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presented at the Zaria Conference on the Humanities in the 21st Century in Africa: Prospects and Challenges, held at the Faculty of Arts, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria, January 10th to 14th, 2005.
Several counties of Africa are undergoing political transformations which result from the famous winds of democratic change that is replacing civil oligarchies and military dictatorship with participatory democratic governance. The democratic culture is being gradually imbibed by the electorate which has the right to choose among political aspirants vying for several elective political offices. The political aspirants embark on several political campaign activities some of which this paper considers as theatrical in nature. This paper analyzes campaign strategies that have been used in Nigeria’s political transition from military dictatorship to civil rule, which have come to be known as solidarity visits and solidarity rallies. The paper discusses certain qualities in these campaign activities that make them describable both as theatrical activities and also as media of persuasive communication. The paper eventually draws lessons from previous use of these theatrical activities and considers the prospects and challenges that lie ahead for their further use in Africa’s political transformation.
Introduction Political transformation has occupied a central position in Africa’s existence between the twilight of the 20th century and the dawn of the 21st century. The much acclaimed winds of democratic change has wept across Africa, replacing civil oligarchies and military dictatorship with participatory democracy in the conduct of affairs in general, and democratic governance in particular. This trend has popularized the term transition which in governance, refers to the movement away from the status quo unto a new order. In the African reality and that of some other third world regions of Asia and Latin America, transition is the shift from despotic oligarchies and dictatorial military rulership of countries onto democratic governance. Olagunju (1993:13) an analyst of governance in Africa sees “transitions as projects of democratization (which) loom large on the African political horizon (and) now occupy an important place on the political agenda of many African countries.” Among the African counties in which political transformations have taken or are taking place is Nigeria. Nigeria returned to civil governance on 29th May 1999 after experiencing a cumulative twenty nine years of military rule, since the nation’s 1960 independence from British Colonial administration. The democratic culture is gradually being learnt by Nigerians as not only a form of governance but also a way of life, which thrives on the principles of the rule of law, political equality, free choice, participation and the fundamental human rights of the individual. Unlike what used to obtain in the preceding years of military dictatorship when power was forcefully seized, the assumption of leadership in a participatory democracy now takes place through periodic elections based on which aspirants who aspire to a leadership position would need to canvass for votes from the members of the electorate who have the right to choose. Accordingly, the person seeking victory at the elections needs to persuade and convince the electorate in order to win votes. The politicians and their public relations advisers therefore employ channels of persuasive communication which include those that are theatrical in nature. Beyond commissioned drama presentations, such theatrical media of persuasive communication, which can be used for the purpose of persuasion in political
campaigns include the rhetoric and theatrics associated with campaign speeches, manifesto presentation, interviews and debates. There are also spectacular displays like motorcycle stunts, motorcade displays and carnival processions, as well as theatrical activities like solidarity visits, solidarity rallies and musical concerts, among many other deliberately mounted image making special events. This paper sets out to:(1) identify and analyse the theatrical qualities in some of the campaign activities like solidarity visits and rallies that were carried out in Nigerian political campaign activities within the period of the political transformation from military dictatorship to civil governance. (2) evaluate the extent to which the theatrical campaign activities were employed as channels or media of persuasive communication campaigns and measure the impact that they achieved; (3) and eventually proffer some opinion on what this writer considers as the key issues in the prospects and challenges which lie ahead for Africa in her process of political transformation, as regards the employment of theatrical campaign activities, in order that they may continue to be useful as effective and veritable media of persuasive communication in partisan politics. Theoretical Background The arguments set out in this paper are premised upon the postulations of several performance studies theorists, the aggregate of whose works point to a summation that a lot of human activities are by nature and interpretation, theatrical and spectacular. Such arguments have been advanced by Erving Goffman (1959:72) who states that “all the world is not of course, a stage, but the crucial ways in which it isn’t are not easy to specify.” In corroboration, Victor Turner (1974) analyses what he calls social drama by which he refers to social situations like arguments, combats and rites of passage, which he argues are theatrical because the people involved in them know that these situations during the political
naturally attract an audience.
