The Fashion of our Political Campaigns
By Dr Bukar Usman
It was my good friend, Tonnie Iredia, former Director-General of the NTA, who observed in his column
(Sunday Vanguard, February 20, 2011) that Nigerian political campaigns are yet to be issue-oriented. Another commentator,
Moshood Adebisi, writing in Punch, three days later, likewise lamented the absence of real issues in Nigerian political debates.
We are only a few weeks to the forthcoming general elections; yet, the most intense discussions are not about the nation's
developmental challenges but about the sectional colouration of candidates and the dominant picture we see in our rallies
are uniformed dresses, not engraved party programmes. This is worrisome.
Party functionaries may well be clear about what
they want to put across to the electorate but the reality is that it is not sounding loud enough to help us make up our minds
on those issues. Many politicians seem to believe that it is the party platform that matters, hence the scramble for seats
in a musical-chair fashion with no apparent commitment to any ideology or principle. Without satisfactory internal democracy,
and party discipline nearly all the parties are afflicted by unhealthy claims and counter claims centred on the validity of
multiple primaries, all leading to political parties flagrantly making substitutions, contrary to the results of their primaries.
Mr Iredia thinks that the current pattern is not very different from the dominant trend since our independence, I recall with
nostalgia that the 1979 electoral campaigns were largely issue-based. At least, there were four major easily discernible issues
that dominated popular discuss in 1979. They were: education, health, housing, and agriculture. The political parties identified
with and drummed these issues into our ears. You didn't need to be a member of any of the then five political parties
to know where they stood on these issues. We knew which party took agriculture seriously enough to tag it "green revolution,"
and which party was so concerned about free education it practically became its "cardinal programme." Even school
children could tell the difference!
Alas, few weeks to the 2011 general elections, we still can't tell our
political parties apart on the basis of touchstone programmes. All we get is all the parties promising us the same diet of
programmes and projects, thereby sounding like each other's copycat, thereby betraying acute lack of ideological focus
and group consciousness. So, to woo the confused electorate, whom they have failed to court on the basis of issues, politicians
and political parties resort to mere rabble-rousing, when not out-rightly clannish or provincial.
parties are becoming more like entertainment parties in the way they dress up their campaigns. I have observed with interest,
in the current political campaigns, a certain tendency to use fashion to make political statements. At campaign rallies, party
functionaries appear in impressive uniforms (aso-ebi) to identify with the dominant dress style or culture of their audience.
This is not entirely new, although it wasn't a very common practice in the past. The electorate should look beyond the
robes. Since the hood does not make the monk, we must insist that issue-driven message, rather than costume, should be the
rallying point of political campaigns.
I watched with admiration how Barak Obama and Tony Blair, as candidates
in their respective countries, moved from rally to rally, dressed simply in shirt and trousers. They campaigned on the real
issues and how their party's programme would help in resolving those issues. They articulated serious issues, which approximate
the desires and wishes of their peoples. They promise to improve their standards of living in general and listed the specific
steps they would take to achieve that goal within realistic timelines. Alas, in Nigeria, they speak in evasive and deceptive
manner. Let's emphasize issues, not dresses.
Mind you, party leaders can dress well and still have
focus during rallies. This was so in the First and Second Republics. They made no fuzz about their dressing. Yet, that did
not detract from the seriousness of their commitment to the electorates.
Key politicians of those two eras
dressed very well and, sometimes, flamboyantly, but they were certainly more frugal in the time and resource they spent on
their robes. They hardly sowed uniforms but rather used their mode of dressing to brand their personality and ideological
inclination. There was usually one strikingly symbolic fashion with which a particular politician was easily identified and
which made him stand out from the crowd.
For instance, Tafawa Balewa and Ahmadu Bello were always with
their peculiar turbans while Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Michael Okpara, Waziri Ibrahim , Samuel Akintola, Aminu Kano,
and Joseph Tarka were identified by their individually striking fezzes. Awolowo's was chequered, Azikiwe's black,
Aminu Kano's red. Yet, there were others who wore similar hats but distinguished theirs by adding unique tassels to the
top. And there were those who didn't wear fezzes at all, who preferred woolly hats, like Mbonu Ojike, or bowler hats,
like Okotie Eboh. And these hats were reinforced by the kind of dresses they were matched with. Awolowo and Akintola matched
theirs with woollen agbada or buba dress, Azikiwe's contrasted well with his immaculate white brocade agbada while Aminu
Kano's socialist red cap on his simple white poplin kaftan complemented his talakawa message and orientation.
mentored during those eras continued the hat stamp: you remember the unique hats of Anthony Enahoro, Lateef Jakande, Ganiyu
Dawodu, Akin Omoboriowo, Zanna Bukar Dipcharima and the still elongating cap of Solomon Lar. And we didn't just know these
politicians by their hats but by how they placed them on their heads: some stood erect, others tilted uniquely to the left
or to the right, to the back or to the front. The women didn't play the hat game but were generally decently dressed.
I think the hats and other individual dress styles helped us more in identifying the politicians than the current
uniforms which lump them all together. Even today, there are politicians we can easily distinguish by their mode of dressing:
people like Segun Oni, Kayode Fayemi, Olusegun Mimiko, Niyi Adebayo, all of whom appear to be carrying on the legacy of Awolowo
dress code, Adams Oshiomhole, in his humble khaki French suit and Peter Odili, who popularised the "resource control,"
What legacy would our other present crop of political leaders individually bequeath? Should they choose to continue with present
mass fashion parade?
However a politician dresses, that shouldn't be more prominent in political campaigns
than vital issues that affect the polity. Were dresses to matter, Nigeria may well be underway to setting the pace for the
world by our current practice; and soon we may see American party leaders wearing the gorgeous apparel of the American Indians
while their Australian counterparts may appear in the stylish dresses of the Aborigines.
Let's not dress
up our politicians more than we address the issues affecting our people on a daily basis. Our politicians should be more natural
and place more emphasis on delivering the substance of their manifestoes. They should go for the substance and not for the
form, for the latter would not help the average voter to make an informed choice. More importantly, issues should be articulated
and disseminated early enough to make the desired impression on the electorate. Political parties should not wait until election
time before telling us where they stand on issues. Having said little during the four-year interval between our general elections,
our political parties are even now saying less by the uniformed dresses they are showing off. Let's have more addresses
than dresses, please.