By Rotimi Fasan
It was initially the self-named Obidients, but now Peter Obi himself would appear to be joining the fray of attack on Bola Tinubu who, it would seem, the Labour Party candidate and his supporters see as the potential road block to the actualisation of their ambition of winning the presidency in 2023.
In doing this, Obi would be steering away from his promise to run an issue-based campaign. This is where his attempt at affecting a distance between himself and the action of his apparently internet-based supporters would be tested. How would he do this (should he have any desire to) without these same supporters hurling insults at him in their usual way?
In the ordinary scheme of things, it is a very tough call for any politician to hope to win an elective office without sometimes crossing the boundary between keeping the issues at stake upfront and decent, and launching a personal attack at opponents even while not intending to do that.
But recent reports, as in the footage showing Obi sharing a WhatsApp message purportedly from the Bola Tinubu camp discouraging support for Obi on ethnic grounds or even his last week’s interview with CNN’s Zain Asher, show his attacks on Tinubu are increasingly more frontal and less civil. He has made far less condemnatory statements of the PDP or any that I know of about Atiku Abubakar, the PDP presidential candidate and his former principal during the 2019 election.
It would may be fair to say, then, that the gloves are gradually coming off and it should be expected that the rhetoric on all sides will get very testy and dirty as the campaigns take off next week. Obi’s stalwarts cannot expect to control or own the narrative in this regard for any long time except all sides in the political contest see the wisdom in cutting out the often combative and insulting edge of their campaign language and the general sabre-rattling of the hustings.
I have identified the structural imbalance of Nigeria as a major obstacle to any president succeeding in their piloting of the Nigerian state. I have in the second part of this series also said that Peter Obi is yet to clearly articulate this aspect of the Nigerian conundrum. But here is Obi in this short excerpt from his interview with Zain Asher as reported by The Cable online: “…We have been able to elect people based on ethnicity, religion, ‘my turn’, connection, or one form of bias or the other, which brought us to where we are- or structure, which I always say is structure of criminality”.
Beyond the broadsides and general prognosis of the Nigerian governance crisis as identified in this excerpt, what does Peter Obi have to tell us about HOW we can get out of the rot we are in? What does he mean by “structure of criminality”? Is it the skewed structure of Nigeria or the typical campaign structure which by general consensus his party presently lacks? He talks about getting rid of this structure but what does he propose in its place?
One of the more prominent and immediate issues that the next president after Muhammadu Buhari would have to confront, one that is right now hiding in plain sight, is the removal or retention of oil subsidy. The Buhari government was to end oil subsidy (whose existence it denied, while in opposition, for years) in February 2022, but it shifted the date to June of this year before finally kicking the can of that decision to June 2023 when its term in office would have ended and Buhari would be safely back in Daura.
Thereafter, Nigerians could look forward to paying between N300 and N500, if not more, per litre of PMS. The potential blowback from that decision, when it finally comes, is what nobody can tell right now but it would be taking too optimistic view of things to expect Nigerians to embrace it with open arms.
Should Peter Obi emerge winner of the 2023 election, how does he propose to address the question of oil subsidy knowing an immediate solution would be required to break the economic tension-cum ripple effect that would follow that? Finding a lasting as opposed to an ad hoc solution to that would take him back to providing an answer or answers to the question he seems to be silent on today, namely: the nature of Nigeria’s peculiar federalism which today falls too low below Peter Obi’s radar of consideration to register on it.
In “taking back Nigeria” from its destroyers as Obi and his supporters have been saying, how will he address the country’s security situation and the question of state-based police departments that the Northern states, latter-day converts to the restructure campaign, are now demanding as a matter of urgency? Or does he hope to respond to the security debacle in the manner of the Buhari-led APC government? To be silent about this is to be engaged in a type of voodoo politics or to seek to take advantage of the system in furtherance of the sectional or one-sided advantages that Buhari has been accused of.
What does Obi suppose would be the reaction of the Northern states whose demand for state-run police as are other appurtenances of a federal system is bound to increase once Buhari vacates the saddle? Would his response be to deploy his own version of the military operations (crocodile smile, snake dance etc.) that Buhari has been mostly infamous for in the South-East?
The North will as likely as not be more vocal and restive as they push for more regional or state control and make onerous demands on whoever succeeds Buhari between Peter Obi and Bola Tinubu. They could accommodate an Atiku Abubakar in the same manner they have accommodated Buhari so far. But neither of Obi or Tinubu should expect that luxury. When that happens, what would Peter Obi do?
He would be forced to act one way or another, either to meet the demands of his critics which the present structure of the country is likely to impede or reject those demands and lose the recognition and support of the North, much in the same way that the South-East has been the hotbed of opposition to Muhammadu Buhari and the government he represents.
The more criticism he receives, the less likely he is not to seek solace in his South-East base. Then would the cycle of recrimination and counter-recrimination start all over again? Those who believe in the magic of a Peter Obi presidency with the in-built structural imbalance in Nigeria are doomed to repeat the same error as the pre-2015 supporters of Buhari and Nigerians as a whole. They put their faith in man, not institution.