March 14, 2023

Deconstructing the ‘Obi phenomenon’ (1)

By Jideofor Adibe

ONE of the most defining features of the current election cycle is the rise of former Anambra State Governor, Peter Gregory Obi.

How do we explain what is now commonly referred to as the ‘Obi phenomenon’?  And how is this likely to impact on our democracy and political process?  The aphorism that charity begins at home seems to work the other way round in Igboland.

The Igbo cultural ethos reveres the person who goes outside the community and achieves success there – and then comes home to be validated. Several Igbo proverbs illustrate this.

A typical example is: Ukpanaunoadighi ahammanu, which roughly translates to ‘the home-based grasshopper hardly grows fat or juicy’. This cultural universe is one of the explanations for the Igbo diaspora-orientation. It also explains why the Igbos, especially the political elite, were initially either lukewarm or unreservedly hostile to Obi’s candidacy.

Obi’s apparent acceptance across the country – driven initiallyby mostly non-Igbo social media influencers, celebrities and activists- was a pleasant surprise to a generation of Igbo youths who believe that the race is hated and distrusted by other nationalities in the country. As many Igbos gradually warmed up to his aspiration, the audacity of his candidature was suddenly being compared to the feat accomplished by Rangers International of Enugu, a team which was hurriedly assembled at the end of the Civil War in 1970, but which went ahead the same year to emerge the national football champions by trouncing the then title holders, the Nigerian Army Football Team, 2-1, in a pulsating final match. 

Rangers, from an enclave that had just been battered by a two-and half year, one-sided war, in which it lost about three  million people, mostly to hunger and malnutrition, went on to represent the country in the 1971 African Cup of Champions Clubs, reaching the quarter finals before losing to the ASEC Mimosas of Cote d’Ivoire. The success of Rangers, which went on to produce most of the players for the national side(then known as the Green Eagles) for years, helped to lift the Igbo spirit from the defeat of the Civil War and gave them the can-do mentality to go and dare in the country at large. 

Many Igbos feel that the Buhari presidency – despite its commendable efforts in building the Second Niger Bridge-emasculated and ‘inconsequentialised’ the race and set back the gains of re-integration achieved under the presidencies of both Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan. It is within this context that the uncommon passion for the Obi candidacy among the Igbos should be understood. 

The Obi phenomenon was bolstered by Christians who were angered by the ruling APC’s same faith ticket and the possibility of a Muslim being the President of the country for 24 uninterrupted years (eight years for Buhari, potential eight years for Tinubu and another eight years when power returns to the North, most likely to a Muslim). Obi’s candidacy also benefitted from those uncomfortable with the prospect of Atiku Abubakar, a Northern Fulani Muslin, succeeding Buhari, a fellow Fulani Muslim, to validate fears of a Northern political hegemony. 

There were equally those who supported him on the premise that in the interest of ‘equity, justice and fair play’, someone from the South-East(the only region from the South which had not produced the President in this dispensation), should succeed Buhari. Obviously, Obi’s carefully cultivated public persona – prudent, modest and empathetic – coupled with his anti-establishment messaging, all helped. His accomplishments as Anambra State Governor for eight years- embellished here and there as politicians are wont to do – equally swayed some.

In the results announced by INEC, Obi performed above the expectations of his critics, polling 6,101,533 votes – behind Atiku’s 6,984,520 and Tinubu’s 8,794,726. He won outright in 12 states (counting the FCT)- just like Atiku and Tinubu who was declared the President-elect. His Labour Party also won 40 National Assembly seats. Obi said he has evidence to prove that he won the election and has headed to the tribunals to prove it. Suddenly the Obidients, (caricatured as four people tweeting from a room) and the Labour Party became the beautiful brides of Nigerian politics in many states of the federation.

Can Peter Obi’s performance in the last election or even his presidency (if he wins through the courts) assuage separatist agitations in Igboland? This is unlikely. The Scots are still agitating for an independent Scotland despite having been part of the United Kingdom since 1707. Peter Obi’s performance in the February 25, 2023 election (or his presidency if it materialises), can blunt separatist agitations and change its character and trajectory, but it cannot stop it altogether – just as Obasanjo’s presidency and Osinbajo’s vice presidency have been unable to stop agitations for a Yoruba nation. 

On the contrary, Obi’s audacious bid, risks exacerbating Igbophobia, as we are currently witnessing in Lagos State. Any ethnic group that produces the president comes to the spot light – as we saw with allegations of ‘Ijaw arrogance’ during the Jonathan government and of ‘Fulanisation and Islamisation’ under the Buhari government. 

*Adibe is Professor of Political Science and International Relation at Nasarawa State University, Keffi, and founder of Adonis & Abbey Publishers. 

US, Nigeria’s faulty election and Africa’s progress 

By  Chekwube Nzomiwu

THE United States of America often 

prides itself as the bastion of democracy in the world. A few days ago, President Joe Biden stressed the importance of the right to vote in his remarks at the 58th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” at Edmund Pettus Bridge Selma, Alabama. In his words: “The right to vote- the right to vote and to have your vote counted- is the threshold of democracy and liberty. With it, anything is possible…without that right, nothing is possible. And this fundamental right remains under assault.”

Biden, a democrat, was at Alabama to mark the anniversary of the March 7, 1965 Selma March by hundreds of demonstrators, demanding for voting rights for Black Americans who faced barriers to vote across much of the south of the United States. Although law enforcement officers brutally clamped down on the protesters, five months later, the Congress passed the “Voting Rights of 1965”, prohibiting racial discrimination in voting in the United States. This year’s commemoration of the Selma demonstration coincided with widespread contestations over the outcome of the February 25 presidential election in Nigeria, which the Financial Times, one of the leading business news organisations in the world, described as badly flawed. Relying on testimonies of both local and international observers and its own observation of the election, the British news organisation, in an editorial, chronicled numerous irregularities that marred the election, including snatching of ballot materials, violence, voter suppression and intimidation, delay in arrival of electoral officials at the polling units and late commencement of accreditation and voting.  

