et me come out upfront and confess: I was wrong that the closest the Igbo nation will come to the Presidency in 2023 is either through Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi or through the current Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike. As it turned out, they both carried the Presidential ambition of the Igbo race in their respective parties but both fell short, coming second to the eventual flag bearers in the two major political parties – APC and PDP.
Atiku Abubakar used all his arsenals but still came nearly short of the goal. The north and all his henchmen had to come to his rescue before he could surmount the mountain that was the already coasting-home-to-victory Nyesom Wike. Rotimi Amaechi too was favoured to clinch it. Indeed, up until the dying days, it was not Ahmed Bola Tinubu who was his main opponent but the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo.
But a day in politics is too long a time to let down the guard. Amaechi came second. But the major loser is President Muhammadu Buhari who must now be known as someone whose words cannot be relied on, a weakling who masquerades as a political juggernaut. When the full story of the All Progressives Congress, APC, primaries is finally told, years from now, even some of his most ardent supporters will be shocked. But let us leave Buhari alone and salute the true political juggernaut, the one who was given little chance but was able to marshal his all to wrest victory from the seemingly impregnable forces against him. Tinubu is a man’s man. Forget the humongous amount he poured into the primaries. Forget his health challenges. He proved himself a true warrior.
Perhaps, the greatest surprise so far, about the road to the 2023 Presidential and other elections, is Peter Obi. The former governor, former vice presidential candidate, has turned the race for the coming presidential election into a huge hurricane sweeping, as at now, across the southern states of Nigeria, part of the middle belt and Abuja. He currently owns the momentum. He holds the public in a grip of wonder, of promise, of hope, of possibilities. He somehow has been able to position himself as the poster boy to all that can be good about Nigeria. And a cult of believers is fast coalescing around him. That is, among the tech-savvy youths and the voiceless elites. A true political gale is sweeping across the land, even if without a concrete, predictable base at its core. Nigerians are gradually identifying with him. His support base is growing in phenomenal “OBIdience”:. He is the most discussed candidate today.
From an inability to find a foothold in his former party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, where the men with deep pockets bought loyalty and votes, where the highest bidders won, he has somehow risen like a sphinx. He is dishing out a message that is gripping the public imagination and sprouting hope in a nation held hostage by buccaneers masquerading as politicians and leaders. He is currently a wonder among the youths, the ENDSARS gang, the enlightened, progressive market men and women, musicians, artistes of various hues. He is spurning a self propelling, exciting gale similar to the Barack Obama feat in America.
He is a good story teller, clearly showcasing his many achievements in Anambra where he was governor. The followers lap up every tale from his mouth. And he does know how to work the media, especially how to galvanise the large army of youths who are digital natives. He has strategically so positioned himself, that his messages are taking on wings of their own, going from mouth to mouth with more and more disciples coming on board, daily. For most, Obi is a breathe of fresh air in Nigeria’s putrid political scene.
Were the elections to be held today, there is a huge chance, Obi and not Atiku Abubakar or Bola Ahmed Tinubu, will carry the day among the youths and elites, in the South of Nigeria, and up to parts of the Middle belt and Abuja. But were the elections to be held on a national scale, today, Obi will be beaten silly by the duo of Atiku and Tinubu. And the reasons are not far fetched: the Obi movement is still in its infancy. It is still a cultic one man band. And we all know, the south is not all that is Nigeria. There is a huge chasm between the digital army and the large swat of rural, largely illiterate Nigerians who, across the country but more mostly in the north, are still unreached by the Obi momentum.
But is this merely all sound and fury? Is this potential revolutionary movement in the politics of Nigeria real? Is the huge hope people are building around the person of Peter Obi manifestly sustainable, scalable, and achievable? There is no doubt, the APC and PDP flag bearers are keeping a keen eye on what some have described as the Peter Obi Phenomenon. Among some of their aficionados, however, it is still being treated with skepticism, as fluke, a candle in the wind.
Among the disputers of the authenticity of the movement and its possibilities of emerging as the long sought for third force, strong enough to sweep the two failed parties aside, Obi’s many alleged fault lines are listed. Among these are: OBI, the micro-manager: They point out that despite his sweet talking followers into a current movement, Peter Obi, they claim, is a micro manager. He is someone who likes to do everything himself. Someone who does not trust others to do it as well as himself. They claim he mostly sidelined his commissioners and appointees when he was governor of Anambra State. They claim that is why even his chief of staff, Chuks Ilogbunam and others, at some stage of his government, resigned out of frustration.
OBI, the one man locomotive: They claim the Labour Party candidate can hardly point at people he has helped raise, politically and even economically, since he ventured into politics. They ask: how many people did he build? Where are his old supporters? Unlike Atiku and Tinubu, who can easily do so and point at relationships that cut across the north and south of Nigeria, Obi, they say, is a one man gang.
OBI, the all knowing: They claim that what Obi is not saying is that he is someone who thinks he is all knowing, a sole repository of knowledge, who thinks his solution to any given problem, is the only solution. They say he brooks no opposing views.
OBI, the saint: if there is one thing Peter Obi knows how to do, it is painting himself in irresistibly glorious colours. Is he truly so spick and span, they ask? They paint some unprintable picture about his past and about his father that is neither here nor there.
OBI, the messiah complex: the cult of self. Here his traducers say he didn’t build or strengthen institutions sustainably, while he was at the helms at Anambra state. Yet, it is strong institutions and not strong men that we need, they note.
OBI, stinginess as a virtue. But is he a generous being? Is he given to philanthropy? Bianca Ojukwu believes so and declares Obi is a quiet, non publicity seeking giver. She said so in her rebuke of the Rev Father Mbaka’s lambasting of Obi’s “notorious” stinginess.
Here is my take: the OBIdient movement is real. It is gaining momentum. IT has great potentials. It is a real threat to the old guard politics Nigerians are used to. But It is still far from the Eldorado of being the third force. For example, for it to gain the right political traction, a lot is still needed on the plate. Yes, his messages resonate with a lot of Nigerians but winning an election is more than that. He needs structures, people, credible politicians and faithfuls across the length and breath of the country, who identify with the new way of doing politics that his campaign offers. He needs organisers. He needs to go beyond social media and the traditional media. He needs feet on the ground, pounding the pavement, knocking on doors, selling the OBIdience message.
There is need to develop different strategies for different segments of the country. He needs to urgently gain in-roads into the northern parts of the country. He needs to build bridges and trust. He needs people to help him penetrate the northern grassroots.
Finally, even though he embodies the new message, it is time to start making it go beyond just a message to get Peter Obi elected, into a movement to change the way politics and governance are practiced in the country.