Election fever in Nigeria can be seen and felt in all walks of life, including fashion. Supporters show allegiance to their preferred candidates at campaign rallies through their choice of clothes, and candidates use traditional wear to woo voters along ethnic and regional lines.
SHOWS: LAGOS, NIGERIA (FILE) (REUTERS – When Nigerian politicians do battle for votes, it’s not just about speeches, billboards, and campaign slogans. In Africa’s most populous country, candidates also try to out-do each other with what they wear.
Nigerians will on Feb. 16 choose between President Muhammadu Buhari and former vice president Atiku Abubakar for who will lead Africa’s largest democracy for the next four years.
There are more than 60 other candidates, though their chances of winning are slim as the wealth and patronage networks of the two main parties drive the politics of Africa’s top oil producer.
Nigeria is deeply divided. The north is mainly Muslim and the south is largely Christian and the population is fairly evenly split between religions. There are also more than 200 ethnic groups – each with their own traditional garb. The three largest are the Hausa in the north, the Yoruba in the southwest and the Igbo in the southeast.
Candidates campaigning in Yoruba strongholds often wear an Agbada, which are loose-fitting robes. In Igbo parts of the country, they usually wear Isi-agu which is typified by a red cap with a lion’s head printed on the tunic. Rallies in Hausa cities mean they will wear babban riga, which are also embroidered flowing robes.
“Every other person feels like there is a bit of him, from their place, and the same thing applies to their choice of clothing, so you see people that have like three different posters, one in Igbo outfit, one in Hausa outfit and the other one in Yoruba outfit, so that way regardless of where people are voting from, they will think, yes, if we vote for our person he will represent our interest when he gets into government,” he told Reuters.
The country’s divisions have led to an unofficial power-sharing agreement among Nigeria’s political elite. The presidency is supposed to alternate between the north and south after every two four-year terms.
Buhari, a northern Muslim, is in his first term, having held the post since 2015. His predecessor, the PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan, is a southern Christian. In keeping with the accord, the PDP selected Atiku, a northerner, as its candidate for 2019.
As it is not the turn of a southerner, and both Atiku and Buhari are Muslims from the Fulani ethnic group – one of the largest in the north – the chance of election violence around ethnicity, religion and region is reduced. However, the south has favoured the PDP in the past, while the north is Buhari’s stronghold.
This convolution of ethnicity, religion and politics means politicians will grasp at any available thread in the country’s cultural fabric to establish commonality with their electorate.
“People really do this to talk to the people who they think will vote for them, and as long as we have people in the grassroots area doing more of the voting, going around to vote under the sun, this will always continue to play the role,” added Igwe, who has styled some politicians.
“The outfit in which our leaders appear today tells a lot, that we are trying to restructure a true Africa, and true Nigeria, and for you to do that they have to lead by example,” said George Ordoo, from the central town of Makurdi.
The two main parties, the ruling APC and opposition PDP, do not have clear ideological differences. Competition for control of national oil revenues by elites, patronage and complex rivalries between ethnic groups have played a much bigger role in elections than ideology.