Nigerians have expressed their divergent opinions on the mammoth crowd being seen at campaign grounds and political rallies of different political parties across the country.
While some people feel the crowd is rented by politicians and their handlers to parade as members of their political parties and supporters of their candidates, others think there are genuine crowds.
Even before the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, declared open the campaign season, some Nigerians had started marching across the cities to register support for their candidates.
Such rallies, tagged ‘One million-man’ or two million-man march had taken place in cities like Jos, Kaduna, FCT, among others, for Peter Obi of the Labour Party.
And now, this appears to have become a test of popularity among politicians ahead of the general elections as their handlers brag about and share videos of mammoth crowds from their rallies.
However, many Nigerians do not believe in crowd gathering. And there is the popular belief that the battle ground itself would be the best test of strength simply because, according to them, a crowd could be bought.
There is also the belief that there are three types of crowds at these rallies and campaign grounds, namely the rented crowds, those who come out hoping that the politicians would throw money and food around and the genuine crowd made up of Nigerians seeking change.
Even among the politicians, they believe that Nigerians do not come en-mass to support anyone just for the sake of it. They believe that such crowds are rented, thereby creating the question of if actually Nigerians ever support any candidate genuinely.
Before the Labour Party rally in Abuja, a frontline entertainer and activist, Charles Oputa, popularly known as Charly Boy, who was one of the leaders of the ‘one million-man march, said the current administration has failed Nigerians and has given no hope for the common man, hence the search for change.
Charly boy believes strongly that Peter Obi would bring about the socio-economic changes the country requires to move from where it is now.
And since then, videos of highly crowded campaign venues from the leading political parties such as the LP, All Progressives Congress, APC and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, have been breaking the Internet.
Dino Melaye, the spokesperson, Peoples Democratic People, PDP, Presidential Campaign Management Committee, had rubbished the one million-man march for Peter Obi in Abuja.
According to him, the so-called Obi supporters were just hungry Nigerians paid N1000-N2000 and assembled from all parts of Abuja and Nigerians, in general, to stand to say they were Obidients.
“Hunger in the land has made crowd renting very easy,” Dr. Kashifu Ahmad, an Abuja based political observer said.
“A time like this [campaign season] is one of the reasons politicians do not want to provide jobs and good life for the citizens.
“The people are weak and hungry and can easily be lured to the streets. I strongly believe that, while some of these people are genuine supporters of the candidates and the political parties, most of them are rented.
“Every politician likes to see their campaign ground filled with people and could go any length to achieve this. We now have what is called ‘crowd agents’. These people go from place to place to hire a crowd for politicians. Just tell them the number of people you want and there you go. I strongly believe that the election itself would serve as the true test of popularity. Let’s forget the crowd. But I repeat, that doesn’t totally rule out genuine support.”
Also speaking to DAILY POST on this matter, Emeka Amadi, a shoe dealer in Utako Market, said, “I was part of the march for Obi in Abuja here. Nobody gave me N1. I live in Dutse but had to come all the way to join the march because I want Obi to be President. Maybe, other political parties are giving money to people to come out and support them. But I don’t think Obidients’ crowds are fake.”
Abubakar Isa, a trader at Wuse Market, noted that “People are gathering for different reasons. For some, they just want to see the presidential candidate and be among the crowd and after that nothing more. Some came out in search of food and money, while some others are party members. There’s suffering. Hunger is killing people, that’s why you see crowds everywhere. I don’t belong to any party but I have my voter’s card.”
Another trader, Sister Margret Ugwu, described herself as ‘Obidients’ saying, “Even my pastor is Obidient. We need change. The last eight years is something the mouth can’t say. We are calling on God to give us a good leader who truly understands what the people are passing through. For the crowds, I support what Dino Melaye said. PDP and APC know how to rent crowds. But we in ‘Obidient’ we use our own money to pay transport fares to any rally. We’re not expecting our candidate to give us money rather ‘na we go give am’. So let them continue renting their crowds. On election day, we’ll see who’s who.”
Reacting to the allegation of renting a crowd, the Vice presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Datti Baba-Ahmed during one of his recent interviews, said thousands of Obi-Datti supporters in major cities in the country were not rented.
Baba-Ahmed described the supporters that attended the rallies as legitimate, self-funded and organic ‘crowds.’
He said, “I am not a crowd-renter and I can tell you that Peter Obi is not a crowd-renter. Those are legitimate, bonafide, self-funded, organic crowds.”
On his part, sharing a video of a mammoth crowd in one of the APC rallies in Ibadan, Director of Public Affairs and Chief Spokesperson, Tinubu/Shettima Presidential Campaign Council, Festus Keyamo, SAN, boasted, “When they are running out of breath, we are just starting. This is a long-distance race, not a 100-meters dash! These are APC party faithfuls in just one section of Ibadan city (not Oyo State as a whole) showing them how to do a proper march. Now, we move!”