By Nnanke Harry Willie
Peter Obi’s attempt and path to becoming the next president of Nigeria defies all conventional logic according to seasoned analysts of Nigerian politics. Indeed, Obi became the butt of jokes by critics, especially those embedded in the 2 major political parties, the PDP and the APC, as they sarcastically quipped “How can Peter Obi win without structures?”
Actually, their criticism was not quite out of order. Labour Party (LP) had before 2022 been a fringe political party whose only serious mark in Nigerian politics was the fact that it had once produced an Ondo State Governor in the person of Olusegun Mimiko who has since gone back to join his original party, the PDP.
The critics, however, didn’t reckon that a new (non-conventional) structure outside the traditional political dynamic had been loading over the years. An angry, vocal youth population that is fed up with the status quo. Their anger boiled over during the #ENDSARS protests and somehow, they found a voice in the Peter Obi candidacy. Apparently, Obi’s speech on The Platform in the October 2016 edition had created a major buzz across social and traditional media and this resonated well with the youth and angry majority.
Obi had continued to deliver more speeches along those lines and most of them trended across social and traditional media. Apparently, the teeming youth population got hooked on the lofty messages of humility in service, determination to succeed and focus on rebirthing a prosperous Nigeria complete with useful anecdotes, and personal experiences as espoused by Obi in his series of speeches.
The youth believe that Peter Obi can relate to their needs, fears and expectations. They believe that Peter Obi is different. Suddenly, these youth burst out of their closets and threw their hats into the political ring…and adopted Peter Obi as their Presidential candidate. They even named themselves the “OBIDIENTS”!
After a few months of self-sponsored activities and marketing in support of the Peter Obi brand, The 2 major political parties, critics and the world had to accept that Peter Obi, Labour Party (LP) and the Obidients were indeed the third force that could pretty much win the presidential seat in the 2023 elections.
But is Peter Obi’s populist campaign sustainable to the finish line? That is, can the power of the third force rise up to a crescendo and make an unassailable difference on election day?
Peter Obi is famously referred to as ‘Okwute’, an Igbo word that literally translates to ‘The Rock’. He has earned this appellation for his granite determination and zeal to follow through in his chosen path no matter the seemingly daunting odds against him. Critics however wonder if this rock can withstand the tumult that pervades his chosen journey to Aso Rock, Nigeria’s Presidential Villa.
Peter Obi showed the Okwute in him when in the aftermath of the 2003 governorship elections, he was rigged out by the cabal that held sway in Anambra. He fought a tortuous legal battle and eventually reclaimed his mandate after 3 years.
Obi was impeached in November of the same year, but his impeachment was overturned and he returned to office in February of the next year. Obi was removed yet again during the 2007 Anambra State gubernatorial election, and the judiciary again intervened, ruling that he should be allowed to complete a full four-year term. In 2010, he won re-election to a second term. The rest, they say. Is history.
Peter Obi became the Labour Party Presidential flagbearer for the 2023 presidential election, after defecting from the Peoples Democratic Party where he had stood as running mate to Atiku Abubakar in the 2019 presidential election much to the anger of some serving governors from the South East who were themselves eyeing that position.
After the initial groundswell of emotions and show of support, it is now down to the brass-tacks of good old politicking. The traditional parties, APC and PDP have the structures to play the game. They also have the money, the spread (of politicians) and they have the professional political foot soldiers. Most importantly, they have the ‘desperation’.
The ruling APC’s Chairman, Abdullahi Adamu and Presidential candidate have been screaming to their members to do ‘EVERYTHING’ to win the elections. Indeed Bola Tinubu is on record as having asked his people to ‘snatch victory…and run away with it’. This aptly lays bare the thinking of the traditional parties. Typically, they believe in and play by the notorious maxim ‘the end justifies the mean’. This is however true of most democracies.
As the Labour Party grapples with activating its structures nationally, the traditional parties will do everything to decimate it. This is fair game but the only problem is ‘how far will they go?’. LP and Obi are already experiencing subterfuge…there will be more to come!
INEC recently raised the alarm that some politicians are buying up PVCs in some states for N2,000. You can be sure that that is a pre-election rigging move. There will also be some desperate attempts at rigging during the elections proper and even post-election rigging.
If Labour Party, Obidients and Peter Obi must win the presidency in 2023, they must work extremely hard, working with like minds to identify and neutralize all the known and fresh rigging strategies in addition to mobilizing for votes towards victory.
Just like romance, there’s no victory in politics without finance. Labour Party and Peter Obi’s fundraising drive appears very tepid. There must be a vocal ‘desperate’ attempt to raise cash from Obi’s surging Obidients. The success of the fundraiser is itself a major campaign material.
There are 176,846 polling units in Nigeria and ideally, each party is allowed to have 2 agents in each ward, meaning that about 353, 692 polling agents are required nationwide. Several clusters of wards will have supervisors who will report to zonal coordinators who will report to state administrators who will report to the PCC. This implies enormous logistical requirements and tons of money.
Obi and Labour Party will be taking a big risk if they try to leverage only the goodwill of his supporters to carry out this onerous task. Already, some vocal Obidients are being silenced with mouth-watering offers to jump ship. Obi himself said at a recent Nigerian Guild of Editors’ (NGE) town hall that ‘what is not inspected, is not executed’. Poorly mobilized and supervised agents are known to be easily bought over by more desperate and more ‘generous’ political parties and candidates. Such agents end up looking the other way as compromised INEC officials rig for the highest bidder.
Voter suppression is another major technique the old order has always used to deft advantage. Usually, thugs and compromised security officials are deployed to unleash violence and create panic in voting and collation centres. This is usually done in the strongholds of opposing parties. It is already being executed in some states as INEC offices are being targeted and election material and property destroyed.
Changing an old order is not a walk in the park. Peter Obi must show the presidential stuff in him by activating the best of his Okwute credentials to inspire LP and the Obidients to a rousing and resounding campaign towards snatching power from the jaws of the power sharks.
Peter Obi and LP must expect and prepare for all possible scenarios from the major political parties while they continue to woo their supporters to get their PVCs, mobilise those in their circles of influence, cast their votes on election days and defend their votes. Peter Obi says he is ready for the Presidency, he and Labour Party must make Nigeria ready for him with not just their voices but their votes.
Nothing good comes easy. Thus, Peter Obi cannot win Nigerian Presidency with ease.