Niger Republic

By Ikechukwu Amaechi

AS you read this, and barring any last minute rescheduling, it will be exactly 177 days to the 2023 presidential election scheduled to hold on February 25.

Many Nigerians are enthusiastic, thrilled and motivated. Some are even exultant. This election cycle will be the seventh since 1999. Yet, none of the previous six elections elicited as much enthusiasm. In fact, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, figures, the turnout of voters had been on the decline.

For instance, 74 million Nigerians registered for the 2011 elections and 39 million (53.68 per cent) voted to elect Dr. Goodluck Jonathan president.

In 2015, both the number of registered voters and the percentage that voted dipped. Whereas 67.42 million registered to vote, only 29.43 million votes were cast, representing 43.65 per cent voter turnout.

Four years later, there was an 8.9 percentage decline. Of the 84 million who registered to vote in 2019, only 28.61 million (34.75 per cent) bothered to show up on Election Day.

Political pundits had predicted that voter apathy in the 2023 elections will be worse. And then, one man, Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State, happened on the presidential canvass and everything changed. Now, rather than a decline, there is an uptick if the upsurge in voter registration is anything to go by.

Suddenly, those who had sworn never to vote again, wondering what difference it would make if they vote, have not only rescinded their decision but are fired up because everything seems be to falling in place and democracy has a new meaning for hitherto disillusioned folks.

For too long, many Nigerians had fantasized about democracy in other climes where issues dominate the campaigns and wished that theirs would blossom.

Before the primary elections, that hope looked forlorn. With the two major political parties – All Progressives Congress, APC, and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP – subtly signaling where they were headed with their presidential tickets, disillusionment crept in. Then, Peter Obi pulled out of the PDP and pitched tent with the Labour Party, LP, and nothing has remained the same ever since.

Now, when the campaigns start on September 28, there are indications that unlike before, politicians will no longer go on the hustings to dance Buga for two minutes after contemptuously keeping the people waiting for 10 hours.

For too long, politicians have taken the electorate for granted. They promise nothing and are not obligated to the people. If Peter Obi didn’t throw his hat into the ring, the choice for Nigerians would have been severely limited because the difference between the APC, PDP and their presidential candidates – Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Alhaji Atiku Abubabakar – could be likened to the difference between six and half a dozen. Had the status quo remained, the apathy would have been unprecedented.

Peter Obi’s bold, strategic move has animated the political space and energised Nigerians to do the needful. They want to know the candidates – their antecedents, backgrounds and past history. The issue of integrity is resonating loudly. It is no longer enough for a candidate to boast of his unexplained wealth, Nigerians are beginning to ask questions. Those who refuse to answer may regret their folly on Election Day. NEPA bills are no longer sufficing for certificates. Dubious affidavits have become a liability and those who claimed to have attended certain primary and secondary schools in 1999 would rather leave the spaces blank in INEC forms today.

Leadership is a big deal. It makes all the difference in countries aspiring for greatness. If Nigerians had factored in the issue of antecedents in the weighty electoral decision they made in 2015, they would have taken note of how disastrous Buhari’s 20-month stewardship as military head of state in the early 1980s was. Nigeria wouldn’t have been in the mess it is today.

But while many, including APC chieftains, who are too ashamed of the Buhari legacy of failure, believe that no president will be worse, conscious effort must also be made to run away from the “anyone but Buhari” syndrome. In 2015, Nigerians who chorused “anyone but Goodluck Jonathan”, ended up with Buhari who turned out to be 100 per cent worse.

While it is true that President Buhari is the poster boy of incompetence and no one can possibly be worse, rescuing Nigeria from the doldrums requires grit, self-discipline, altruistic weltanschauung and buy-in of the people.

That, again, is where Peter Obi comes in. His candidacy in the 2023 election has become a crusade that crystallised in the Obidient Movement. For the first time since 1999, Nigerians have taken ownership of a presidential campaign without any financial inducement.

For too long, money bags have used their wealth to bribe their way, literally, to power. And because they owe their mandate not to the people but the deepness of their pockets, they are not obligated to anyone once in office.

That obnoxious political culture is changing. Today, Nigerians who have never met Peter Obi in person and may not have the privilege of doing so all their lives are volunteering their time, resources and talents, not because of what they hope to get from him but for the good of the country.

While the APC and PDP are looking up to the governors, contractors that have been awarded contracts at highly inflated costs, ministries, parastatals and agencies of government to fund their campaigns, Nigerians are using their hard-earned resources to organise million-man marches across the country to promote the Obi candidacy. Some are donating their properties, others are hiring private jets to facilitate his movement. His trips outside the country are paid for by Nigerians who insist that their country must be better.

Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora are crowdfunding to raise the billions of Naira needed to prosecute the electoral battle.

Is Peter Obi a poor man? Not by any means. He is far richer than most of those making these contributions. But they are doing it because they trust him. They believe in him. Is Obi a saint? Not at all. But Nigerians are rooting for him because his message resonates loudly. They want something new. Peter Obi is the breath of fresh air they have been yearning for. He is a refreshing change from the norm, hence the unprecedented decision by all to do the needful: talk of putting one’s money where one’s mouth is.

Suddenly, a presidential bid that looked like a long shot only yesterday, is becoming a reality, so much so that the APC and PDP are scared stiff, which explains all the attacks against Obi. But it is only natural that the tree with fruits gets the most stone throws.

Whether Peter Obi wins the 2023 presidential election or not, he is already a champion. His candidacy has redefined and deepened Nigeria’s democracy in very fundamental ways.

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