By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
Peter Obi may be an old politician, but he is a new phenomenon. Almost 20 years ago, he ran for the Anambra governorship; now, he runs like a sanctimonious newcomer leading an angry horde chasing scapegoats. Those swooning over him remember Obi of the Platform series more than the Obi who lived eight years in Awka.
When reminded of some of his ordinary records, his supporters simply say, “Obi is better.” Don’t take them for granted. Obi is the new rave. Perhaps a vintage old wine in a new bottle. Perhaps a vent for a suffocating populace. Perhaps the enticing unknown amidst ugly predictable choices. In some sections of the country, Petermania is the new epidemic.
Obi’s emergence as the candidate of the Labour Party was largely fortuitous. But nobody remembers. An overnight defection to beat the INEC deadline for presidential primaries. Obi had sought to represent the PDP which his followers now detest as contemptible. Nevertheless, Obi’s popularity is not flimsy. His supporters are creating an ideology.
They call themselves Obidients, but they are irreverent in many ways. Seeking to disrupt the status quo, they have adopted a religious stand. Sometimes confident, sometimes insolent. ‘No shishi’ is chief amongst their philosophy. ‘No shishi’ means ‘no farthing.’ They won’t accept gratification to support or vote for Obi. Obidiency evidently entails praiseworthy political celibacy of some sort. Obi’s acclaimed frugality is the spirit.
The no-shishi ideal is spreading. While Peter Obi isn’t yet the dominant candidate, no-shishi could transform the country. For a country that thrives on bribes and gratification, where many judges, police officers and clergy are buyable, no-shishi is a divine node of regeneration. In a country where crowds are rentable and political rallies are rented crowds, no-shishi is a political apostatical wonder. In a country where vote-buying is rife and almost justifiable, where an omission to grease palms is rebuked as stinginess or selfishness, no-shishi must be daredevilry. A new beginning.
If no-shishi spreads and finds tap root, it would damage the foundation of the corrupt politics that has bedridden the country. If politicians do not pay for support and votes, they would need and perhaps steal less. If voters can’t be enticed with biscuits and chewing gum, they might vote right. If no-shishi seeps into the country’s DNA, it might re engineer social structures, reach the checkpoints and prevent the naked evil transactions that go between motorists and policemen.
If the police authorities expect no-shishi from road users, they will provide adequate logistics and fuel for patrol teams. They would also expect no returns. If the government knows the police will get no-shishi from the public, it will be compelled to fund the police or have no police.
Besides the preservative effect on country’s rotting body politic, no-shishi will make partners out of supporters. The no-shishi Obidients have infused the campaigns with volunteerism. If the supporters don’t take shishi, then they are more likely to support with their brain and arm muscles and pockets.
A man selling his birthright for a pot of porridge would only bother about the size and quality of the porridge and not the complexion of the buyer. If supporters invest in the candidates, then they are more likely to scrutinize and choose candidates before opening their wallets. More likely to consider eating the money than giving it to a charlatan.
Being stakeholders rather than fans would help institute a culture of accountability. Because investors are usually more demanding than cheerleaders.
Petermania and the culture of Obidiency have come at the right time. Crowds have besieged registration deadlines. Democracy thrives on mass participation. If sustained, Petermania could rev up mass participation across all parties. Somnolent supporters of other candidates are waking up to the challenge. And they must wake up in numbers and up their moral engagement.
These other groups can’t yield the moral high ground to the Obidients without a challenge. To contest in the new game, and to belong to the emerging culture, they must come up with some of their enviable ideas, habits and customs to identify their group. Thank God volunteerism is surging. Apathy is waning.
This could be the new beginning. Nigeria, I hail thee.