It is yet another election season, a time when some Nigerians say politicians only visit their neglected communities to make promises as they seek their votes.
Such forgotten people and communities are often courted by politicians at such periods, making them beautiful brides for that season.
For instance, for several years, nothing was heard about Mike Ejeagha, a musician who specialised in turning Igbo folklore into classical hits. Ejeagha’s music, though not as popular as it used to be in his heydays in the 70s, lived on but the musician himself has literally faded away from public consciousness.
The artiste, popularly known as ‘Gentleman’, and described by Wikipedia as a ‘folklorist, songwriter, and musician’; hails from Enugu State, where he started his musical career in the mid-20th century. He has been influential in the evolution of music in the Igbo language since he released his first hit in 1960.
His style of music – story-telling lyrics laced with proverbs and accompanied by the guitar sound– was distinctive. The fact that his songs are in Igbo language made him a household name in the South-East states.
He is said to have contributed over 300 recordings to the National Archives of Nigeria on Igbo folklore highlife music.
But, in recent years, as his fame faded, probably due to old age and the emergence of different styles of music, not many people knew that, all the while, Ejeagha has been ill, living more or less as a destitute in a ghetto-like environment in the Abakpa-Nike area of Enugu.
Ejeagha’s grim condition was revealed after a social media user, who paid him a visit, highlighted his travails in a post, which was shared across various social media platforms.
Arguably, the social media post would not have made any difference anyway had it not come at the ‘right time’ – in the thick of the ‘election season’.
Apparently, the post caught the attention of politicians, who quickly moved to turn the singer’s residence into a political campaign ground. And so it happened that Ejeagha’s story changed on Saturday, November 10, 2018.
Early on that day, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress in Enugu State, Senator Ayogu Eze, paid an unscheduled visit to Ejeagha at his Abakpa-Nike residence. Residents of the area would have wondered what was happening as the long convoy of expensive vehicles navigated the narrow streets and bad roads to the musician’s humble abode.
During the brief visit, which was covered by journalists, Eze, the APC candidate, explained that he was worried about the condition of the 84-year-old musician. He noted that it was unfortunate that people like Ejeagha, who contributed to the cultural renaissance of their people through their talents, were not recognised by successive administrations in the state.
Eze assured that, if elected as governor in 2019, his administration would recognise the contributions made by members of the society, and also accord them their due recognition.
“We are here to tell you that we are running for the governorship position of the state. Our government will ensure that people like you are not forgotten. Just see where you have been forgotten and abandoned. We are going to give you the respect you and others deserve,” the APC candidate, a former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Works, said.
Eze assured that his administration would provide the singer with a befitting accommodation if he wins the next election. He also promised to impress it on the Copyright Society of Nigeria to make sure that all royalties accruable to Ejeagha through his songs were paid.
The musician was equally urged to support the APC governorship candidate, telling him to “talk to your people to support the APC.”
“Do not be deterred, God will answer your prayers,” Ejeagha told the APC candidate, while expressing his happiness about the visit.
As interesting as the event was, the matter would have passed like that, but the ‘Ejeagha affair’ took an even more remarkable turn when, just hours later, on the same day, Eze’s major opponent in the Enugu State governorship election, the Peoples Democratic Party candidate and incumbent governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, also visited the musician.
However, sources in Ugwuanyi’s camp claimed that the governor had already planned to visit Ejeagha on that day, before the APC candidate, who allegedly got wind of the planned visit, decided to move first.
All the same, a statement released by the Enugu State Government after the governor’s visit to the musician disclosed that Ejeagha had ‘endorsed’ Ugwuanyi for a second term in office.
The statement, which described Ejeagha as an ‘iconic’ musician, read, “The iconic highlife musician, Chief Mike Ejeagha, has endorsed Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State for a second term in office, for providing good governance and adequate security in the state.
“The Ezeagu-born indigene of Enugu State gave the endorsement when Ugwuanyi paid him a visit athis residence in Abakpa-Nike, Enugu East Local Government Area.
