BY MUYIWA AKINTUNDE
Voter engagements through formal channels end this Thursday for Saturday’s Presidential and National Assembly elections. If the surfeit of rallies, town hall meetings, door-to-door campaigns and media exposures have been bereft of issues that bug the electorate, they have been spiced up by the parties’ show of strength. “My-crowd-is-bigger-than-yours”, the parties have demonstrated through their rallies.
Now, do “big” crowds at election campaign grounds translate to “big” votes?
Apart the number lured to political campaigns by handouts, which come in form of cash equivalent of a pot of soup for a low-income home, there are other reasons responsible for the numbers at the campaign grounds.
In the crowd are those who used such events to wind down the clock, not being gainfully engaged. Some are thrilled by the entertainment flavour of campaign rallies; yet some others crave to see up-close famous or notorious political personalities they had heard about for so long.
One of my elder neighbours in the late 70s was a labour leader and fanatical supporter of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Through him, I visited the sage’s Park Lane, Apapa, Lagos residence a few times and watched the political icon have his meal slowly and meticulously as he held court with his lieutenants and supporters.
Papa (as he was fondly called) prepared and worked hard to win the 1979 election. Less than 24 hours after the ban on politics was lifted, he had rolled out every detail about the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) – name, symbol, manifesto, slogans, etc. His political rivals were to follow his lead weeks later. While they waited for the military government of Olusegun Obasanjo to remove the lid on political activities, Papa and his lieutenants strategised on the Nigeria of their dream and produced a blueprint to transform all sectors of the country.
There was contagious excitement at Park Lane either when Papa set out or returned from those tasking tours across the country. The highlights were the crowd he pulled in the “enemy” territories. The crowd in Sokoto, the locality of his main rival Shehu Shagari, was described in superlatives. Tumultuous. Massive. Huge.
Kano, Kaduna, Enugu, Port Harcourt, Jos etc brought good news to the campaign team back in Lagos and the supporters across the country.
But the election results did not reflect the “tumultuous” turnout at the rallies. Sokoto State, for instance, gave Awolowo 2.52 percent as against Shagari’s 66.58 percent and Waziri Ibrahim’s 26.61 percent. Beyond the five states of Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Oyo and Bendel, where UPN won the governorship as well as the presidential poll, the only other state where Awolowo had appreciable performance was in Kwara State (37.48 percent).
The conclusion of the UPN camp was that the poll was rigged. Awolowo’s Tribune and other friendly media outfits regaled us with stories of how the party agents were arrested and not allowed to do their job of policing the process and the results. Logically however, you can only rig where you’re strong.
Clearly, if the “supporters” who thronged his rallies in Enugu and Onitsha, for instance, had translated their “enthusiasm” into votes, Papa would have fared better than the 0.75 percent he received in the old Anambra State where incidentally he had chosen his running mate, Philip Umeadi SAN, a politically incorrect decision given the North-South dichotomy we are bogged down with.
Awolowo must have realised his political naivety of choosing a fellow southerner in 1979 as running mate. In 1983, he responded by opting for Mallam Muhammad Kura from Bauchi State for the 1983 presidential election. Still that did not cut much ice in the catchment area of his political half. In one of the most disputed elections in the country, Awolowo’s UPN could not muster up to 20 percent in Bauchi state as he garnered only about 30 per cent votes nationwide to finish second in a five-party field.
Again, the crowds didn’t deliver the votes.
A few days after the June 12, 1993 presidential election, I was dispatched to Kano by Newswatch magazine to interview Bashir Tofa, the candidate of the National Republican Convention (NRC). It took several efforts and three or four Okada riders to locate Tofa’s residence in that city. Tofa was not that popular in Kano.
Whereas his Kano campaigns had pulled massive crowd that gave the camp of Moshood Abiola of the rival Social Democratic Party (SDP) jitters, it was Abiola that would win Kano by 52.28 percent, going by the partially announced result of that famous election.
Tofa’s running mate, Dr Sylvester Ugoh made up for his principal’s shortcoming in his own neck-of-the-wood. Imo State gave the Tofa ticket 55.14 percent.
Did Olusegun Obasanjo not have the crowd at his rallies in his home state of Ogun for the 1999 presidential election? But Ogun State voters, including the ones at the polling unit near his Ita-Eko residence in Abeokuta, preferred his rival, Olu Falae of the Alliance for Democracy (AD). Obasanjo’s “people” voted 69.8 percent for his rival Falae, while his opponent’s home state of Ondo handed the AD candidate 85 percent score. In those two states, as it was in other states during the campaign, both candidates, polled “massive” crowds at their rallies.
In his re-election campaign four years ago, President Goodluck Jonathan recorded “massive” crowds in the states that he would later lose heavily in the presidential election. These include Muhammadu Buhari’s Katsina and Kano States, the latter being a reason to belief for the incumbent president’s supporters that victory was assured. Obviously, the votes did not follow the crowds.
For the 2019 elections, the “big parties” particularly have flaunted their “crowds.” It amounts to “serubawon”! No, I’m not referring to Late Senator Isiaka Adeleke who earned that sobriquet for the daredevil tactics he adopted in stopping the Osun State parliament from impeaching him while he was Governor in the early 90s. “Serubawon”, in this instance, is in its ordinary form where you pulled all imaginable – and particularly unimaginable – strengths, tactics and hypnotism to intimate and overwhelm the opposition.
Was that what the parties did for the 2019 national elections? The verdict lies with the voters. As they say on the street, we shall know the score sooner than later.
Akintunde is a public relations consultant based in Lagos