Turner argues that the social order is in harmonious
perpetuity until a conflict of interests occurs between people in their social roles, which results in at least four cyclical stages of action that manifest in a sequence of (a) breach (of the social order), (b) Crisis (resulting from the breach), (c) redressive action (like mediation, negotiation or adjudication). The final stage in the cycle is (d) reintegration, which marks the return to the harmonious social order. (Turner1974:37-41). Richard Schechner’s work titled Performance Theory (1988) is also influential to the delineation of the theoretical framework for analysis in this paper. Schechner argues for the adoption of an approach that broadens the scope of performance activities beyond the kind of Western drama whose origins are traced to Greek civilization. He commences his exposition on performance theory by looking at the origins of theatre which are traditionally linked to ritual, as many performance studies scholars, like those he refers to as the Cambridge school, have stated in their earlier works. Schechner holds the view that we must not continue to insist on the ritual origins of drama as illustrated in the works of the Cambridge scholars which include among others J. G. Frazer, Francis Cornford, Jane Ellen Harrison, and Gilbert Murray. Schechner posits further that performance origin theories may not be the most relevant issue at hand in the field of performance studies, but a consideration of how ritual, play, games, sports, dance and music are all performative genres in their own rights. Against this background, rather than perceive ritual as the origin from which other performance genres vertically descend, Schechner implores us to look at play, games, sport, theatre and ritual as horizontally related and autonomous performance genres in their own rights but which share with one another “methods of analysis that can be used intergenerically” (Schechner 1988:6). In his view, what he refers to as “public performance activities of humans” include ritual, theatre, play, games, sport, dance and music, none among which, he argues, must be placed higher or lower on a performance evolutionary ladder in relation to Greco Western drama (Schechner 1988: 6).
In order to recognize performative dimensions in the human activities of ritual, games, sport and the aesthetic genres of theatre, dance, and music, Schechner (1988:6) suggests certain basic qualities that they share in common. These are: 1. Special ordering of time 2. Special value attached to objects used 3. Non-productivity in terms of goods 4. Rules governing the conduct of the activity 5. Special performance space This paper draws from the analysis of these basic qualities of the ‘public performance activities of humans’ expounded by Schechner, and then advances the argument farther, that solidarity visits and rallies as theatrical campaign activities fit into this analytical paradigm as would be illustrated. Other scholars have made significant contributions to the discipline of performance studies which has over the years described, interpreted and analysed several human activities as performative, theatrical and spectacular. These include J. L. Austin (1975,) Jacques Derrida (1982,) Micheal Fried (1980,) Parker and Sedgwick (1995,) Sue-Ellen Case (1990,) and Micheal Taussig (1993.) There is a theoretical string running throughthe works of all of these scholars which is that the frontiers of performance and performance studies are ever widening. This concensus is also central to the arguments in the field of political dramaturgy whose major proponent in recent times is Art Borecca (1993) Borreca’s initial work at delineating political dramaturgy is significant for reviewing the contributions of several scholars to the field of dramaturgy. He opines that as a field of research, political dramaturgy addresses itself to the question of the theatricality in various forms of human social interactions. The concern with this subject has led to major contributions by scholars with backgrounds in many branches of the humanities and social sciences like literary theory, political science, sociology, communication studies and performance studies. Among the scholars from these backgrounds which
Borreca mentions in his review as those concerned with political dramaturgy are Nikolai Evrinov, Kenneth Burke, Erving Goffman, Hugh Duncan, Gustaf Ichheiser, Theodore Sarbin, Rom Harre, Victor Turner, Clifford Geertz, Murray Edelman, and Richard Schechner.
