By Simon Reef Musa
Audacious, promising and seemingly unstoppable in salvaging citizens from the crumbling old system that has kept Nigeria in the backwaters of underdevelopment, the former governor of Anambra State and now presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Mr. Peter Obi, is no stranger in walking against the tide.
When on March 17, 2006, he emerged as governor of Anambra State through the court that nullified the election of Dr. Chris Ngige of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he drew the curtain over the victory streak of the then ruling party. He would later fight to regain his position after he was impeached by the Anambra State of Assembly on spurious allegations of violating due process in the award of contracts. Despite hurdles and domination of the Anambra State House of Assembly by PDP members, Obi would successfully end his second and final tenure on March 17, 2014.
Like other politicians who embrace defections from one party to the other for political survival, the former governor decamped to the PDP where he served as running mate to Atiku Abubakar in the 2019 presidential election. With the primaries for the 2023 drawing near, the signs were clear that his chances of picking the ticket were slim, as it was easier for the camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for Obi to secure the PDP ticket.
When he secured the LP presidential ticket, the political configuration took a change for a frightening prospect. The two-option choice that had hitherto faced Nigerian electorates suddenly broadened into three. The Obi factor thus assumed a plausible choice that could turn out a possibility.
While the presidential candidates of the PDP and APC are symbols of the old system that is increasingly becoming unpopular with the youth, Obi’s refrain in working towards the emergence of a New Nigeria resonated with the younger generation. Since Obi’s entrance into the presidential race, the political firmaments of Nigeria have taken new colours, with the social media led by his loyalists, popularly known as OBIdients, taking commanding lead.
Initially, Obi’s entrance into the race was greeted with muted cynicism and cruel jokes, but the months after he got the LP ticket clearly showed that wishing away his burgeoning popularity and acceptance among the electorate could turn out unwise. Considering the many polls conducted so far, Obi has remained in the lead of who becomes President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor, making it difficult for other frontline candidates to dismiss him with a wave of the hand. He now poses a grave threat as his appearance at the Chatham House this week sparked off a tsunami in the social media community.
Riding on the crest of popular quest among youths to have a just nation that will treat all citizens devoid any form of discrimination, Obi boasts of a profile that has the capacity to lead a nation away from its woeful past. Faced with two frontline candidates that are schooled in producing electoral miracles for power acquisition, the absence of structures for the LP is seen as a troubling negative in torpedoing the presidential dream of Obi.
Those knowledgeable in the path trodden by the LP candidate are quick to recall his records in Anambra when he led the All Peoples Grand Alliance (APGA) to trounce the PDP. More than any Nigerian politician, Obi is experienced in testing the efficacy of the courts in securing his electoral rights. Unlike others who would simply surrender to injustices unleashed by giants, the man who simply refers to himself as a trader knows the efficacy of the Temple of Justice in securing electoral triumphs.
An optimistic politician with a perfect reading of the times, he has successfully turned his dream into a movement, thus galvanising fellow citizens, especially youths, to own the project. He speaks of Nigeria and Nigerians. He speaks on issues that have stood in the way of our nation attaining greatness. Those who believe in him most times are unwavering in their faith in him.
Try to dissuade his supporters that his chances in becoming president are slim on account of no structures; they spare no efforts to remind you that APGA had no structures in Anambra, yet the party ended Ngige’s illegal tenure and sacked Dr Andy Uba, 14 days after he pretended to be a governor. Without asking further questions, OBIdients would quickly state with assurance that, as it was in 2006, when the court declared Obi as governor, so Nigerian voters are set to poll him to victory on February 25.
The raging inferno of massive support in the social media, and the large crowds of OBIdients in various campaign grounds across various states of the country have lent credence to the fact that something new is about to be unleashed in the political arena. For the first time in the history of general elections in Nigeria, not a few are convinced that there is someone who possesses the capacity to determine where the pendulum would swing to, if he does not eventually win the poll.
Less than five weeks to the presidential poll, the electoral umpire, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, has declared that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is fully prepared for a second presidential ballot in the event the first ballot did not produce a winner. 2023 is a test for the popularity of Nigeria’s big tribes, popularly referred to as WAZOBIA. The candidate that has the greater capacity to test his Nigerianess across the various parts of the country could emerge as the next president. However, that will depend on the sanctity of the ballot and the willingness of the INEC officials to resist any act capable of compromising the electoral process.
As Nigerians wait for February 25 to cast their votes, the old political foxes are yet to unlearn their old ways. While electronic voting may reduce the chances of electoral fraud, those who have always benefited from the huge electoral heist may not be willing to simply cave in without resistance. Though some insist that the new designed naira notes may be targeted in tackling vote robbers who deploy money to steal votes, the quandary being faced by the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele may not be unconnected with machinations by vote buyers to extend the January 31 expiration date for the old notes. Already, there are calls in several quarters for the CBN to rescind its decision on the expiration date. They hinge their call on non-availability of the new notes.
While OBIdients on social media may have done extremely well in bulging national and global support for Obi, especially among Nigerians in the Diaspora, the capacity of the LP candidate to push through traditional defenders of the old system still remains in the backwaters. That explains why some anti-OBIdient commentators have continued to insist that the LP presidential dream lacks the power to ignite national outrage in shooting him into the presidency.
True or false, the opposition, ahead of 2015 polls, was united in their resolve to defeat the PDP. It was obvious that the then ruling party was poised to suffer a bloody nose as the APC set the nation’s political firmaments ablaze. The rumbling clouds against the APC are still without thundering sounds, less than 36 days to February 25. How Obi can turn the remaining days into fiery and scorching days for both APC and PDP is yet to be seen.
The LP candidate is feared for his capacity to become president or prevent one of the frontline candidates becoming president. The possibility of the G-5 group, led by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, throwing support for the LP candidate is likely to brighten his chances. More outstandingly, if Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities resolved to walk their talk and support Obi, then, the LP’s march to the presidency would suffer fewer hurdles. Sadly, democracy in Nigeria is not all about endorsements by groups and persons. Hidden agreements by power cabals most times cast long shadows above national interest.
Obi’s march for the presidency may hold bright prospects, but those determined to stop him cannot be hastily dismissed. Obi is seen mostly as a stray candidate and those who have enjoyed power and opposed to his style of ‘we give no shishi’ won’t keep silent and allow him to be.
Whatever happens, even if he does not breast the tape, the LP presidential candidate has boldly proclaimed that beyond the old system that has kept Nigeria in the mud, there’s a nation we all must work to create to ensure justice for all. The LP candidate still remains a fright till all the votes have been thrown into the ballot and counted, and the winner declared. Even then, as his footprints in Anambra have shown, the winner of the 2023 presidential poll should be ready to prove the inviolability of his votes before the courts.