“Chief Ejeagha, who expressed delight at the governor’s unscheduled visit to ascertain how he was faring, said he was highly impressed that the governor has transformed Enugu State for the better and also entrenched peace and security in the state, assuring him of his support for his re-election in 2019.”
At the end of the visit, the governor promised to pay Ejeagha’s medical bills and asked the musician’s family to refer his medical issues to Enugu State University Teaching Hospital, Parklane, Enugu, for adequate attention.
Ugwuanyi, according to the statement, also thanked members of Ejeagha’s family, “especially the wife and daughter, for taking care of him, and offered automatic employment to the daughter to enable her to take care of her father, accordingly.”
Efforts to speak to Ejeagha on the development were not successful as of the time of filing this report.
However, Ejeagha’s story mirrors that of some long neglected communities in the country, which only receive the attention of politicians when elections draw near.
One of such communities is Arepo, in Ogun State, which adjoins Lagos State.
For residents of Arepo, the major concern is how they can have good roads, a dream that has stayed alive for so long whose reality has remained elusive. During a visit to the community, our correspondent observed that the roads leading to the community were in a bad condition. The unpaved roads are filled with potholes, and dust envelopes the streets as vehicles drive past.
The poor, dilapidated state of the roads gives the community an abandoned, ghostly feel.
Politicians who usually visit the community to seek votes during election periods have been promising to repair the main road leading to the community for several years.
But as the 2019 elections draw near, the promises remain unfulfilled.
Mr. Victor Olajide, a community leader in Arepo, told our correspondent that politicians of different political parties only remember the area during electioneering.
“It has become a trend, they will come during the campaigns to promise us heaven and earth – they will promise to repair the road – but once the election season is over, we will not see them again. The next time we will hear from them is the next election season,” Olajide told our correspondent.
Continuing, Olajide expressed regrets that government presence is only felt in the community when the politicians come to seek votes.
He added, “Some of them came visiting before the primaries, and we know that there will be more visits to the community by politicians before the general elections, after which they will abandon us again. But we have been asking them to address our problems. We want them to fix our roads; that is our major challenge. The road is our biggest problem – they should fix our roads.”
Our correspondent learnt that residents of Arepo have been taxing themselves to raise funds to provide some basic infrastructure in the community.
Olajide, who condemned the ‘promise and fail’ attitude of the politicians, described the situation as ‘unfortunate.’
The story is the same for residents of Makoko, a community located on the Lagos Lagoon. Majority of the residents of the community, estimated to be more than 100,000, reside on houses built on stilts along the lagoon, while others are found on land. The Lagos State Government, which regards the community as an illegal settlement, destroyed several houses in the area in 2012 during a demolition exercise, rendering numerous families homeless.
However, the community is still ‘alive’, albeit in a neglected, squalid condition, as discovered during a recent visit to the area by our correspondent.
‘Deplorable’ is the most poignant term to describe the living conditions of the hapless residents, who practically live on waters that are nothing more than open, flowing sewages, from which the stench of dirt and decay pervade the atmosphere.
Trapped in the putrid slum, the residents are forced to cook, eat, bathe and defecate in the open water, which constitutes a major threat to public hygiene in their community.
Even schools, churches and shops have to find ways to exist in the seedy environment.
Makoko simply reeks of neglect. But the politicians never fail to remember the area when it is time to plead for votes during election campaigns.
Dickson Odeh, a Makoko resident, said it is only during the campaign season that politicians visit the community.
“The politicians, including those in government, always come around to campaign and ask us to vote for them but after that, we don’t hear from them anymore,” a mournful-looking Odeh said while drinking a bottle of Zobo, a local beverage, beside an open, smelly sewer that could pass for a small river.
Countless flies that seemed to emerge from the sewer buzzed around, apparently struggling to share the drink with Odeh, as he continued to lament the deplorable condition of life in Makoko.
“Sometime ago, the government decided to demolish the community and a lot of houses were pulled down and so many people lost their homes, several lives were also lost.
