New Telegraph

2023: Campaign crowds for hire

Every great political campaign rewrites the rules; devising a new way to win is what gives campaigns a comparative advantage against their foes. –– John Podhoretz

No other time is deceiving the stock in trade more than during the electioneering period. Deception is not a Nigerian though. It is a global plague among politicians found in all climes and democracies but is peculiar to politicians irrespective of the level of development in the polity. Deception is one characteristic that politicians share in common notwithstanding the age, maturity, sophistication, or otherwise of their democracy. That, perhaps, is why great minds try to urge us to be alert during electioneering, a period when politicians come with all kinds of intrigues, frauds, and lies for the gullible voters.

But we are being encouraged at such campaign times to look out more for what they don’t say than what they say or do. In line with the above, this great Turkish playwright and novelist, Mehmet Murat ildan, reminds us: “The politicians of your country will always try to encircle you with the high walls of lies! You must know that the truth is beyond the walls and without meeting the truth you cannot meet freedom!” The truth is that everyone desires to meet freedom but is unwilling to go the rigorous path that leads to it.

Oftentimes, the sweetness, flavour, and free-flowing words in the politician’s messages at this time expose their insincerity. They load you with what they know you want to hear, not what they want to do or what is feasible. An Irish author, Stewart Stafford, guides us thus: “You can tell that a politician is lying when he claims they want fairness for all. When in fact they’re part of and represent an unfair elite who will never share their wealth, power, or opportunities with the underclass.” As Nigeria is in her electioneering period, this vice is not lacking among our politicians.

We have seen and heard them say what they don’t intend to achieve, but they insist it’s what they will do. Nowhere are the lies more pronounced than in the political rallies. To paint a false picture of what they want to have us believe, they use their often-illicit wealth to mobilise and give a semblance of enjoying a large following. They start by pulling crowds to mesmerise and enthral the people. Crowd pulling in the political era can depend on some or all of these variables: a great and beloved person is coming into town and the people are anxious to see and hear, somebody is coming with some gifts and the people are desirous of them and throng the place.

Some are hired to come to a particular place on a specified day and time either to receive a gift or message and may on their own not come. Such crowds are usually reluctant and docile and not organic in their behaviours. Their enthusiasm is usually guided and often very synthetic, unlike the organic assembly that is spontaneous, without premeditation or outside influence, prodding and or inducement. Nigerians used to take little interest in crowd-pulling by the political parties, knowing the fraud that produces such assemblies. But there is an obvious new interest in the campaign crowds of these days that warrants their discussion this week.

This has to do with the sudden emergence of a third force into our polity through the Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi, who has effectively changed the narrative and the dynamics of presidential campaigns. Nigerians now see and appreciate the spontaneity of the people’s support away from the unenthusiastic and mercantile assembly. Obi’s entry into the presidential race also enriched the political lexicon with the term ‘organic crowd’ who, by their mannerisms, are different from hirelings.

They are more lively and more participatory in their conduct. More engaging and enduring, unlike the hired ones. As for the organic crowds, their energy and strength determine their vitality. The hirelings, on the contrary, it’s the level of the resources made available at the recruitment table that power them. The vigour of the hired crowd easily peters out as the fees expire. Even though the hired and the organic share some commonalities of at least making up the needed crowd for political purposes, relationship building is easier in organic than in the hired because of the uniformity of their objective.

Brand marketing is easier with the organic crowd because they own the product unlike the hired who is often aloof, waiting for the expiration of the money. Although the person hiring has the advantage of concentrating on his target audience, the targets are not often enough.

Recruiters also risk taking in indifferent people whose loyalty is to the gratifications rather than the main project. No one captured better what the political parties are doing with the so-called crowd pulling at the various campaign rally grounds across the federation than the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, who openly accused political parties of hiring crowds for rallies. The renowned pentecostal pastor spoke during a sermon at the RCCG January Holy Ghost Service: “I watched it on the news. If human beings promote you, oh, I don’t know whether I should say this. I’m sure you have been watching the campaign rallies, I watch them on the news. I don’t know if you have noticed that two different people don’t hold their campaigns simultaneously in a town. Have you noticed that? You don’t know why? Because the majority of the crowd are hirelings. So I come, I pay, you gather. After I’ve gone, another man comes, he pays, you gather.”

Pastor Adebayo’s incontrovertible statement is underscored by this bus driver in one of the South East states who expressed shock that he was hired by two political parties to convey supporters to their rally points and he carried the same people to two different rallies on different days. While the people remained the same, their uniforms, t-shirts and flag were different.

The slogans, needless to say, are different. The driver was shocked at how easily they could adjust and behave to different political parties without a slip of tongue. Another striking experience shared by a supporter might shock us. The agent had positioned a bus and wanted those going to the rally for a token to jump in and before he could say jack the bus was filled up with 22 passengers and the driver wanted only 16 passengers.

The organising agent devised a means of elimination that only those with the Permanent Voters Card could go and only three of them had it. Most others claimed they registered but had not collected theirs. That notwithstanding, the agent had no choice but to carry those who claimed they registered without collecting the PVC. What is the message here? All those crowds we see at rallies are not voters; they are not electorally beneficial to their parties and candidates.

That state of affairs says a lot about what we see at campaign rallies and what we hope to get at the polling units. Politicians often put on airs, use people and dump them later. It’s also glaring that they pay for every service and sometimes pay for products or services they do not need, servicing a supporter of another party as your own or talking to an irrelevant person who cannot even vote because he is not eligible is an utter waste of resources, energy, and precious time.

So as we begin this process of re-engineering our political life where the people, not the few of the elite, determine who holds which position, it’s also necessary to critically examine the campaign modes and strategies. Find a better way to reach the populace with sincere and convincing messages. Let’s hope and pray that Obi’s grand entry into the political space with his penetrating messages will ensure a more pragmatic way to deepen and grow our democracy. God, help us.

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