In the opinion of the Financial Times, these irregularities contributed in depriving millions of Nigerians the right to vote. According to the results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the body saddled with the responsibility of conducting elections in Nigeria, the February 25 Presidential and National Assembly elections witnessed a drop in voter turnout to 27 per cent from 35 per cent recorded in 2019. To add salt to injury, the result could not be uploaded real time from polling units to INEC’s result viewing portal, IReV, as prescribed by the commission in its guidelines for the election. Section 148 of the Electoral Act, gives the electoral body the power to make guidelines and regulations to ensure the full effect of the law. Section 60 (5) of the Act states that the presiding officer shall transfer the results, including the total number of accredited voters and the results of the ballot in a manner as prescribed by the commission.

The prescribed manner in this case, is the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, introduced by INEC to boost the credibility of Nigerian elections. But, rather than use the BVAS to upload the results real time from the polling units as prescribed in the election guidelines, INEC resorted to manual collation for the presidential election. Amid protest by other political parties over these obvious irregularities in the election, the electoral body hurriedly declared the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, as the winner of the election. According to the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, who doubled as the returning officer for the election, Tinubu polled 8.8 million votes to defeat other top contenders, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, candidate, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi of Labour Party, LP, who polled 6.9 million and 6.1 million respectively. Both Atiku and Obi have since approached the Court of Appeal, the court of first instance on presidential election matters, to challenge the outcome of the election.

While Tinubu was basking on the euphoria of torrents of congratulatory messages he received from world leaders, the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard declared that the electoral process as a whole on February 25 failed to meet the expectations of Nigerians. Atiku Abubakar and his party, PDP, staged a protest to the headquarters of INEC in Abuja, to express their dissatisfaction with the election. Regardless, the ruling APC maintained that its candidate won the election and asked those not satisfied with the outcome of the election to go to court. For now, all eyes are on the judiciary, as it appears there was very little that INEC could do now, having issued Tinubu with a Certificate of Return as the winner of the controversial election. Besides the irregularities that marred the election, one issue Nigerians expect the court to resolve is the argument that the winner did not meet the legal threshold in Section 134 (2) of the Constitution, for one to be declared winner of a presidential election.  

As we wait for the election tribunal to decide the case one way or the order, I fear that Nigeria may have missed another golden opportunity to rediscover herself as the Giant of Africa. Recall that in 2013, Barack Obama, the first American President of African descent, described Nigeria as critical to the rest of the African continent. Obama argued that “if Nigeria does not get it right, Africa will really not make more progress”. Regrettably, Africa is today a theatre of the absurd and bizarre, including armed conflicts, insurgency, coup d’états and other forms of political instability. The continent is also plagued by economic crisis and environmental degradation.

Ironically, Nigeria, which the world expects to champion the advancement of the continent, is not spared. Instead of rule of law, lawlessness rules, even within the corridors of power. The entire political system is dogged by corruption, ethnic and religious tensions. The political gladiators are more concerned with self survival and their Machiavellian actions are driven by individual, rather than national interest. Most worrisome is that the country lacks the capacity to conduct credible elections, hence depriving the citizens of leadership at all strata and arms of government. Indeed, can anyone quantify the consequences of these maladies on the country? In spite of the humongous oil revenue that accrued to Nigeria over the years and the numerous efforts by successive governments to address the infrastructure deficit in the country, wide gaps still exist in the country’s power, transportation, communication, aviation, health and education infrastructure.

The economy is in doldrums. Citizens spend donkey time on very long queues to fuel their cars and electricity generators, in order to improvise for the acute shortage of electricity from the national grid in their homes and offices. Presently, Nigeria faces a severe cash crunch, occasioned by a shoddy and “inexpertly” implemented cashless policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, which resulted in long queues of hapless citizens standing for hours at Automated Teller Machine, ATM, points and inside banking halls, searching for cash to meet their basic daily needs. Unemployment rate is almost 40 per cent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS. Although Nigeria moved up four places in the latest 2022 Corruption Perception Index, CPI, it maintained its previous score of 24 out of 100 points in the 2021 assessment, showing that nothing has changed.

The story is not different in the educational and health systems of the country. While, there is global consensus that education is the bedrock of development, about 20 million children are out of school in Nigeria, as of the last quarter of 2022, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO. The annual budgetary allocation at the federal level for education is a far cry from the 26 per cent benchmark recommended by UNESCO for member countries. The sub-nationals are faring worse. Primary and secondary schools in Nigeria experience lack of instructional materials. They lack qualified and trained personnel. At the tertiary level, prolonged strikes by academic and non academic staff often paralyze academic activities in our citadels of learning, impacting negatively on standards. 

In the health system, brain drain deprives our health institutions of their best hands, as they leave the country on a daily basis in search of greener pastures in North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The primary health system is almost nonexistent while the tertiary health institutions do not measure up to consulting clinics in even sister African countries. However, the frustration vented in this piece does not mean that all hope is lost. From the experiences of the big democracies and the upcoming ones, we can establish a correlation between democracy and development. A credible election is the hallmark of democracy. Therefore, we must do everything to get our elections right. To get it right, we must interrogate the character of those who would be  entrusted with our electoral process in future, sustain reforms in our electoral laws and allow technology to fully drive the system, to protect our elections from the machinations of desperado politicians and willing conspirators in the electoral body.

*Nzomiwu, a public affairs commentator, wrote from Awka, Anambra State