Seasonal ‘romance’: How politicians deceive voters with fake lifestyles


TUNDE AJAJA  examines several deceitful ploys politicians employ in the buildup to elections and how the gimmicks have yet to bridge the inequality gap or solve the country’s myriads of problems

The viral picture of former governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, devouring a plate of Amala at a bukateria in Abuja after obtaining his presidential nomination and expression of interest forms few weeks ago gives a memorable insight into what typifies a pre-election season in Nigeria’s nascent democracy.

After acknowledging greetings from the motley crew of supporters within and outside the party secretariat, Fayose’s aides and drivers knew the next stop: Wuye area of Abuja where their principal would relish his regular plate of amala, garnished with all kinds of assorted meat; one of his usual ways of ‘identifying with the people’.

Some would excuse Fayose, having made such his stock-in-trade since early 2000s when he was running for the governorship of Ekiti State in 2003, a poll he eventually won. Such theatrics by many politicians, which some people described as pretentious displays, have become a permanent feature during electioneering in Nigeria.

Ideally, the months and year preceding an election should be a time for rigorous, intellectual engagements – debates, scrutiny of candidates’ profiles, achievements and other matters crucial to leadership recruitment – between the electorate and candidates on the latter’s programmes if voted into office. In Nigeria, however, these are downplayed. Some candidates even shun debates, contemptuously.

It becomes a season for politicians, who are accustomed to being driven in armoured, exotic vehicles tucked in long, heavily guarded convoys, to patronise roadside corn sellers, enter public transport, visit a beauty salon to plait women’s hair, assist the aged woman on the street in roasting yam among other things that seek to depict them as being men or women of the people.

This brings to mind one of the quotes by American historian, James Robinson, who said, “political campaigns are designedly made into emotional orgies, which endeavour to distract attention from the real issues involved, and they actually paralyse what slight powers of celebration man can normally muster.”

In Nigeria, there is a huge economic inequality between the political elite and the electorate, but it is largely obscure during the election period. The examples of these fake displays by politicians abound and some of them are captured below:

Obaseki’s corn munching

It’s difficult not to laugh aloud seeing the picture of how Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State and his predecessor and estranged political godfather, Adams Oshiomhole, chewed corn as they moved from one street to another during Obaseki’s campaign in Benin in 2016.

The then state chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Anselm Ojesua, and one other supporter also displayed their corn as a form of identity as they marched with their party members in unison. They had bought the corn from a roadside seller during the campaign that preceded the election that brought in Obaseki for his first term in office.

Taking bites at intervals and chewing a mouthful of the corn, evident in their protruding chin, they engaged their supporters as they marched from one street to the other.

Interestingly, corn is not a food for the poor; it’s a seasonal staple food enjoyed by all. However, many believe the way politicians take to the streets to buy and eat it openly among their supporters, given the wide gap between the political elite and the citizens, is usually an attempt to entice the electorate and be seen as ‘leaders’ who share the masses’ concerns. Symbolically, corn has become a unifying food exploited for political gains.

Oshiomhole’s return to corn solution

In the run-up to the 2020 election, when Obaseki was seeking a second term, Obaseki and Oshiomhole had fallen out irreconcilably, leading to his defection from the APC to the Peoples Democratic Party. Obaseki eventually became the PDP candidate while Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu was the candidate of the APC.

As a party man, Oshiomhole, who had just been sacked by the party’s National Executive Committee, campaigned openly for his party’s candidate. And again, the corn ‘solution’ came handy. A viral video showed his supporters chanting ‘Osho baba’ as he bought roasted corn and started eating same to the delight of a cheering crowd.

Funnily enough, Obaseki later used the ‘corn’, which they both paraded like a symbol of unity, to deride Oshiomhole. Speaking in Oredo, his native local government, Obaseki stated, “The sacked APC national chairman has no regard for Benin people; he can’t dictate to the majority; he has no regard for us in Oredo. Benin people are not like chickens that run after corn thrown at them and will render the former national chairman politically irrelevant for disrespecting Benin people.”

Omisore takes corn to a new level

Again, one would need to exercise a lot of restraint so as not to roar with laughter on sighting the picture where Chief Iyiola Omisore, the incumbent National Secretary of the APC, held two sticks of corn with his two hands and looked at them as if he was scared to eat them. Many people said it was a testament that he wasn’t used to such but had to do it for the camera.

