OF TWEET LORDS AND STREET VOTERS; LESSONS FOR 2019
by Caleb Adebayo
On the 18th of June, flying on the wings of popular telecommunications giant, Airtel, Nigerians were greeted with the second edition of The Voice, a music talent hunt and reality TV show that had thrilled viewers in its first year. With it came the weekend excitement that came with reality TV shows, just a few months after the popular Big Brother Naija had ended. As opposed to that though, it had real talent on display, and after three long months, the tournament has come to an end with the appellation of The Voice 2017 going to a 22 year old upcoming ‘street’ artiste from Bayelsa, Daniel Diongoli, also known as Idyl.
With this award, and the entire show itself came much criticism, and Twitter was abuzz last night up till the early hours of the morning on the subject. For many, this year’s season of The Voice fell below par and was a caricature of the first season. To them, voters had made terrible mistakes, casting votes for people who did not deserve to win. Some blamed it on tribalism and nepotism, others on the blind Nigerian devotion to street stories, as in the case of the winning act. For a certain population too, the win was well deserved; Idyl rode on the wings of grace or something like that and he had a personality that earned him the win. For this set, perhaps it is necessary to ask, if The Voice is a personality test or a voice test. Subliminally maybe, it is a mélange of both, but that is a question for another time and another piece.
The competition, undoubtedly had a plenitude of talented singers from Jahtell to Syemca, Precious, Happiness, Yimika, Chris, Arewa, Kendris, Wilson to Sandra whose rendition of the National Anthem played the judges right into her classical hands; people who took words of awe right out of the mouths of Timi Dakolo, Waje, Yemi Alade and Patoranking, literally making them turn in their chairs for them. This then got me wondering why the uproar about poor quality of talents was mainstream, and then I decided to go through every single blind audition up to the battle stages, and it occurred to me- As the numbers whittled down once the voting had been opened to the public, it seemed like the better acts left and the ‘next-in-lines’ stayed behind. Perhaps, as they enthused, the politics of ethnicity, street, and rising hope stories prevailed. Perhaps not, perhaps it is all a conjecture, either way, the dissatisfaction is elevated.. The significant question that tugs at my being is whether the horde of tweeting Nigerians who are trending tweets laden with tons of disappointment were not part of the general public given the liberty to vote for their preferred contestants? Or do we have a knack for crying when the head is off? Are we a bunch of reactionary people?
One would wonder where these naysaying tweet lords were when their counterparts were voting and soliciting for votes for their contestants. It is a reason to ponder, if we have not turned a passive lot; people that disagree with things and do nothing to change them. I mean, if this is a Game of Tones and semitones, as I call it, you are either Khaleesi or you’re Ned Stark, either ready to take the bull by the horn or okay with playing it safe, and we all know Ned never stays till the end of the show. If Nigerians wanted the better voice to win, they could have made it happen with their votes, and that is my point- how much our votes count. The interplay of this with the very fabric of our existence is what scares me, what fills me with trepidation- this foreboding that we will adopt a similar stance towards the 2019 polls; simply sit at home and tweet about how one party should never return, make GIFs about how the government of the day is a commingle of clueless elements and how the United Nations and European Union should come and save us, while those who have been rusted given tins of Geisha and custard buckets of cheap rice go and thumbprint besides the person or party who paid for their votes. And then we possibly spend four years after that tweeting about how there is no power supply to tweet and watch the next season of The Voice. Maybe this is a subtle reflection of the Nigerian voice, and how cold, muffled, broken and in Waje’s words, ‘without control’ it is. Perhaps the façade that social media has created makes the average person on Facebook or Twitter feel all he or she has to do is put up a few witty lines, throw in a hashtag, create a trend and the deed is done. Whether Idyl was the ideal voice or not has been decided by those who truly wanted him to win; whether the current government stays in power beyond 2019 has to be decided by those who truly want a change, and not just those who like seeing a rising number of retweets in their notifications.
Let me come to the matter of the ‘street’. There had been a lot of ‘street’ support in Nigeria lately. The story of grass to grace, I had no shoes and their cohorts seemingly get a lot of support. Olamide’s Headies win, Goodluck Jonathan’s presidential win (a big deal to do street voting, but happened nevertheless), Efe’s BBN win, and now, Idyl made a seamless move to glory on the pennons of ‘the street’. I am not condemning the parley with people of humble backgrounds and beginnings, but perhaps, there needs to be a shift from that conditioned point of view to considering merit in its entirety. The focus needs to be on how much merit does this person have to sail through, and I speak again, in terms of 2019. We should move away from voting based on rising hope stories, street affinity, ethnicity, consanguinity and a sense of obligation of any kind. It should be truly about letting the best man win.
The pun in this whole debacle is how it portends the Nigerian voice; a dichotomy of the voice of the street and the voice of the tweet, and showing how the Voice for 2019 is going to be determined by the hundreds of millions of voices who are eligible to vote and hopefully will go to the polls, so we can have an ideal four years.
Caleb Adebayo is a lawyer, writer and spoken word poet living in Lagos