What Nigerians should expect as campaigns open
BY AUGUSTINE AVWODE AND TIMOTHY AGBOR
Notwithstanding the soaring popularity of Peter Obi, the Labour Party Presidential Candidate in the 2023 general elections, investigations by The Point show that the electoral contest will not be a walk in the park for him.
Stakeholders, in separate interviews with The Point’s correspondents, noted that it would take a miracle in the form of the 9th Wonder in the world, or a democratic revolution, for him to scale the hurdles stacked on his path to Aso Rock.
Since his dramatic exit from the People’s Democratic Party barely four days to the national convention of the party in late May, and his subsequent emergence as the candidate of the LP, Obi has enjoyed unprecedented popularity and acceptance, particularly, “among the youths and young at heart”.
Also, many who have been passionately canvassing for a shift from the ‘old order’ and enthronement of a ‘third force’ seem to be on his side.
Besides, those who strongly consider equity and fairness among the geo-political zones in who leads Nigeria and so think it should now be the turn of a president of Igbo extraction come 2023, see in him as the most qualified from the South East.
However, investigations tend to counter the desire of his supporters and admirers, considering the viability of the platform on which he is contesting, voter’s demographic favourability, the odds of ethno-religious sentiment and institutional entrenchment of the old order, regional socio-political stability, legal and moral questions, among others.
VOTERS DEMOGRAPHIC DISTRIBUTION
With a projected voter population of about 90 million or a little above that for the 2023 general elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission, Obi’s South East Zone comes way far behind others.
Speaking at an election security management training in Abuja by the Nigeria Police Force for the police and other security personnel ahead of the 2023 elections, INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, gave the figures.
“It involves a projected voter population of about 95 million for the 2023 general election, which is over 20 million more than the combined voter population of the other 14 countries in West Africa,” he said.
According to INEC, the North West and South West geopolitical zones lead with 22,672,373 and 18,332,191 eligible voters respectively.
While the North West zone is made up of Jigawa, Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara, the South West region has Lagos, Oyo, Ondo, Ogun, Osun and Ekiti. The North Central is third with 15,680,438 registered voters, a little above the South-South with 15,299,374.
The North East has 12,820,363 voters while the South East has 11,498,277 eligible voters. These figures are without prejudice to the ongoing cleaning up of the voter register by the electoral body.
In a recent interview, a former presidential aspirant of the PDP, Mohammed Hayatu-Deen, argued that it would take a miracle for Peter Obi to win the 2023 presidential election. His all-encompassing analysis took into consideration the viability of the platform, the acceptance of the party and the candidate’s structure.
Hayatu-Deen had insisted in the interview that notwithstanding the harmattan-like fire of Obi’s popularity at the moment, there were only two parties in Nigeria – the PDP and the All Progressives Congress. He then counselled Obi to join an established party to pursue his presidential ambition with an eye for the future.
“The conventional wisdom is that if someone like Peter Obi had a 10 to 15 years project to create a magnificent machine that is robust, that has structures over a period of seven to 10 years, then he can become a force to be reckoned with.
“That is the view that I personally hold and I could be completely wrong. He might prove me wrong. I do not know but in a developing country such as ours…I will wait to see such a miracle happen in this election season,” Hayatu-Deen declared.
Lawyer and socio-political commentator, Maxwell Etakibuebu, told The Point on Saturday that one of the most difficult things in life was convincing a politician to be moderate in his expectations. He wished Obi would win and give the country a “breath of fresh air” but regretted that the reality on the ground would make it impossible.”
He said, “Truth is we all want a paradigm shift. We want a new face and Obi would sure be a breath of fresh air. But I am a realist; I don’t call blue, white and vice-versa.
The truth of the matter is that it would be difficult for Obi to win.
“He has entrenched, highly entrenched interests to contend with. The electoral demography is not in his favour. Only Kano, Kaduna and Katsina equate all the registered voters from the South East; that is even supposing that all South East voters would vote for him. But that is not possible because, in the region, there is no Labour Party governor, I don’t know if they have up to five senators that is one from each state and 10 House of Reps members at the rate of two from each state.”
“So, when people talk of structure, it is very crucial and means a lot to the electoral success of any individual, be it at the counsellor, local government chairman, House of Assembly or Governorship levels. It is political foolishness to dismiss it with a wave of the hand,” he argued.
The lawyer further insisted that his time would come in the future “but not now” as the sentiments involving religious and ethnic attachment to politics were still very strong in the country and would require sustaining this present momentum over a period of five or more years to sufficiently break the barriers of such primordial sentiments.
“With a projected voter population of about 90 million or a little above that for the 2023 general elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission, Obi’s South East Zone comes way far behind others”
Whereas Peter Obi has consistently tried to steer the focus of the election discourse from ethnic and religious perspectives, many people hold that his efforts will not make any significant difference in the coming election.
