June 23, 2022

2023: Why Peter Obi’s candidacy matters

Niger Republic


I HAVE had lots of discussions with prominent political actors in recent weeks on the 2023 elections and the rave of the moment, Mr. Peter Obi, presidential candidate of the Labour Party, who has taken Nigeria’s politics by storm. What is happening is extraordinary and unprecedented.

Obi has become a phenomenon overnight. I am convinced that in his sober moments, he will be surprised at his own meteoric rise in the country’s political firmament.

Never in the history of this country has a politician dominated the political stage as Obi has done since he resigned from the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, barely one month ago on Tuesday, May 24. His movement to the LP is even of greater moment. It remains, perhaps, the most strategic and consequential political move anyone has made in this election cycle. Those who argue otherwise lie to themselves, which does not in any way nullify the truth.

To understand the raging Obi phenomenon, one needs to appreciate what is driving it. In a recent discussion with a former colleague who has since relocated to Europe because he can no longer stand the idiocy in the land, he said Nigerians have not suffered enough. But haven’t they?

He was of the opinion that when the people can no longer take it from those who weaponised poverty in order to perpetually keep them in bondage, they will act and decisively so. Nigerians may have finally arrived at that juncture, driven by the sheer impishness of the political elite. For once, they are uncharacteristically angry, having been grossly dehumanised by their leaders who held them in absolute contempt over the years.

What is more: this time they are poised to do something rather than sitting down and complaining. They are prepared to take political action to remedy the situation.

That is what this ‘Movement’ is all about and why it is resonating in all the nooks and crannies of the country. It is about Obi because he is the face of this historic movement. Yet, it is not about him. It is about the longsuffering Nigerian masses who seem to have finally woken up from their lethargic slumber. It is about a people looking for an alternative to the status quo that has impoverished all and diminished their country.

Sooner than later, the rapacious political elite will resort to their old divide-and-rule playbook by playing on the people’s primordial sentiments. The country’s fault lines will be thrown into the mix. But the people seem to be wiser because the awareness that suffering has no religion has dawned on them. They have come to the awareness that poverty is ethnically blind.

In his recent interview with Bloomberg, President Muhammadu Buhari added insult to the wounds he has inflicted on Nigerians in the last seven years when he claimed: “We will leave Nigeria in a far better place than we found it.” Nigerians know that is a fib and they are tired of such brazen, in-your-face dispositions. The 2023 elections will, therefore, be a referendum on APC’s stewardship.

And the question when the time comes will be straightforward: are you better off today than you were eight years ago? In the 23 years that the PDP and APC have been in power, the lot of the average Nigerian has been parlous.

The public university students who have lost two academic years consecutively due to strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, will definitely not agree with Buhari’s claim of leaving Nigeria a far better place than he met it. The millions of Nigerians who have been thrown into extreme poverty will not agree with Buhari when he makes his vainglorious and false claim in the foreign media.

The business man who has been thrown out of business because he can no longer afford to buy one dollar at N612 cannot but disagree with a hubristic president, out of touch with the dire reality of citizens.

The 50 Nigerians, passengers in the ill-fated Abuja-Kaduna train, who were abducted on March 28, 2022 by terrorists will definitely not agree with Buhari’s hallucinatory proclamation of superlative performance.

Eleven of them that were freed last week are said to be mentally unstable, sick and traumatised. Why wouldn’t they? How can Buhari who was handed over an economy with single-digit inflation on May 29, 2015 claim that he is leaving behind a better Nigeria when at the twilight of his regime, inflation in Africa’s most populous country has soared to 16.8 per cent and annual food inflation is now 18.4 per cent?

Under Buhari’s watch, Nigeria is not just dealing with rising inflation because when combined with high levels of unemployment and low growth in the public and private sectors, Africa’s largest economy is in the throes of an extended bout of stagflation. How can that be the better Nigeria the president claims he is bequeathing to Nigerians? These are the issues driving the Obi phenomenon. It is one thing to fail as spectacularly as Buhari has failed in office, yet another to continually lie to the people as APC and the government it seared have done in the last seven years.

Nigerians are angry, no doubt. But are they sufficiently angry, the kind of rage that morphs into revolutionary activism capable of overthrowing an immoral and asphyxiating status-quo? That is the question. Suffice it to say that perceptive political actors, like Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, are already seeing the signs that the mood of Nigerians may not be inclined to the business as usual political humdrum.

In a video that has since gone viral, Obaseki was seen admonishing PDP members to change their adulterous ways or be swept away by the tidal wave of political tsunami that is building up.

“The future of our politics in this country is changing,” he told them. “I don’t know whether you are closely watching what is going on: the level of disenchantment with the existing political parties. I am sure in all our homes, we have so many people now who call themselves ‘Obidients’.

I don’t know whether you have them in your houses. Just ask them, which is your party? And they will say ‘Obidient.’ They don’t want us. They are not talking about APC or PDP. They are looking for alternatives. And they are much more. You see all of them queuing for PVCs now. They are not looking the direction of APC or PDP. They are looking for alternatives. And if we don’t make our party attractive, I don’t know what will happen in the next election.”

Obaseki is in the minority. Those who believe that nothing can upstage the status-quo are in the majority. One of them sent me an ominous, emphatic text last week. “Peter Obi is not in the race, regardless of any emotions. Nothing will make him win even if all voters in 2023 vote for him as winning is beyond just voting.” My simple response was: time will tell.