Every harvest season, Nigerians in the villages are treated to a spectacular street party of music, dancing, feasting and bazaar. In most cultures, this is the season when “ancestors” emerge from antiquity, dust off their masquerade costumes of straw, sisal and menacing masks, and dance with the agility of the lively uncle or brother who lives at the end of the street, the one who obviously disappeared at the carnival.
Election season in this country is like harvest season. It’s that time of year when politicians, like masquerades large and small, some long forgotten, emerge from the rafters to throw one of the most elaborate costume parties you’ll ever see. It has it all: the dancing, the uniformed dresses and the usual acts of cruelty – after all, it’s the only show where the performers, the masquerades, revel in chasing the spectators and whipping them as if they were bewildered . animals that have dipped their snouts in the pot.
As the season approaches, political aides will spend more time picking out their constituents’ wardrobes than crafting a compelling manifesto. Some lucky tailors will be busy churning out suit after suit (and I deliberately chose the word suit because it’s a performance, you see.). For some of these tailors, the Christmas and Sallah rush is child’s play compared to this.
Those who have already attended this performance will not be surprised to see a Bola Tinubu in costume, or a Yemi Osinbajo in babban riga and turban, with an added tasbaha and as usual, Atiku Abubakar will most likely make an appearance as a lion black-headed emblazoned Igbo Isiagu and don’t bet against a Peter Obi appearing in Fulani attire.
As the campaign heats up, the aspirants and candidates, when they emerge, will burn through several costume changes to put on a performance for the electorate. They will do this to identify with various ethnic groups. This will be all too entertaining, especially if a wardrobe malfunction or epic bad tailoring, say for example the Ganduje Karota uniform debacle or the Buhari pants in his costume in Imo make an appearance. Often these provide fodder for social media discussions for about a week. One bad costume appearance could derail an entire event. Not many people remember what the President said to Imo, not that he said much, but they remember how those badly tailored pants looked like. And that is the problem with all these stagings.
There is often too much focus on the spectacle of ungainly, ungraceful and unpractised models in a parade of cultural attire and too little on the issues that should matter – how to tackle insecurity or crisis in the business. education, etc
In 2015, for example, President Buhari changed his costume for each part of the country he visited – dressing in the Niger Delta etibo with a bowler hat, the Igbo isiagu, the asooke of the Yoruba, and even making the rarest appearance in a suit on a few campaign posters. In the end, throughout his national campaign, he spoke for about fifty minutes in total. At most rallies, he spoke between two and three minutes, most of which consisted of chanting party initials and waving the broom. How that is enough to sell his politics or sufficiently justify any realistic understanding of the issues that concern the country, let alone where he is visiting, is beyond reasoning.
But it’s not just Buhari’s business, all politicians from all parties are doing it. Campaigns in Nigeria are not about discussing policies or manifestos. These are jamborees for dances of brooms, ears of corn or waved umbrellas. Most of the time, politicians encourage this behavior because it’s an excuse not to show how unprepared they are for governance, or prevents them from saying things for which they will be held accountable. It’s not a new trend either. There’s a grainy video clip of leader Obafemi Awolowo shutting down the party at his campaign rally saying that if the crowd insisted on dancing all day, he wouldn’t get a chance to say what needed to be said.
But we know, and we have known for a long time, that Nigerians love parties. We like to dance in the hot sun and in the rain. Nigerians will laugh and dance through the hardships. Our campaign rallies are often staged like carnivals, often meaningless jamborees of praised crowds who would cheer and dance their heads off for a candidate one day, then do the same for his rival the next.
At the end of these celebrations, Nigerians leave, not with the assurance of a better country, because they have in fact been sold a mannequin, but with packets of noodles and soap and 1,500 naira for their trouble. . This is what our country costs.
These jamborees and costume parties are nothing but sleight of hand, the same old trick that was used by politicians who would sooner disassociate themselves from the tribes in whose regalia they stood waving broomsticks or umbrellas before elections, saying greetings in those languages, greetings learned in a hurry, with little or no interest in people or culture, other than votes. People are often in too much of a rush to dissociate themselves from when the votes are counted.
Remember that uncle who disappeared just before the masquerade ball, the man the masquerade ends up dancing like, well, that’s the deal. Election seasons are like masquerade balls. They are colorful, entertaining, cluttered and ultimately full of deception. The Nigerians would do well, this time at least, to keep their eyes on the ball.
It’s getting worse, you see. This time, some clowns decided to throw the costume party earlier. You may have seen the video of some men holding assault rifles in one hand, and the posters of Godwin Emefiele on the other side covered in Ku Klux Klan type costumes, effectively threatening Nigerians to choose between poster and gun.
How did we come here? Because as a country, we haven’t always had a choice. From one dictator to another, those who wielded big guns and unleashed khaki boys with kobokos to beat us into submission, Nigerians have had little choice as to how they are governed and by whom. But since we had the chance to choose — and this too is not as clear as it should be — we have made the wrong choices, mainly because the parties have presented us with the wrong choices.
If we don’t pass this one, and there’s a good chance we still won’t, then there’s a real danger that every day will become a costume party, with costumed brigands, heads wrapped in turbans or KKK style bags. their faces, run the country, hit the buttons of governance with the bloodstained barrels of their rifles, while those to whom we sold the country for noodles, soaps and N1, 500 cower behind the walls of the villa, issuing senseless statements to condemn our killings, massacres and preventable deaths.
But wait! Isn’t every day already a costume party of the horrible kind?