The Fun, the Fury and the Firsts of Edo State – By Austin Isikhuemen

Edo State
Edo State

THE FUN

The politics of Edo Gubernatorial Elections in 2020 have been a thriller of sorts. We have not had a campaign so entertaining and so full of adrenaline flows and furious threats and counter-threats. The endpoint is still a month and three days far away. We can’t wait. But let the groove go on.. Edo is providing entertainment for the whole country. A variety show that has something in it for everyone, the good, the bad and the ugly in equal measure. The surprisingly innovative as well as the pedantically mundane. The mildly comical and the excessively aggressive. The intellectually elegant and the humorously earthy all thrown with the objective of catching the love of voters by those who truly love them as well as those who care less whether they rot in hell. Let the music play.

I must say I am enjoying the fun of it all. The genuinely hilarious and the hilarious silliness of some players one would have thought should know better. What else could be more entertaining than seeing a former governor, former National  Chairman of a major political party, in fact the ruling political party, and former respected National Labour Leader and Member of the National Institute (mni) kneeling before his former ‘subjects’ in an unaccustomed dress pleading like an apprehended goat thief in a village square? I am sure the properly attired respected Chiefs and Enigies, especially those who thought this guy had been too rascally while in power, tactfully allowed the kneeling session to last a little longer for effect. How have the mighty fallen, disrobed by his ward Chairman. Until his ‘summary expulsion’,  we used to spell Ward Chairman with a small ‘c’ but not anymore. That’s some sort of graveyard comedy. If you are a politician better respect your Ward Chairman!

It has been a lot fun with known musicians, aspiring musicians and pretenders too releasing music tracks and jingles that leave you dancing, wiggling your waist or moving your head to the inevitable beats. The wide acceptability, widespread usage and innovativeness, even the rule-less grammar of Niger Delta pidgin English has made most of these songs a winner on release. Obaseki pepper dem hits the loud speakers, with the Governor and his Deputy atop an innovative purpose-built campaign Toyota Hilux vehicle indicating with his fore-finger hitting the mid-finger in a caning motion understood by all, the supporters go into a frenzy. All you hear is a chorus of  “Obaseki pepper dem o…”  from a crowd who immediately enter the realm of ecstacy. They relish the imminent massive win over the Governor’s main opponent – Pastor Ize-Iyamu- in the coming Gubernatorial election scheduled for 19th September 2020. Then Comrade Philip Shaibu, the only standing authentic Comrade bends slightly with legs spread apart and fists stretched out to different levels, he digs it with the clenched right fist shooting downwards between his legs and the crowd roars in approval as all the youths recognize that this is their own and the man is ‘current’ in the goings on across dance floors and youths’ watering holes. That old mamas join in the groove as if they have missed the disco floors for too long is one revelation of this campaign. One very old woman told me that such dances relieve her of her arthritis. Who am I to dispute such medical discovery?

Musicians like Franchize and many others have been coming up with jingles upon jingles and they are always sonorous and the messages clear and succinct. For example Franchize’s Come and see o, come and see: “Come and see o, come and see, Come and see wetin Obaseki dey do, Come and see wetin Obaseki don do…”. Another is “Edo must move forward iyo.., Forward ever, Backward never iyo.., No Godfatherism, Obaseki self na the man o…, Shaibu na the man oo…”. These songs are being song by men, women, youth, children, Pastors, Imams, Juju priests, market women and even women in maternity wards. Most of these songs have been from the stable of Governor Obaseki’s campaigns. I would expect that some would come from Pastor Ize-Iyamu’s stable as a counterpoise. This musical politics or politics of music is a welcome addition to Edo people’s entertainment repertoire. A new crop of musicians may just sprout from this election.

THE FURY

There has been a lot of fury in the Edo polity in recent weeks. Threats. Counter threats. People and shadowy groups are taking on the names of animals. While that is bad enough and a strange development since INEC didn’t register animals, it is even the types of animals being adored and adopted that send shivers down the spines of the voters – Lions and Tigers! Carnivorous beasts that do not eat animals found dead in the forests. They hunt down and kill healthy animals and the size doesn’t scare them. They like to leave their bloodied mouths in the full view of human tourists and saunter off to lie among shrubs after feeding fat on the animal whose life they just violently terminated a few minutes earlier. They leave the remaining carcass to the jackals and ugly hyaenas feast on. Doves and cats would have been more re-assuring to voters but I am not sure PVC is known, or attractive, to this group whose vision is to ‘do’ one unit and then go on to ‘do’ another. ‘Do’ing may not require a PVC and may be unknown to INEC and the law.

