By Kazeem Akintunde
In the last few days, the social media space has been abuzz with the name of former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi on the lips of many Nigerians, majority of whom are youths below 30 years. The trend became noticeable after most political parties picked their presidential candidates. Obi, a member of the People’s Democratic Party and Vice Presidential candidate to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar in the 2019 presidential election, dumped the party when it became glaring that he won’t be able to withstand the intense competition for the Presidential ticket of the PDP. Atiku, his former boss, eventually did while Obi pitched his political tent with the Labour Party and also went home with the presidential ticket of the party. The ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, settled for Bola Tinubu and many Nigerians, especially the youths, who feel that the country deserves someone younger, have vowed to cast their lots at the ballot for Obi and retire the duo of Tinubu and Atiku from partisan politics.
In getting Obi the Presidency, the social media became the vehicle through which they intend to achieve their aim. In the last few weeks, there have been series of efforts by the youths to promote Obi’s candidacy with jingles, billboards, and door-to-door campaigns. But what the youths are unleashing on social media is beyond the ordinary. There have also been donations and plans to create political awareness on registration and collection of the Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) across the country and sensitize the public on why Obi is the right man to steer the affairs of the country. Obi’s online soldiers, now known as the ‘Obidient’ have also vowed to monitor the forthcoming election with drones to ensure the process is not rigged in undue favour of any candidate. Interestingly, the efforts to support Obi’s candidacy and the conversations about his presidency underscores the reawakening of the youths’ political consciousness ahead of the election.
While efforts by the youths to get Obi elected to office as president is inspired by their love for him, it is important to note that the online ‘Obidient’ movement is being propelled by fear on their part, of going through eight years of another administration that would be riddled with killings, insecurity, police brutality, and economic downturns.
Interestingly, Obi has not told us how he intends to solve those problems. The APC administration has so far been a perfect reenactment if not worse than the PDP regime. It’s been the same story since the return of democracy and the youths are tired of that. Since 1999, the Federal Government has succeeded in frustrating the youths in all aspects of their lives.
They grew up to understand that whatever goes up in the Nigerian market never comes down. For instance, in 1999, all it cost to enjoy a loaf of bread and a bottle of Coke was N25. Nigerian youths have experienced everything that makes life difficult in a country that is blessed with human and natural resources – enough to be the best in Africa. Again, the endless ASUU strike, unemployment, poor power supply, insecurity, corruption, and other age-long problems the Federal Government has failed to address, the youths seem to have come to the conclusion that these set of politicians in power have no plan for a better Nigeria.
The accumulated frustration and difficulties to which the country subjects the youths are the reasons for the widespread support a presidential candidate like Obi is enjoying among the youths. The youths are placing their hope for a better Nigeria in Obi because governments at all levels have failed them.
However, what began as a sort of expression of anger by young Nigerians of southeast extraction is already turning into a national movement as both the young and the old and across geo-political zones are now rooting for the 61-year-old, making him enjoy mass appeal among Nigerians. How they intend to make their ambition a reality is still shrouded in mystery but one thing that is sure is that the road to victory for Obi will be tough and rough.
The energy with which the youths are going about the campaign is also, not healthy. There have been instances on the social media where whoever disagrees with their choice of Obi is hounded. There have been reports of girlfriends breaking up with their boyfriends for not joining the ‘Obidient’ train. Instances of calls by employers of labour not to pay their staff unless they show their voter’s cards; cyber bullying of Father Ejike Mbaka, who described Peter Obi as a stingy politician who could not stand a chance to win the coming 2023 presidential poll. Within 48 hours, the clergy man lost over 50,000 followers on Twitter and there were calls for him to be removed by the Church from his position as Head of the Adoration Ministry. The Enugu Catholic Diocese also called on the Catholic faithful to stop attending Mbaka’s Ministry, despite his public apology to Obi. While it is within their right to campaign for Obi, others who disagree with their choice, should be allowed to also campaign for their candidates in peace.
Let me make it clear that I would love Obi to be my president next year. He has age on his side, he is intelligent and has a grasp of Nigeria’s economic challenges and maybe, how to turn things around. He is also a frugal person, even though many believe that the attribute will work against him when real politicking begins. However, in the context of Nigerian politics, Obi can still be regarded as a regional politician who still lacks the national spread. He is yet to gain a national political reputation for himself. Obi still needs to make political friends beyond the Southern region to enjoy the privilege that comes with playing politics at the national level.
Again, Obi made a fatal political blunder when he dumped the PDP for the Labour Party when the race for the Presidential ticket was midway. The Labour Party could still be regarded as a fringe party with no national appeal to contest for president in a country that is majorly governed by the APC and the PDP, since the return to democratic dispensation in 1999, on its platform. For now, the 2023 presidential contest will still be a two-horse race between the two political parties but I believe Obi will make a statement with the Labour Party.
If perhaps, Obi had joined the Labour Party two years earlier, and used his influence to build the party, it could have been a different ball game. How many Governorship candidates can the party boast of in the 36 states and the FCT? What are the political antecedents of the candidates? Who are those flying the flag of the party at the states Houses of Assembly, House of Representatives and the Senate? How many seats have the Labour Party won in the previous elections and what are the contributions of those who are elected to National Politics on the platform of the party? While Obi is known and respected in the South East, how many rural folks in the North are familiar with his name and will be willing to queue behind him during the 2023 presidential election?
Indeed, Bashir Ahmad, President Muhamadu Buhari’s former aide who resigned recently to contest for the House of Representatives ticket in is state, Kano, tweeted recently that the Labour Party does not have a gubernatorial candidate in Kano and neigbouring Kaduna, Katsina, Jigawa and Bauchi States. Aside the tweet from Bashir, it is doubtful if the party will be fielding candidates at the contest for House of Assembly across the states, House of Representatives, and even at the upper chamber, the Senate. If the Labour party does not have candidates for other key positions across the country, how does it now intend to contest for the Presidency and win?
The internal structure within the Labour Party itself is suffering as there are two factions within the party still struggling for its soul. Though the Chairman of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Ayuba Wabba, has endorsed Obi as the Presidential candidate of the Party while INEC has also recognised Obi as the Presidential candidate known to it, the fact remains that Obi will still have to contend with the internal scheming within the party and work towards bringing both factions together if he intends to go far in the poll.
What may be another stumbling block to Obi’s ambition is the nature Nigeria politics has taken, though sadly. If you are not with deep pockets, you may not be able to go far as political posts goes to the highest bidders in Nigeria of today. Obi does not have the war chest to compete with Tinubu and Atiku although his supporters have vowed to raise the needed funds when the time is ripe. With his foot soldiers having vowed to raise billions of naira for him, it remains to be seen how far they can go.
From my little understanding of Nigerian politics, it is my humble submission that if Obi had stayed in the PDP, he would have picked the Vice Presidency slot and if the PDP gets lucky in the 2023 presidential contest, it would have been an easy ride for him to pick the presidential ticket of the party in 2027 as Atiku, who is already 75, has said that he only intends to run for a single term. During his time as Vice president, Obi would have built a political network across the country, making it easier for him to realize his Presidential ambition. Be that as it may, Obi’s name will definitely be on the ballot next year, let us wait and watch to see how it will all pan out. I wish Peter Obi success in his race for the presidency.
See you next week.