“The demolition was suspended and the community remained neglected, but it is so unfortunate that they still come around to seek our votes whenever it is time for elections. That means that they deliberately neglected us, even though they know that it is human beings like themselves that live here. It is unfortunate,” Odeh said, with a note of frustration.
“Look at the environment,” Odeh said, sweeping his hands across the open sewer, “Even wild animals will not wish to live in this type of condition.”
Odeh, who said he had not been able to fend for his family since he lost his job in a Chinese-owned firm, disclosed that, beside the poor living condition in the area, the major challenge for residents of Makoko was joblessness.
In fact, as Odeh was showing our correspondent around the area, some other youths joined in the expedition, and pressed home the need for government to provide jobs in the community.
One of the youths, who identified himself as John, said the unemployment situation in Makoko had got out of hand.
“Most of the youth you see here have no job, not just the youth – majority of the residents are jobless and that is why we have so much poverty here,” he said, adding that the situation was connected to lack of basic amenities and adequate education.
John, who further revealed that most employed residents of the community were working with Chinese-owned firms, noted that the government had not done anything to protect them from exploitation and intimidation by their Chinese employers.
“Most of us manage to find work with Chinese-owned firms but they oppress, harass and exploit us in our own country. The intimidation is too much and most times, they refuse to pay us. We have complained to the government but nothing has been done about it. It is as if we have been left to our own fate; they don’t care that if we exist, until it is time to seek our votes,” John said, with dejection and misery written all over his face.
Other ‘forgotten’ individuals that suddenly enjoy the attention of the high and mighty in the society during the election season are thugs and louts, and even outright miscreants, who are suddenly empowered to form part of the electioneering machinery.
These individuals are suddenly organised into partisan forces that are ready to maim and kill at the behest of their masters, just for a pittance.
Government is known to clamp down on the disruptive activities of the National Union of Road Transport Workers but once it is time for elections, the violent excesses of this group will be tolerated, and even encouraged, as long as it contributes to electoral victory.
Endangered groups like tricycle, or ‘Keke’ riders, and motorcycle or ‘Okada’ riders, who are usually threatened with proscription by the government, are tolerated, and even embraced, during the campaign season.
Similar gesture is extended to sundry groups like widows, market women and rural dwellers. Neglected and forgotten in normal times, they all become beautiful brides when politicians need their votes.
They are practically herded into commercial buses and dressed in the colours of the concerned political party or politician, to make up the numbers at rallies, where they sing the praises of the aspirant or candidate to high heavens.
As the campaigns for the 2019 elections commence officially on Sunday, November 18, 2019, these scenarios will likely play out again. It is during this period that the long-suffering rural women receive cups of rice, some tins of tomato paste and a few onions from politicians who have come to ask for their votes.
Jobless youths, who have not been able to afford new clothes for a long while, will suddenly have a collection of vests and shirts bearing the pictures of various aspirants who ‘mobilised’ them to support their bid for public office.
An unemployed youth, who only identified himself as Ekene, said he already had a collection of shirts he received during the primaries of the 2019 polls.
Interestingly, Ekene’s ‘new wardrobe’ does not discriminate when it comes to political parties and candidates.
“In the past few months I have acquired several new shirts and even caps, which we were given for various campaign rallies organised by different political parties and aspirants,” Ekene told our correspondent, adding that he had shirts bearing the colours of the APC, the PDP, and some other political parties.
Ekene was able to receive such ‘gifts’ from politicians because he was one of several jobless youths in his community who were always available and ready to be ‘mobilised’ by politicians, no matter the concerned political party.
“Life has been tough as an unemployed youth but usually things get better during the campaign season – the politicians suddenly remember us.
“Even our lawmakers in the National Assembly and the state Houses of Assembly, who had not been picking our telephone calls, will call us back themselves. They become our friends and if they missed our telephone calls because they were busy when we called, they would call us back. We become very important to them during this season,” Ekene explained.
Our correspondent observed that the constituency offices of some lawmakers in the country, which are usually deserted, have suddenly been repainted and sprung to life as elections draw near.