Under the shed of a large mango tree with travelling roots and branches decorating the busy Garrison Roundabout along the Port-Harcourt – Aba road, in Port-Harcourt men, women and children gathered. Some stood dapping their sweaty face with their tired handkerchiefs, others chattered. Hawkers who sold cold drinks and other assortments of temporary relief also converged, making a kill of the misery of men. Just by the side, an Anglican church was filled with humans. Different cultural troupes took different positions, others who had arrived from some of the 23 local government areas that make up Rivers State walked about the expansive church premises, in groups or singly under the generosity of the afternoon sun that raved everything on its path. And like chickens in a poultry farm, they sat on the piles of their own excrement – their sweats.

 

The day was not a Sunday which in the part of the world where I come from, has been reserved for the purification of the soul and for worshipping in European styled churches. It was a Saturday meant for relaxation and closing of the week’s business; but thousands of persons, followers of a particular politician had filed out in their numbers, crossing deep seas and otherwise shallow rivers to attend the thanksgiving service of a politician whom the court recently declared the winner of an election that was marred with stunning violence.

 

The church, big as it were, was obviously too small for the mammoth crowd that converged and so the security agencies had a herculean task managing it especially due to the fact that the senate president, a sitting governor from one of the states where pernicious men are moulded and adored in contrived platitude and several other senators were present. It was the gathering of the who-is-who in the oil city’s society; men in their form, legal or illegal.

 

Those who were commoners who had come without the attendant grandeur associated with bigmanism to rejoice with the senator were subjected to inhumane treatments by the security agencies. There was a clear demarcation between the classed and the classless.

 

Worst still is the fact that after the church service which lasted for hours as preachers upon preachers took out time to eulogize the politicians, and handing them the microphone to speak to the sheep and praise God with them in the midst of the poverty that they themselves induced, the people were forced to walk a distance of almost four kilometres to the venue of the reception. Those who were lucky and whose group did not come in chattered rickety buses found solaces in jumping at open back trucks, paying their way to the venue or simply walking to the venue.

 

In front of the church, across the busy expressway, a man was landing blows on another man that was too familiar to have escaped the torture. And according to him, the man whom he was about to kill with his generous blows was the local mobilizer who mobilised them from the hinterlands for the Thanksgiving event. They had agreed that for them to be at the venues of the thanksgiving which included the church and the Port-Harcourt Polo Club, he would ferry them to the venues and offer them a thousand Naira each. And sensing that the mobilizer was about to renegade once they made it to church like it was his wont to do, he went after him like an angry bull and before they could be separated, there was blood everywhere.

 

At the reception ground, the politicians who sat in well-arranged canopies, sat like kites and eagles observing as the chicks they constantly fed on sang their praises and when it was time for them to speak, they were roared to the platform by the same chicks whom the kites and the Eagles took time to eulogise for their dedication.   Dateline, February 2018.

 

As a young journalist of amateur level hunting stories in Port Harcourt, I saw this with my naked eyes.

 

A month later, on a Monday morning, I was at the venue of another rally organized by a senatorial district to endorse the governor. It was at the Yakubu Gowon stadium and it was filled to the brim with fathers, mothers, youths, some wearing particular identical colours, singing, chanting to announce their presence. They had arrived hours before the man whom they were to endorse found time to attend his own endorsement, perspiring under the angry sun like a community disturbed by a colony of angry bees but would empty into the streets while the governor was making his speech. In front of the stadium which was almost shut to traffic, I saw a group of women mobbing a man who mobilized them but had failed to pay them the agreed amount. It is the same old song; my crowd is bigger than yours.

 

I have argued before with the benefits of being shut down and insulted that to measure the number of unemployed persons in a single state, one need not look for a non-existing official statistics. Nigerian states make sure they do not exist by underfunding the agencies whose job it is to gather such stats. But to find out is simple; check the number of persons who attend political rallies on a working day. And for starters, those huge crowds one cherish a symbol of the politician’s popularity was bought with money.

 

Then you ask why a politician will invest millions into buying crowd but won’t use such to provide basic amenities for the people he or she is elected to represent? It has to do with mind torture, a classic case of Joseph Stalin’s theory of removing the feathers of a fowl and feeding the same fowl with corn to console it. They also have to make statements to their opposition that they are grassroots oriented.

 

How the rented crowd cheer the said politician by climbing trees or running wild in the street depends largely on the amount they were paid. And it poses a bigger question as to who monitors election campaign funding in Nigeria as it is rumoured that the ruling APC spends at least a billion naira hiring crowd each time the president goes to a state to campaign and if the president is as popular as they claimed he is, why the renting of crowds?

 

These numbers, instead of scaring us into trying to solve the problem, have become tools for which politicians taunt each other in a ‘my crowd is bigger than yours’ caricature.

 

Nigeria is a country where absurdity is celebrated and so, people celebrate the utter devaluation of human existence. That is why three months after the Academic Staff Union of the Universities embarked on an indefinite strike leading to millions of students out of school, the country carries on as nothing happened.

 

Of course, this is a positive development for the politicians. I mean, the millions of students at home will add to the pool of crowd that they will buy cheap with their sleaze.

 

No country that is set on the path Nigeria is currently threading makes it through the night to see a brighter day.