Unlike Obaseki and Oshiomhole who were devouring the corn openly as they moved from one street to another, Omisore stood through the sunroof of his SUV and stared almost repulsively at the corn in his hands. Beyond the corn initiative, other pictures of him emerged where he posed for the camera while buying popcorn and another where he was on a motorcycle in the bush.

APC’s spokesperson at the time, Lai Mohammed, attacked Omisore who was the PDP candidate, saying, “Being a people’s governor goes beyond a made-for-television eating of roasted corn or riding Okada.”

Again in 2017 when he was campaigning for the 2018 governorship election as the candidate of the Social Democratic Party, Omisore was pictured among some residents eating a plate of rice. Omisore, who sat in the middle, only held the spoon and posed for the camera. Having served as Osun State deputy governor for four years and later as a senator for eight years, many people argued those were gimmicks to warm himself into the hearts of the unsuspicious people.

Sanwo-Olu’s drama inside salon 

Before becoming the governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, became many personalities in one. During the electioneering that brought him into office in 2019, Sanwo-Olu, accompanied by his deputy, Dr Obafemi Hamzat, was pictured plaiting a woman’s hair at Computer Village in Ikeja. In another photo, the duo adorned with backward-facing face caps, were learning how to repair phones in the same Computer Village. And before they made it to the Government House, they visited a mechanic village and joined in pouring engine oil in a vehicle, all captured in pictures, ostensibly to court the electorate.

Meanwhile, Sanwo-Olu had before then served the state at different levels, including being a commissioner at several times before he was appointed as the MD/CEO of the Lagos State Development and Property Corporation, a position he held till he resigned to contest the governorship seat in 2019.

When in February 2021 a picture of him emerged buying roasted plantain within the metropolis, many people described it as a renewed ploy to strengthen his grass roots connection. The camera captured him collecting boli, as it’s popularly called, while his ADC and another aide watched him.

Atiku’s show at IDPs camp

The picture of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar eating with children in an internally displaced persons’ camp also lent credence to many things politicians do to present themselves as being connected to the plight of the poor. In the picture, he sat on a blue plastic chair like the children, holding a plate of rice and sachet water. He was captured as he made to put the spoon in his mouth.

Responding to criticisms that he did it for election purposes, Atiku tweeted, “This photo was taken two years ago (around 2017), to promote a feed & read project for IDP girls in Yola. I ate to encourage parents that the food was good. I ate food with these girls to show the food was safe. I do this every time I visit. It might be a joke for some, but not for these girls.”

He added, “As a public person, I’m used to insults, but before you make jokes, remember that for these young girls, this programme was their only hope.”

His defence notwithstanding, many people insisted it was a political move.

Melaye in hawking stunt 

In 2016, the picture emerged of former senator Dino Melaye with a tray of groundnuts on his head like someone hawking on the street. The background view of the picture showed he took the picture at a decent neighbourhood and not the usual marketplace. While some people attacked him for attempting to deceive the people, Melaye was quoted as saying he used to hawk as a youth.

Udom goes to market

The Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel, is one of those who exhibit a lot of decorum in public office. First elected in 2015, the governor was re-elected in 2019. In 2017, however, a picture of him emerged where he was ‘pricing’ gaari, okro and crayfish. And on another occasion, he was seen in 2018 buying peers from a seller by the roadside at Ikot Etobo.

Chauffeured in his black official BMW saloon car and surrounded by aides and supporters, many people argued that it was one of the many ways politicians like him tried to deepen their ties with the ‘people on the street’.

Al-Makura’s pose on tattered mattress 

Of all the pictures of governors presenting themselves as friends of the people, the picture of the then governor of Nasarawa State, Tanko Al-Makura, at a school hostel is like an intended comic post. Attempting to lay on a tattered mattress in the hostel of a public school, perhaps to have a first-hand feeling, the governor cautiously leaned on one side and rested on his elbow until the picture was taken and then stood up.

His discomfort was obvious from his looks, and one could tell that it was an unusual occasion for him. After serving as a two-term governor, he’s currently the senator representing Nasarawa South at the upper chamber of the National Assembly. He was a national chairmanship aspirant of the APC in the March 26 convention.