At almost every given opportunity, Obi usually declares that the 2023 elections “would not be about religion, ethnicity, connection or my turn but competence.”
In his interview with CNN’s Zane Asher, Obi reiterated the same thing when he declared, “That was the situation obtainable in the past. We used to elect leaders based on ethnicity, religion, strong connection, and that has brought us to the bad situation we are in today.”
Those who were interviewed said the reality was that ethnicity, religion and connection were still very much active in Nigeria’s political equation and behaviour.
According to them, even more sadly, the elite won’t ever stop influencing the majority on the direction to go during electoral periods.
Again, Hayatu-Deen, appraising the development, said it would be difficult for Obi to win the hearts of northern voters in next year’s general elections.
“I do not know how much work Peter Obi has done and will do to appeal to northern sentiments. I really do not know because it is still a long campaign season but what I can tell you is that the PDP is not going to leave any part of northern Nigeria untouched.
“PDP is very strong in the South South. A bit of the South West votes, I can guarantee you that. In the South East, it will run very strong because the information available to me indicates that there is no particular person that is strong,” he said.
In the South West, however, The Point observes that there has been a running battle between supporters of APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and those of Peter Obi, with conspicuous reference to ethnic and religious loyalty.
VIABILITY OF PLATFORM
The viability of the platform on which Peter Obi is seeking to actualise his presidential dream has been deemed too weak, and not in any way capable of delivering the candidate.
A Nigerian resident in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday Adelaja, in his analysis of the situation, said, “Both facts and statistics are not on the side of Peter Obi. Nigeria has 176,847 polling units. For Peter Obi to win the presidential elections, he will need to recruit a minimum of that number of agents, either for money or somehow.
“These are not just ordinary observers. To be a party agent is like a full-time job. How many companies or organizations in the world can manage to employ almost 200,000 able-bodied people? It’s a daunting challenge that takes years to fully get ready for. Peter Obi can do this but he surely needs more time to mobilize, train and support that amount of workers.
“Besides the polling units’ agents, Nigeria also has 8,809 wards. All these wards must not just be manned by his political party, they must also have ward party organizations in all the wards. To win a presidential election in Nigeria, India, or America, your party is only as strong as its strength at the ward level. Basically, what this means is that a party must have close to 9,000 party branches to successfully run for the presidency in Nigeria.”
“It is doubtful if the Labour Party of Peter Obi has 8,809 party branches in Nigeria. Only two political parties can boldly boast of such universal representation in Nigerian politics. They are APC and PDP,” he argued.
A major Achilles’ heel for Obi’s presidential bid, according to analysts, comes in the form of not having any elective officials in most of the electoral offices across the country. The usual practice is for these elected officials to return to their ‘bases’ and galvanise the ‘structure’ through mobilization, sensitization and positioning for the D-day. They generally tell the voters the direction to go on the day of election.
These elected officials are perceived to be most influential over their electorate. Basically, they control the political nervous system of the nation. The President is elected by a simple majority of the people. And the slogan, to those who know, is: “deliver your unit.”
The question is: who will deliver what unit for the Labour Party, and by extension, Obi?
In the just-released list of candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives, the LP has no candidates for senatorial elections in Lagos, Borno, Katsina and Kebbi. It will be contesting in 49 senatorial districts out of the available 109.
In the case of the House of Representatives, LP has no candidates in seven states of Borno, Ekiti, Katsina, Lagos, Ondo, Kebbi and Yobe. It will contest in 198 House of Reps constituencies, out of the available 774.
If Labour Party is not contesting for any senatorial seat and any House of Representatives seat in Lagos, Katsina, Kebbi and Borno, states that have heavy registered voters, it is difficult to see who will mobilize and galvanise the voters for Obi on the Election Day in those state to guarantee at least 25 per cent of the votes cast.
According to electoral provisions, a candidate must get 25 per cent of votes in two-third of the 36 States of the country, which is 24 States of the nation.
A Professor of Political Science, Bolaji Omitola said, “The Obidient movement is not just about Peter Obi. Look at the demography; the people called Obidients are mostly the youth. When you engage them on issues, most of them don’t have the political history of Nigeria; they don’t understand some of the precedents of this country. The youths are looking for someone that, at least, can be portrayed differently from the establishment.”
When asked if Obi could win the 2023 presidential election, Omitola said, “The Obidients must go beyond imagination and the normal way of Nigerian politics.
“But looking at the structure of Nigerian politics, the way things are, it will be near impossible for Obi to become President. You need structure, local notables, and patronage, that is the nature of our politics. But if you have a paradigm shift, far beyond imagination, then it is possible.”
