VOTER TAOFEEK AND CANDIDATE BUHARI
Taofeek is a 21 years old Yoruba boy (young man, actually, but in Nigeria a 23 years old is still a boy, like Farouk Mutallab whom Nigerian media saw as boy, while international media addressed him as young man). He lives in Langbasa, in Ajah axis of Lagos. When he is not in school, he helps his mother in her recharge cards business. I had a brief encounter with him that passed a very strong but unfortunate message about General Muhammadu Buhari's campaign strategy ahead of the April polls.
I had stopped to buy recharge card from Taofeek. As has been the case with gatherings of two or three people in the last few months, normal talks between Taofeek and his friends drifted to presidential politics, and it was at that point I stopped to ask for a recharge card. I heard Taofeek mention the name of the presidential candidate of the largest political party in Africa. At that point, I got interested in their discussion and spared two minutes to spread the message of hope to Taofeek, the message of Buhari-Bakare, that is.
I asked him why he was supporting the candidate, but he couldn't say anything coherent. I found it pardonable, although at that age somebody like me was already expressing political opinions on pages of newspapers, today these children or men not only lack the basic English grammar skills to express themselves, they can only analyze English Premiership League in Yoruba! They don't listen to news, don't read newspapers, don't know anything about politics or economy.
The nearest they come to politics is watching some flowery campaign theatrics on TV and, and after analyzing Arsenal and Barcelona in their evening sittings, delve into political discussions, better described as recharge-cards-tents analysis, which ranks even worse than beer parlour and pepper soup joint commentaries.
Back to my encounter with the young man, in my bid to preach the Buhari message to him as I do in chance meetings with people where the environment permits, I told him there was another candidate that meant better for this country and that was tested and trusted to lead this country away from its present shambolic state. Before I finished, he cut in: 'Ribadu?' I said no, I'm talking about Buhari. And wait for the shocker:
Taofeek has never heard of Buhari! His response was: 'Who is Buhari?'
I didn't know where to start. A 21-year-old Nigerian, a registered voter, in Lagos, not knowing who Buhari was! And a presidential election in which Buhari is participating is less than 60 days away. Immediately, I concluded there was problem, a serious one, not with the boy, but with Buhari's handlers. Like I mentioned earlier, I can pardon the boy for having been bought by our good friends that have inundated the media with all manner of campaign adverts, appealing to emotions and divinity, telling us their grass-to-grace story, as if other candidates too did not have a grass-to-glory tale, telling us they walked bare-footed to school in one swampy village as if Buhari too was not once a bare-foot-walking Fulani cattle boy in a desert village who, through dint of commitment and focus in his chosen military profession , rose to become the country's No 1 man, and a step further than their tale, after reaching glory, doesn't parade the type of opulence they now parade, even though he has been around for a longer time and sat on top of the most juicy offices in the land (Minister of Petroluem, state governor, PTF Chair, Head of Military government).
Registered voter Taofeek did not know anything about corruption. He knew nothing about the economy. He believes some divine luck is all we need to save this country. He doesn't know the indices to measure a good leader or one with potential. Even if he has heard the saying that show me your friends and I will tell who you are, he doesn't know who Ibori is, he has never heard of Tony Anenih, he knows next to nothing about Alao-Akala and Gbenga Daniel, you can see why I forgave him for believing those fine rhetoric in the adverts of his candidate.
I was too shocked by the revelation and at the same time angry with the Buhari campaign machinery, to talk to Taofeek, whose impressionable mind appeared already glued to those songs he hears every now and then on radio and those beautiful jingles he sees on the TV screens. As I walked off, I remember the millions of Taofeeks in other parts of the South, who, even if they have heard about Buhari, don't know anything about him. I felt demoralized that I began to ask myself: is this Buhari project I have voluntarily taken up not going to be an exercise in futility? Where is the Buhari campaign team itself? I have never seen a single poster of Buhari in central Lagos, not to talk of Lagos suburbs like Langbasa where Taofeek resides. I have never seen a Buhari jingle in the electronic media. The only Buhari advert I came across in newspapers was that by Professor Tam David West late last year, and I buy four papers everyday.
Those of us rooting for Buhari in the South are drawn from the educated, politically informed class. Even that cadre is divided almost equally among the three major contenders. The less informed multitude in the streets of Lagos, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Enugu or Benin know nothing about Buhari. This is why I am surprised the Buhari formal campaign team has not reached these places, either through massive media jingles, leaflets, or rally. Even worse in popularity in this side than Buhari himself is his party, CPC. It was only a couple of days ago that I knew that CPC had a gubernatorial candidate in Lagos. That is me, an active follower of politics and news, how much more the millions that don't even follow events. And Buhari expects to do well in these areas.
Ironically, the people that are already well-known in every nook and cranny of the country are the ones actively doing campaign around. If the President has abandoned his official duties to embark on personal campaigns, I wonder what is keeping Buhari, who doesn't have presidential duties to attend to. Even Ribadu, another candidate I admire but not sure he hasn't become too soft and compromised to tackle the corruption menace, has been more visible than Buhari.
Granted that Buhari doesn't have the foreign reserve to deplete to fund his campaign, neither does he have the governors to brow-beat, he can do far better than this. My people will say good name is better than gold and silver. This is true, Buhari has the goodwill, all he needs now is a practicable strategy. Any strategy that doesn't incorporate early campaign, enlisting of youths and active use of local media, I'm afraid, cannot be effective. Buhari and his team should spare us these endless meetings and jolt into action. The message of Buhari must be carried to every Taofeeq in the South. I hope Buhari and his team are listening.
Oyewale writes from Dideolu Estate, Victoria Island, Lagos. [email protected]