Osinbajo’s electioneering inside BRT

In December 2014, the then vice-presidential candidate of the APC, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, took his campaign to a BRT bus station in Lagos. He later tweeted a picture of him speaking with some people on the bus.

He wrote, “Rode on the bus earlier today and spoke to my fellow citizens, it was better than a thousand seminars!” Many have argued that persons seeking political office would do anything necessary, including what they weren’t used to, in a bid to woo voters. They insisted that was one of them.

Okorocha’s corn show

It would seem there is a deep nexus between corn and elections in Nigeria. The former governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, famous for introducing slangs like ‘Iberiberism’ and ‘my people, my people’, is one man who also knows how to connect with the people at auspicious moments. Several pictures of him roasting corn and buying roasted plantain are everywhere on the internet. In one of the pictures, he was seen carrying the child of the corn seller on his laps while helping the woman to roast the corn. While many argued that he had always been close to the people, some others said for him to have been recorded and the picture posted on the internet meant it was to gain attention.

Amaechi turns ‘hairstylist’

The Minister of Transportation and former governor of Rivers State, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, is also on the list. Towards the 2015 presidential election, he was seen plaiting a woman’s hair somewhere in his home state, Rivers. He was one of those who worked hard for Buhari’s victory in 2015. Now a presidential aspirant under the ruling APC, the minister is also believed to have done that as a way of connecting with the electorate and courting their support.

Meanwhile, these are a reflection of some of the activities that characterise election season in Nigeria. But in spite of all the staged romance and attempts to socialise with the people, many politicians across the country steal public funds, and end up with corruption cases after leaving office.

Charting a decent course

Sadly, the money some of them steal plunge the people they claim to care about into deeper poverty and misery. This explains Nigeria’s high inequality and poverty rates.

“After eating the amala, roasted corn or plantain, what do they do when they get back to the office?” a public affairs analyst and Lagos-based lawyer, Mr Jiti Ogunye queried. “Does it make them to be above board like Caesar’s wife? They go into the office to steal money. Even if everything is done to make them accountable by the fledgling anti-corruption agencies, they get pardoned.”

Notably also, during campaigns, especially for the presidential election, many of the candidates dress in the native attire of the state they are visiting. Even at campaign grounds, it’s more of chanting party slogans and deriding the other parties, instead of reeling out actionable promises.

According to Ogunye, it is almost a norm in other democracies for politicians to engage in all sorts of intellectual ways they feel could enable them to warm themselves into the heart of the voters. However, he said the difference in the Nigerian scenario is the ridiculous things politicians do.

He said but for the people’s commitment and sacrifices, the political class had done everything to undermine the consolidation of the democracy by undermining its ethos and values.

He said, “In the United States where we copied our presidential system of government from, politicians go out during primaries and major elections, shaking hands with people, taking children from their mothers and caressing their heads, such that they would be regarded as not only popular but as being in touch with the electorate.

“The ridiculous thing here (in Nigeria) is that we engage in the most ridiculous theatrics to get connected to the electorate. This outlandish self-selling approach is ridiculous. What I see is that they engage in all these to deceive Nigerians deliberately.

“It’s not of no interest to Nigerians if you can chew roasted corn, or you can eat five wraps of amala or you can eat roasted plantain with groundnut. They are interested in things that can better their lives.”

He pointed out that people like the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who launched free education that revolutionised education in the Western region, were never found eating corn, amala or roasted plantain.

“These are inanities and if they truly care about the people, why is there so much misery in the land,” he queried. “They do this because they lack respect for our people; the voters. They engage in these theatrics during campaigns, and during elections they offer the same people N500 or N1,000 to buy their conscience and votes. So, they think we are not worth more being entertained by eating corn and puff-puff.

“Those who are supposed to be purveyors of policy issues and be chewing ideas and discussing where our country is headed are chewing puff-puff. It’s tragic that in the 21st century, the way our politicians can appeal to our reasoning, court our endearment and support is for us to behold them eating corn, eating amala in public and then boast about it that they are ordinary people.”

On the way forward, he said, “We should be having endless debates. Democracy is about discussion and action. The action would start when those elected take the oath of office, but before that stage, we should have a lot of discussions.

“What are they telling us about how to secure the country, the economy, social security, welfare service, social provisioning, crimes and punishment, ethno-religious relation and harmony and the sanctity of the Nigerian state? However, we need to face the future with optimism, but we can’t be foolishly optimistic. The optimism must come from what they are able to tell us and what we can demand of them.”

