If one does not know better, on arriving Ekiti, one would think this Saturday’s Presidential /National Assembly election is many months away.
From Efon Ekiti, which is the border town with Osun State, there are little signs that indicate that the most contested election in the history of the country, as many people have described it, was just hours away. The campaign billboards are old, weather-beaten and mostly torn. I entered the town on Thursday, which was officially the last day of campaigning, and yet there were no gathering of politicians and their supporters neither did we encounter crowd of supporters canvassing for votes as one would have expected.
No prominent posters of either of the two leading candidate, President Goodluck Jonathan or Muhammadu Buhari, was seen. This is a departure from the norm in most states where billboards usually welcome travellers with huge imposing smiles.
As we drove further into the state, this lull in political activities pervade everywhere. People went about their businesses, ignoring the spattering of political posters like mud stains on an unpainted building.
However, things started to pick up as we entered Iyin Ekiti, home town of former Labour Party governorship candidate, Opeyemi Bamidele. Iyin Ekiti is a traditional political flashpoint in the state.
The town has seen several bloody politically-motivated clashes in recent times, especially in the run up to the 2014 governorship election. Here, party loyalists gathered in their offices apparently fine tuning last minute strategies. The office of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which wrested power from the All Progressive Congress, APC nine months ago, in what has since become a controversial election, admittedly has the largest gathering made up of mostly young people. The crowd in the APC office was made up of mostly old folks who looked at the animated young woman addressing them with dated attention.
At the Labour party office, a man that bore a striking resemblance with Mr. Bamidele, held a megaphone to his mouth while addressing a relatively impressive crowd. One man in my bus swore it was Mr. Bamidele, but our bus sped off further up the hilly road before I could have another look. Mr Bamidele has since moved back to the APC after quitting the party last year to join the Labour Party. If he was the one addressing the crowd, he could have been there to encourage his former comrades to vote for the APC candidate, Mr Buhari.
But even the activities at Iyin Ekiti were couldn’t hold a candle to what it was last June. Then the streets were covered with posters and billboards and walls painted with party logos. Party faithful were everywhere singing and flashing banners and leaflets in one’s face like models throwing confetti during a carnival. The deployment of unprecedented number of security personnel didn’t deter them. The air was heavy with politics and the people inhaled more than a lungful.
The turnout of voters during the election was a testament of their interest in the process.
As we drove into Ado-Ekiti, the state capital town, the sombre mood of would be voters I saw in other towns did not change. The faces I saw radiated apathy. Store owners were in a haste to go home. Apart from a couple of checkpoints, with half-hearted policemen demanding bribes from motorists, I didn’t see any policeman around. It was a sharp contrast from the heavy military presence during the June 2014 governorship election. Then, I remembered wondering if I was in a war zone. Policemen and rude, horsewhip-wielding soldiers shouted orders at commuters and motorists. There was a checkpoint at every kilometre.
The phones of those making calls close to checkpoints were confiscated and smashed on the asphalt road and travellers detained for hours for the flimsiest of excuses. Motorcyclists were ordered to stop their bikes several metres from the checkpoints and push them across to several metres after before they could ride them again. It was humiliating as it was suffocating. I remember spending 6 hours back to Lagos on a journey that usually took 3 hours.
All that was gone this time.
I walked into a hotel a few blocks from the Nigerian Police headquarters in the state. After I was handed my keys, I tried to chat up Niyi, the manager of the hotel to get a feel of how the electorate would be voting.
“I’m not voting. I don’t even have a PVC,” he said dismissively.
When asked why he did not make the effort to register, Niyi retorted:
“Let me tell you something. I wrote the Nigerian Immigration test at Ibadan, up till now nothing has happened. I suffered on that day and was almost killed. So tell me why should I vote?” he asked. “Even the opposition party is the same. Politicians are the same. What has anybody done for the youth in this country?” he added as the receptionist called his attention to a customer requesting a discount.
On March 15, 2014, nineteen people died in stampedes across the country during the poorly organised recruitment test to employ new immigration officers.
If the mood in the town is anything to go by, then the turnout during the election would be woeful.
Or worse, the APC may just pull a surprise victory here. This is something, Mr Fayose, who has been the most vociferous supporter of Mr. Jonathan during the campaign, will hate to see happen. After beating the incumbent with a landslide just months ago, the least expected of him by his party is to deliver the state to the president in the manner he won the governorship election last June.
But Fayose is hydra-headed. Every time his head is cut off. He manages to grow a new one.
Later in the night as I stepped out of my room to buy suya, I couldn’t help but compare the lit Iyin Road, with lamps powered by generators, with the darkness that pervades the rest of the town.
Nigeria is a phoney country. It covers its malaise in an ostentatious robe like a leper dressed in velvet. It is not hard to live in a place like this and not exude nonchalance. Just like Niyi said, the election may do little to change anything.