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Threats of Federal Might, whatever that means, are rife. I would rather a mention of Federal Might gives every citizen a feeling of safety and security. Big daddy is coming and therefore I have nothing to fear as he will protect all his children. It is sad that Federal Might as used in the context of Nigerian elections refers to the misuse of Federal Agencies, the Armed Forces and the Police, sometimes even INEC, to subdue a people, subvert their collective will through overawing strategies, fraudulent and corrupt     tactics, in order to achieve a preconceived end – a victory for the ruling party at the centre. It is shameful that citizens freely assert this ominous perfidy when they say “you can do all the campaigning you like, the result is already known. You will see”. Such impudence. Such impunity! Political corruption is the greatest of all corruption. We are hopeful it will be stamped out by the people of Edo using the People’s Might.

The illegalities of a swearing-in bereft of any iota of decency and altruistic motive falls into this class of absurdities that cause fury among the enlightened. That some lawyers justify the adoption of self-help tactics while a case is in court, a case instituted by the same self-help folks, makes the word impunity sound like a desirable attribute! Na so we go dey dey?

THE FIRSTS

A lot of firsts have been scored too in this electioneering campaign. An example is the ward-to-ward campaign embarked upon by Governor Godwin Obaseki. Prior to this election such rallies were always at Local Government Headquarters with party stalwarts and hired crowds brought in from other towns and LGAs to give the mirage of a mammoth crowd. This ward-to-ward campaign has been very impactful and has provided opportunity for some villages and towns that have never experienced a gubernatorial visit to enjoy such a ‘spectacle’ and hear directly from their Governor and PDP candidate. This also provides the Governor a chance to present his report card, see the state of infrastructure across the entire state firsthand and, allows him to solicit for the people’s support directly.

Another is the use of telecommunications, the internet and social media.  Due to the innovative use of telecoms in order to observe ‘social distancing’ brought about by the covid19 pandemic, a lot of communication is being done online. This has brought timeliness to activities and mass-reach to information dissemination, reducing costs and distortions caused by time lapse and repeater inaccuracies. Political party activities co-ordination is being facilitated using Zoom online meetings, jingles are being shared and played online via Facebook, Tweeter, Instagram, WhatsApp and many other platforms.

Surprisingly, the level of penetration of telecoms and the democratization of the use of smartphones detectable from the quality of comments on issues, say on facebook, are a huge revelation on this campaign! The candidates, especially the amiable Governor and his digital Deputy, are even campaigning using Zoom meetings with diaspora Edos and local joiners as happened just yesterday. Just before I started writing this piece, I watched on my smartphone a BBC Pidgin English interview with the incumbent. Most people in Edo State could hear from that interview what the issues are with the aspiring godfather, why the Governor needs a second term, what achievements the government has made in the first four years as well as plans for the next four.  All in the popular and widely used pidgin Enlish.

We have seen posters and banners of the highest quality prints rolling out of ultra-modern state-of-the-art large format printing presses installed by astute entrepreneurs with an eye for every opportunity. I have also seen across Benin standard PDP umbrellas affixed, in open position, to posters and banners high up on billboards and street light poles along major roads in Edo State. What I haven’t seen yet though, which will be quite a sight with the inevitable juju connotations, are brooms mounted in the same fashion! I am sure the APC candidate will not approve this as he is already being accused (wrongly in my view) of going against his faith by wearing a turban given him by the Otaru of Auchi. This is a good reason to choose your party symbol carefully. There have been politico fashion trend as well – with many different well sewn shirts styles (Obaseki and Shaibu) and flowing gowns (Dan Orbi) as well as the variegated top on green bottom that struck fear in the heart of onlookers (as worn by the irrepressible Nyesom Wike, Governor of Rivers State). Pastor Ize-Iyamu also has his style though a bit  less flowery. It is also a welcome sight for the youth to see their leaders and aspiring Governors wearing T-shirts on jeans – a fashion trend they can relate with.

Enjoy the fun while it lasts. The firsts are useful to other states in this Covid19 Era and Ondo has an ‘expo’ to help them navigate their imminent electoral landmines. But we must collectively say NO to the weaponization of our democratic polity as it does no one any good and the casualties are always never the instigators or the godfathers. The latter are always far away from the maddening crowd! Remember too that the social media never forgets. You may have to kneel and beg in four years if you lie to the people or do what you shouldn’t, this year.

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