Beyond the theatrics, the Senior Pastor of Trinity House, Pastor Ituah Ighodalo, said there were basic qualities Nigerians should look out for in selecting their next set of leaders.

Speaking on Channels TV on Wednesday night, he stated, “What do you need in a good leader? The first thing is vision. The leader must have an idea of where he’s going and where he’s taking the people to. The second is the capacity to work hard.

“Three; he must be exposed and knowledgeable. You are not going to have somebody leading Nigeria who would not understand the rudiments of economics, issues around power and the value of education, etc. He doesn’t need to know everything but he needs to know enough to be able to make a good decision on what people have suggested to him.”

He said people should also look out for a compassionate leader and an honest person who doesn’t have to be a moneybag. “If you’ve lived and worked in Nigeria and you have been honest and sincere, it’s unlikely you would be a great moneybag,” he added.

“It means of course that you must have no corruption charges or accusations of corruption or you have unexplainable wealth. There is nothing wrong with being very wealthy but you must be able to explain your wealth.”

He stressed the need to recruit leaders who are not desperate but one who is ready to contribute and add value to Nigerians and one who is largely acceptable to the generality of Nigerians.

He noted, “The person must be totally detribalised and be able to attract foreign direct investment to Nigeria, because what we need in Nigeria is investment, technology and hard work. The fundamentals are there.

“The coffee, cocoa, soya bean, tin, coal, crude oil, palm oil and palm kernel are still there and gas is being wasted every day. What has happened over the last 40 years? Nobody has paid them any attention and what we need is to pay them attention and have the right kind of laws. Nigeria needs a leader who is sincere.”

Also, a public affairs analyst, Bala Zakka, told Sunday PUNCH that it was high time people stopped being deceived by such display of seasonal friendliness. He said they should rather look out for individuals with good qualities.

He added, “Any person that is aspiring for political leadership in Nigeria must first of all be a good economic manager, because the main thing that puts Nigeria in a position of security vulnerability is too many idle people. This time round, we are not only talking about idle youths, there are people that since they became adults, they never had quality jobs.

“So, when you talk about calamities of dysfunctional economy, which so many Nigerians have experienced, any person aspiring to lead in Nigeria must be a very good economic manager. A leader must be somebody that the citizens have collectively resolved to entrust with their economic, political and social destiny. Some elements of conscience should come in when they are dealing with us.”

Politicians react

On the reason why politicians engage in such histrionics, the Special Adviser to Governor Adegboyega Oyetola of Osun State on Political Affairs, Sunday Akere, said some politicians indeed have deep connection with the grass roots while some others do such things to deceive the voters.

Akere, who is a former Commissioner for Information in the state, told our correspondent in an interview, “As a politician, my view is that whoever does things like that during election period only is being deceitful; it’s a ploy to deceive the populace. As a politician, you should let people know who you are and what you stand for. What you will not do when you are in office, you don’t need to start doing it when you are preparing for elections.

“I live within my people, I relate and socialise with them and whatever I know I won’t do while in office, I won’t do because of elections. Nobody holds a position for life because power is transient. You should not lord it over people because you are in public office and during election time you become compassionate. I see it as being deceitful, and the majority of the people who do it don’t really mean well. If you cannot eat corn with your people when there is no election, I don’t think you should do that during electioneering.

Also, the National Chairman, African Democratic Congress, Chief Ralph Nwosu, said voters were getting wiser and could not be easily deceived with such things.

He said in a telephone interview on Saturday, “I think our voters are getting wiser. They are getting to know the politicians and those who intend to trick them. Ordinarily, when people get into politics, they strive to become role models for modesty, leadership, deep thinking and compassion. Unfortunately, that has not been the case in Nigeria.

“Perhaps our past with the military is largely responsible for that, because the moment someone gets into public office, the next thing is long convoys, armed security men and so on. A lot of the current political players didn’t experience the apprenticeship needed to live a good public service life. So, they believe it’s about power. A lot of young politicians would start to emulate such practices and this is very scary.

“That is why our party has an Aspirants Academy. When people aspire to public office on our platforms, they are taught about the public service spirit on one part and the requirement for them to conduct themselves and win elections on the other part. (Punch)

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