Because modern media of mass communication are also arena in which the showmanship of the politicians are mediated and reified, Borreca sees media theory as inevitably going into the package of modern day studies of political dramaturgy. Among the media theorists in whose works Borreca finds some relevance to early political dramaturgic discourse are Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman. Other scholars who Borecca credits with having laid the foundations for the key issues being contemplated by the field of political dramaturgy include Orrin Klapp (1964,) Merelman (1969), Mount (1973), Lyman and Scott (1975,) Rosenau (1980,) Hall (1972, 1979), Young and Massey (1978,) as well as Young and Welsh (1984, 1985.) Further research which Borreca describes as more “theoretically refined political dramaturgism” than the preceding ones are the works of Cragan and Shields (1977), Mayo (1978), Gillespie (1980), Hayes (1987), Miles (1989), as well as Esherick and Wassterstrom (1990). In the light of the works of the theoreticians on political dramaturgy that he has reviewed, Borreca arrives at a conclusion that all forms of human symbolic interactions may possess performative dimensions as postulated by Burke, but that only those in which the performer-spacespectator triad is reified may be accepted as social or political drama (1993:71).
Against the foregoing, the framework of analysis adopted here is one that illustrates how solidarity visits and rallies are describable as theatrical in conformity to Schechner’s checklist and Borreca’s performer-space-spectator triad, while Lasswell’s model of communication is also used to illustrate how each of them are at the same time employed as a medium of persuasive communication. Harold Lasswell’s model of communication asks the question of Who (source) Says What (message) in Which Channel (medium) To Whom (recipient) with what Effect (impact)? The attraction in using Lasswell’s model for cross referencing with the theories of Borreca and Schechner in this study lies
in its consideration of the five basic components of communication which are: source, message, medium, recipient, and the feedback that is indicated by the effect or impact the message has had. Solidarity Visits Courtesy calls to officials in government and other dignitaries is a normal everyday occurrence. However, other forms of visits which take the shape of special events that are used for image making advantage by people involved in partisan politics are those that are referred to in Nigerian political parlance as solidarity visits. Among the beneficiaries of solidarity visits in the build up to the 1999 election was the Late General Sani Abacha. He received several delegations of traditional rulers, religious and opinion leaders, as well as youth groups from various parts of the federation. Incidentally, each group of visitors usually had a two-item agenda as purpose of visit, the first being an expression of sympathy, loyalty and solidarity with the General, especially over the alleged coup attempt on him by officers of the armed forces. The usual second purpose of such solidarity visits is to entreat the host to contest in the forthcoming elections. In the bid for his second term in office when activities were underway for the 2003 election, Olusegun Obasanjo also benefited from series of solidarity visits paid to him at Aso Rock Presidential Villa by several politicians and self proclaimed representatives of different interest groups. For instance, Insider Weekly magazine of April 15 2002 reports that some governors, party members and officials from the South-South geopolitical zone visited Obasanjo at Aso Rock Presidential villa on March 24 2002. Several such groups pay solidarity visits in order to persuade the allegedly reluctant incumbent to contest in forthcoming elections. The performer-space-spectator triad is applicable to the solidarity visit as a campaign activity, which can be perceived as a performance in which the visitors and their host are performers. They are performing a script designed to present the host as one who is hesitant about succumbing to the pressure that is being mounted on him to contest in the forthcoming elections. The political arena is the space within which this performance is taking place and the spectators are in this case the electorate and the political observers,
local and international. The solidarity visit as a theatrical activity is done within what Schechner refers to as event time whereby the entire show does not have a time limit but begins and ends when the performers are through with the specific visit. An object of special value during the solidarity visit is the written address of the visitors to their host which is usually presented after the verbal address, and sometimes carries the mass signatures of the other people who are assumed to have delegated the few that are physically present to speak on their behalf. As a performative activity, the process of conducting solidarity visits does not produce tangible goods and there are no special rules guiding it. The special performance space in which the solidarity visit is done is in the office of the host, as well as either in the official or private residence. Lasswell’s