In the same vein, a lecturer at the Political Science Department of Fountain University, Mojeed Animasahun, analysed the need for political structure while describing the Labour Party as a “fringe party.”
According to him, nobody can say it is impossible for anybody to become president, in a democracy. But he stressed, “Peter Obi became a force because of his followership on social media, and I wish they can translate the support to vote for him to be president.
“Party labels are very important in winning elections. The Labour party is a fringe party. The only State the LP has governed is Ondo. He (Obi) needs 25 per cent of votes in 24 states. This will be extremely difficult for Obi to gather. Even in the South East that is his stronghold, he will have to battle Atiku Abubakar because PDP is very strong in the region, likewise the South South.”
“Whereas Peter Obi has consistently tried to steer the focus of the election discourse from ethnic and religious perspectives, many people hold that his efforts will not make any significant difference in the coming election”
With the campaign season to be officially declared open by Wednesday, September 28, political pundits are already saying hitherto unseen missiles would start to fly once the whistle for the campaign is blown by the INEC.
Again, Adelaja suggested that many moral questions would be brought to the fore then and that it was left to be seen what answers Obi would provide to such scrutiny involving his claim to super performance in terms of development in Anambra State that he had very often talked about.
He said, “Peter Obi’s claim that infrastructure doesn’t bring development is another reason he can’t be recommended to become Nigeria’s President. Peter Obi was once quoted as saying, ‘You can’t use infrastructure to improve the economy.’
“No wonder people in Anambra hardly reference Peter Obi’s achievements, but rather talk more about Chris Ngige’s infrastructural strides. It’s now understandable why Peter keeps boasting about the money he saved for Anambra, the same money he could have used to develop the state’s infrastructure. What benefit is the money saved and not used while people are dying of hunger and lack of basic amenities in the land? Peter, with all due respect you cannot become the president of Nigeria without believing in the pivotal role of infrastructure in national development.”
Not yet done, Adelaja delved into Peter Obi’s alleged involvement in corruption.
“The Pandora files report is another reason Peter Obi cannot be the next President of Nigeria. The Pandora Files investigation is part of the global International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)-led Pandora Papers project. The project saw 600 journalists from 150 news organisations around the world poring through a trove of 11.9 million confidential files, contextualising information, tracking down sources and analysing public records and other documents.
“Obi is one of the individuals whose hidden business activities were thrown open by the project. Indeed, he has a number of secret business dealings and relationships that he has for years kept hidden from the Anambra people whom he governed, and from the Nigerian people over whom he plans to rule.
“The very reason candidates must declare their assets is to avoid secret dealings. But Peter Obi decided to take Nigerians and the people of his state for granted by not only doing false declarations of assets but also going on national television platforms to make his outrageous statements.
“Peter Obi committed a punishable act by getting involved in the secrets exposed by the Pandora files reports. These are businesses he clandestinely set up and operated overseas, including in notorious tax and secrecy havens in ways that breached Nigerian laws,” he alleged.
OBI DESCRIBED AS UNSTABLE, DESPERATE POLITICIAN
The resignation of Obi from the PDP was described as unstable and desperate political selfishness.
A group affiliated to the Democratic Forum for Justice and Equity said that it regretted, in the first place, supporting the former Anambra State governor.
The group, which boasted of about three million members, nationwide, added that its earlier support for Obi was on the basis of equity and fairness for the South East.
The group’s national coordinator, Malam Isah Ajilete, in a release explained, “We have withdrawn our support for Peter Obi, having realised that he is an unstable politician who has taken his desperation to a selfish level. We make bold to say that we regret ever supporting Peter Obi in the first place.”
HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL IN LP SUPPORTERS
Despite the stark reality on the ground, among LP supporters, hope springs eternal. Last week, a chieftain of the party and senatorial candidate for Anambra in the 2023 election, Victor Umeh, declared that other parties, including the APC and PDP, were panicky over the growing popularity of Obi all over the country. He boasted that some members of the APC and PDP would vote for Peter Obi.
“The issue is not about where you belong now. I know that there are people in the PDP who will vote for the Labour Party. I know that there are people in APC who will vote for the Labour Party. What is important is the task of rescuing Nigeria, and people don’t believe that this thing can work outside this platform,” Umeh said.
“The people are with the (Labour) Party. Look at things going on in Nigeria across the states of the Federation. If you say that the Labour Party is weak in some areas, they spring up a surprise. The power of the Labour Party now is the people,” he added.
What seems to be egging the LP and Obi supporters on has defied categorization. Even with the understanding that the platform lacks what it takes to win an election of the magnitude of the country’s presidency, the ‘Obidients’ keep their One Million Man Match alive. Many Nigerians within and in the Diaspora are waiting to see how Obi will defy the force of political gravity and emerge as successor to President Muhammadu Buhari, come May 29, 2023.