The magnificent country that we are, we decided to go the unconventional way. An open air presidential debate. “Fair” and “open”, so no one could misinterpret any words. Or actions. No one could complain of compromised media.
February 14, 2019
The crowd at Teslim Balogun Stadium spilled over into the main road. Twenty six thousand grumbling Nigerians, mostly Lagosians, swarmed around like angry bees. They were waiting for the Presidential debate candidates to arrive. It was one o’clock in the afternoon – three hours after the slated start time of the debate. A stifling unrest filled the air. Whether this was from a fear of the black suited thugs with walkie-talkies and guns or the heat, no one could tell.
Coaster buses from different political parties surrounded the stadium. Multicolored paper posters, bearing faces of the candidates adorned their sides. Cameras and microphones from media stations were mounted at different locations in the stadium. Party supporters routinely belted out party support tunes. The cameras would zoom in on them, they would go wild and sing louder, waving huge flags with party colors. A horde of women clad in Ankara superimposed with their candidate’s face suddenly materialized and shook humongous bottoms while the cameras watched.
By 1:30 pm, the grumbles had become more pronounced. Whispers had risen in the crowd that the candidates had agreed to have a personal debate at Aso Rock. The media soon picked this up and reported the news -without the words “alleged or rumors” starting their sentences. Hordes started leaving the stadium. They grumbled about how the candidates had no regard for the masses.
“If I vote any of them, make my left nyash bend.” One angry man screamed as he drove off. His voice was lost in the noise of the stadium.
As most of the crowd swept down the tiered seats towards the stadium gates, they noticed some scrambling coming from the walkie-talkie welding men walking around. Loud sirens could be heard in the distance. Clouds of dust loomed in the horizon.
Suddenly, shouts erupted from parts of the stadium. The dust soon cleared to reveal a convoy of black Land Rover Defender jeeps and Toyota 2010 Camrys. A bunch of burly looking men dressed in black with MOPOL on their shirts ran ahead of the vehicles. They pushed people aside and threatened to break windshields and cameras. Cheers broke our amongst the supporters and in some parts of the crowd. Necks craned to see the candidates. The stadium was in an uproar as they both came down from their cars. White Agbadas trailed the dusty ground as they made their way through a specially constructed pathway. The pathway lead to a wooden erected stage where the debate would hold.
It took about thirty minutes for the crowd to quiet down and for the two stage microphones to start working. At this point, a standing fan had been deployed to the stage. Two Eleganza chairs now stood behind the two men daring them to rest their butts. They did not sit but tried valiantly to stand and smile. It managed to assuage the angry crowd.
“See, Egbon, they are not too big to stand up. They are men of the people.” Different words from the curses uttered minutes ago.
The opening remarks of the debate soon commenced. The moderator, Akaoliseh Longinus, a “Honorable” introduced the candidates, Mr Baha Kilo and Mr Ebenezer Mogaji, to mixed cheers and boos. He explained to the crowd how the debate was expected to go: timing, issues to be discussed and the allowance for closing statements. He then proceeded to end his introductory speech on a jovial note.
“Please do not be angry, my people. The candidates did not mean to be late. There was traffic at Ikeja and they were stuck there for some hours. You know how these things are now?”
He laughed happily, his big stomach boobing in front of him. His attempt at a joke was met with loud boos. Louder than they were before. A half full pure water sachet flew from the crowd and landed short of the stage. Honorable Akaoliseh made a mental note to sack his personal assistant for suggesting he tell the story. He stepped to the side of the stage and allowed the two candidates move to the front where two podiums stood.
Mr Baha, you have the first say. Our country has a huge problem with power. Could you let us know exactly what you think about this?” Akaoliseh asked.
Baha grinned from ear to ear and proceeded to answer the question. Every once in a while, he wiped his face with a black and white plaid handkerchief. His opponent, Ebenezer, who was re-running for the presidential seat, glared as Baha made allusions to malpractice in the country’s administration.
Ten minutes later, the mood in the stadium was flammable. Blame was being thrown about by both candidates. Baha took his Agbada overall off and grabbed the microphone from its stand. His face was set in a flustered scowl.
“My opponent should not tell me nonsense about corruption! You are corrupt. You, yourself, you are corruption personified!.”
“What are you insinuating?!” Ebenezer countered, screaming.
A CNN reporter, the African correspondent, and his camera man had just arrived. They watched, mouth agape, as the two traded words and then turned to the crowd and made promises.
A full hour and forty minutes passed between the screams and sweet talk, the moderator barely had a chance to get his questions in. They were promises of free education. Higher salaries. Constant electricity. Thick Madams embraced themselves, higher salaries for the masses would mean more people coming to eat at their bukas. The crowd thanked God. The fuel price would be stabilized.
The moderator waddled back to the middle of the stage. He seemed to be the worst hit from the heat. There were bold sweat patches on his formerly starched office shirt; the most prominent being a stain beneath his paunch.
“Gentlemen, thank you for the talk.” This time, he avoided allusions to humor. His ego still smarted from the last set of boos.” We have fifteen minutes for questions from the press.” The stadium went quiet.
“Yes, you.” Akaoliseh pointed with beefy fingers towards a reporter. A fresh faced reporter from GTBV stood. “Please someone give him a microphone!” A member of the technical team ran in a crouched position towards the Press canopy.
“Thank you for this opportunity to speak.” The reporter’s voice came out in a squeak. The stadium erupted in laughter. He cleared his throat. Louder laughter. “I am a reporter from GBTV and I would like to ask how exactly you would go about creating jobs if you get elected?”
“Who would you like to answer that question?” Akaoliseh asked.
“Okay. Mr Ebenezer, please go ahead.” He moved a bit to the left side of the stage so the attention would be on the candidates once more.
Mr Ebenezer started. “Young man. It is good you have asked this question. Like I said before, I will make sure more jobs are created in every sector. I will…”
“Sorry to interrupt you, Sir. But how exactly are you going to create these jobs and what sectors exactly will you target?”
“Err.., all sectors. The sectors will be enlarged. New departments will be created to absorb qualified people.”
“Enlarged? Could you expatiate on the enlargement?”
Ebenezer looked at the young reporter with glazed eyes. Little beads of sweat rolled down the bridge of his nose. “It is a huge gradual process which has been drawn up already. But, it will be revealed when I am elected. You know, one must not reveal their tactics to the opposition,” he grinned and looked at Baha. A foolish, desperate grin.
The silence across the stadium was deafening. The CNN reporter typed furiously on his phone, informing the office at Nairobi of what had just happened. A few seconds passed before the uproar started. It never ended.
*All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
*This work does not seek to promote or support any fictitious individual. All are rambles. A writer’s rambles.
*Image from Al-Ahram Weekly – http://bit.ly/1zCYcLu