communication model is applicable to the solidarity visits, which were aimed at sending across a message, whose source is primarily the incumbent in both cases of Abacha and Obasanjo. The message is the projection of the incumbent ruler as someone who was reluctant in holding on to power, and was being pressured to contest against his personal wish and desire. This was intended, therefore, to make him acceptable to the electorate when he eventually fields himself for the office, as someone responsive to the cry of the electorate which is calling on him to come to their rescue. The medium is the act of the solidarity visit itself, which is then given publicity and reified in the government-controlled mass media. The recipients are in two categories namely: the opposition strategists and the bewildered public. The display of reluctance is, however, not genuine but a role play, an act of impersonation that is being played according to the script of those who want to package such a candidate. The genuineness of the solidarity visits in both the Abacha and Obasanjo instances as attempts at image making by their supporters is eventually called to question by the viciousness with which they both fought voices of opposition to their candidature. Solidarity Rallies The solidarity rally differs from the solidarity visit in the sense that, instead of a few representatives or officials of a group or association paying a visit to the dignitary, a massive contingent comes over. A venue like an office or residence can not contain the mass of people usually mobilised. The crowd moves in a procession that has embarked
on what is also called a ‘solidarity demonstration’ along the streets which lead to the gates of the office or residence of the host. A few leaders of the contingent then go indoors into the office or residence, while the other members of the contingent mill about the street, singing songs of solidarity, or go over to a more spacious venue, usually an open square, in which the visitors perform their ‘solidarity rally.’ After discussing with the leaders of the contingent, the host, usually the incumbent occupant of the public office, with the assistance of his aides, and in full coverage of the journalist that had earlier been intimated of the event, eventually comes out to meet the rest of the crowd at the solidarity rally. The performer-space-spectator triad is also applicable to the solidarity rally where those performing are made up of the hosts and the mass of supporters that have turned out for the rally. The stadium, open square or street corner becomes the space in which the massive cast holds its performance, a demonstration of support whether genuine or hired, while the spectators are those physically present and those to whom the performance is carried across in the mass media. In Nigeria’s political history, General Sani Abacha is so far the greatest beneficiary of the solidarity rally as a theatrical campaign strategy. Several youth groups from virtually all of the thirty-six states of the federation organised or attended solidarity rallies in 1998 as the build up to the 1999 election gained momentum. However Abacha died in 1998 before the election. General Olusegun Obasanjo also benefited from a demonstration of solidarity paid to him towards the end of his first term in office at his ‘Ota farms’ country estate, during the Easter weekend in April 2002. The event, which was reified in the mass media as ‘The Ota Pilgrimage,’ was actually a rally because of the sheer magnitude of the delegation that turned up for the special event at Ota which was bigger than the numerous solidarity visits he had earlier hosted at Abuja. The ‘delegation’ was actually a crowd made up of over 50 dignitaries including 25 ministers and 19 serving state governors. Among the governors, the rest of which were of the PDP, there was a conspicuous presence of three that belonged to All Nigeria Peoples’ Party (ANPP) namely: Abubakar Audu of Kogi, Mala Kachalla, of Borno and Abubakar Hashidu of Gombe states. The delegates to the
‘Ota Pilgrimage’ presented a letter to their host entreating him to seek re-election, in support of which they have turned out en masse to demonstrate. The source, message, recipient, medium and effect of the solidarity rally might appear similar to that of the visit. The remarkable differences that exist lie in the specifics of the different rallies of support for Abacha and Obasanjo. While the Abacha rally was conducted by people who rented a bandwagon crowd, in the case of the Obasanjo ‘Ota Pilgrimage,’ the rented crowd was constituted of people Awowede (2002:21) refers to as of “rather high social standing”. This implies that the source of the message for the proObasanjo rally comprises the incumbent himself, party structures, the governors and ministers, which therefore has more variety than Abacha’s ‘youth’ organisations. The message communicated is not only a call on Obasanjo but that Obasanjo’s pilgrims are of more credibility than Abacha’s bandwagon of young idlers. While the Abacha rally targeted the public and opposition as general recipients, the Obasanjo rally targeted the public but more specifically the Arewa Consultative Forum in whose earlier held