrop, it is time to call on political parties to depart from the old ways of organizing rallies for music, dancing and acrobatics. Accordingly, those who are yet to make their manifestoes available to all and sundry must be clearly told that they are behind schedule as this is the critical aspect of electioneering in which the candidates must be ready to explain to the satisfaction of all, the gains derivable from electing any of them into office.
This is the time for listening to campaign promises as distinct from the old method of appointing belligerent spokespersons who merely heat up the polity to buy time before voting day while promises have neither been heard nor fully assimilated. The Labour Party and the PDP candidates who have come up with their manifestoes are free to remain in the lead by also explaining how they intend to implement their promises.
For example, Nigerians applauded Atiku Abubakar for promising to among other things complete the Mambilla hydro power project that had been on the drawing board for 50 years, but we still want to know how, just as we await Peter Obi to illuminate the modalities for switching Nigeria from the consumption to the production template.
Ruling political parties must provide a level playing field for all candidates to showcase their potentials. Consequently, allegations such as women forced to participate in rallies in Lagos or pastors suspended in Akwa Ibom state for allowing opposition parties to use their churches for thanksgiving services must cease forthwith because they are anti-democratic.
Those who prefer military rule should quit the democratic space, without first supervising the flogging of civil servants who were reportedly late to workin Ebonyi State. Most importantly, Nigerians must be on the lookout for those who are empowered to endanger our democracy. Since it is now an annual affair to beg the ruling party in vain to not appoint their members into INEC, the public searchlight should be onany taintedelectoral commissioner. These are what should be of interest now and not large superficial political rallies.