programme, Sokoto State’s governor Attahiru Bafarawa proclaimed a well publicised ANPP opposition to Obasanjo’s candidature. The solidarity rally is usually conducted within what Schechner terms event time as it is an activity that is not conducted in a set time in which it must finish, but lasts as long as the organisers want it to. The objects that hold a special place in the solidarity rally are placards, banners and posters, where the first two carry the message the solidarity demonstrators are chanting while the poster is the image of the person whom they are supporting. Badges which carry the picture of the aspirant to the political office, as well as stickers for use on cars and other places are also used by supporters during the rally and afterwards in the campaign period. The solidarity rally itself as a performative activity does not instantly yield material goods but the masterminds eventually have material benefits accruing to them. The only rule that must be observed in the conduct of a solidarity rally is the imperative of obtaining a police permit and the insurance of orderly conduct of the participants. The issuance of police permits for not only the solidarity rally but for all forms of political gatherings is, however, found to be politicised
as opposition groups are more likely to be denied the permit than groups that are more favourably disposed to the interest of incumbent political office holders. The rally is not performed in a special place, as shown in the analysis of the two above. Abacha’s was held in Abuja while the one for Obasanjo was held at his country estate. From both locations, both rallies were reified in the mass media, so that people who were not physically present were also reached. Lessons, Prospects and Challenges in the use of Theatrical political campaign activities It is the contention of this paper that a lot of the people who turn out for solidarity visits and rallies are a rented crowd. The phenomenon of the rented crowd is a factor that is detrimental to the creation of goodwill and favourable image for the politician. This is because the crowds are in the majority of cases constituted of party thugs and other social miscreants. They are not qualitatively developed and responsible party members but idlers who are only excited by the bandwagon idea. When they go out in campaign processions, they often resort to physical combat and other forms of violence with opposing camps. Such violent confrontations are unlikely to win goodwill and a favourable image for the candidate that has employed them. It is also noteworthy that many a candidate that is eventually declared winner in several elections that have been held, neither necessarily possess the favourable image nor actually win goodwill and votes. Rather, through party machinations at the primaries and systematic inter party election rigging, the candidates are (s)elected, actually foisted as winners on the electorate over other more legitimate but brutally repressed candidates. In the Abacha military rulership to civilian self-succession attempt for instance, the then five political parties presented him as their sole candidate for the presidency and the only option to himself, whereas several other competent aspirants were hushed up into submission by the state agents of repression in his command. The reappearance of one-time military rulers vying for elective positions in the new found civil rule is also a disturbing development. The implication of this development is
the reinterpretation of the term campaign by the ‘retired’ military actors on the civil governance stage. Whereas in partisan politics, campaign is the canvassing for votes from the electorate through persuasive communication, some of which like solidarity visits and rallies are theatrical in nature, the military actors on the political scene are found to be more amenable to its usage as obtained in the military register, which means a mission to violently overrun the opponent, in this case actually perceived as an enemy. This is largely responsible for the several instances of politically motivated attacks and assassinations that have added to the sense of insecurity permeating the Nigerian society as a whole in the political era, especially in the periods that build up to an election season. With appropriate application within an enabling environment, theatrical campaign activities can win goodwill and favourable image for their employers. They can also bridge the existing gap between the ruler and the ruled because by nature they are participatory media of persuasive communication in which instant feedback is possible. This makes the theatrical approaches to persuasive communication viable alternatives as instruments of image making in a political process in which free and fair elections are conducted. In such a dispensation, credible leaders would emerge and deliver good governance to the people, thereby bringing about understanding, tolerance, development and progress. Indeed, if politicians would draw lessons from the previous experiences and overcome the challenges of political transformation, Africans would yield maximally the true dividends of democratic governance.
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