BY AUGUSTINE AVWODE
The soaring popularity of Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi, in the 2023 general election has come to many as a thing of surprise. Not even Obi envisaged the rather phenomenal popularity he has enjoyed. Nobody did. Like a bolt out of the blue, an audacious decision by Obi on around May 25 to dump the People’s Democratic Party and his plan to contest the country’s presidency on its platform, seems to have so far paid off massively.
Whether this will eventually translate into his political dream of leading the country remains to be seen.
Four months after the decision to quit the PDP and pitching his tent with the LP, all published polls have placed Obi ahead of the other three major presidential candidates of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; PDP’s Atiku Abubakar and New Nigeria Peoples Party’s Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso.
In all, the three pre-elections polls have given the supporters of Obi something to cheer about while those of the other major contenders have descended heavily on the polls, describing them as most unreliable and manipulative. And whereas the ‘OBIdients’, as supporters of the LP candidate called themselves, are hoping to translate the current popularity into reality, opponents continue to express outright doubt over such a possibility.
In a nationwide opinion poll conducted in early September by Anap Foundation, it predicted that Obi will emerge as the winner of the 2023 presidential election. Anap President and founder, Atedo Peterside, explained in a statement that the polls were conducted in all the six geo-political zones.
Peterside said the opinion polls were commissioned by Anap Foundation and conducted by NOI Polls Limited and they showed a substantially close race between Obi, Tinubu and Atiku.
Peterside, however, pointed out that the September 2022 polls were inconclusive in terms of establishing a clear winner, as the undecided voters are large enough to turn the tables.
He nonetheless said Anap Foundation has concluded that the trends are clear enough to establish the front runners, saying subsequent polls would concentrate on the four leading candidates only.
“All other contestants polled results that are statistically insignificant. The results showed a significant lead for Mr. Peter Obi with 21% of voters proposing to vote for him if the presidential election were to be conducted today and 13% each proposing to vote for Asiwayu Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar who are both tied in second place. Dr. Rabiu Kwankwaso was a distant fourth with 3% of voters proposing to vote for him.
“Mr. Peter Obi’s 8 percentage point lead at this early stage is significant but not sufficient to separate him completely from a leading pack of candidates scoring 21%, 13% and 13% respectively.
“Running significantly behind the leading pack is Dr. Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) who is the lone outsider i.e. a ‘dark horse’ in the race,” he declared.
According to the poll, undecided voters and those who preferred not to reveal their preferred candidate add up to a whopping 32% and 15% respectively; while the gender split of undecided voters showed that 39% of women are undecided versus 27% of male voters.
In another poll, We2Geda Foundation, a public advocacy group, said its recent poll showed Obi was likely to win the 2023 presidential election.
The group said the opinion poll conducted on registered voters, indicated Obi leading other candidates by 51 per cent. The group said Atiku polled 25 per cent, while Tinubu polled 19 per cent.
It explained that the poll was conducted to deepen the conversation about the 2023 election and to help political analysts address critical issues such as candidate preferences and key socioeconomic dynamics at play in the upcoming elections.
The group said it randomly surveyed a total of 15,438 registered voters in 36 states and the FCT through fully randomised direct phone calls in local languages to achieve real representation of registered voters across Nigeria.
“In addition, the survey uncovered the top issues deciding voters’ choices in the upcoming election, including the need to tackle insecurity (42 per cent), corruption (18 per cent), jobs (9 per cent) and education (8 per cent) likely related to the ASUU strike.
Nigerians aged between 26 and 40 years of age, and those between 41 and 50, constituted the highest number of respondents, with the latter higher by a slim margin.
“The result of the WE2Geda poll showed a clear lead for the Labour Party (LP) presidential flag-bearer, Peter Obi, with 51 per cent of respondents suggesting voting for him as their preferred candidate if the presidential election were held today. 25 per cent suggested voting for Atiku while Tinubu ranked third in the voter preference poll with 19 per cent.
“Further analysis also shows that Peter Obi remained a consistent favourite in the four major geopolitical zones including north-central, south-south, south-west and south-east, while Atiku Abubakar was the poll leader in the north-east and north-west zones.”
“For the first time in this nation, the youths are showing a level of political awareness like never before. It is clear that the #Endsars protest and the oppressive manner the government quelled it, has sparked a consciousness in the younger ones”
Yet in another survey conducted by Premise Data Corporation for Bloomberg News, 92% of participants claimed they have already decided how to vote with 72% of that number picking Obi as their first choice. Of those who are still unsure, 45% said the 61-year-old is their preferred candidate.
The data company based in San Francisco reportedly surveyed 3,973 Nigerians from September 5-20. Respondents to the app-based poll were selected from quotas developed by age, gender and location across the country’s six geopolitical zones. Results were then weighted against the original quotas to ensure national representation.
POLLS DECEPTIVE, BOGUS
The polls have, however, been dismissed by other political parties as not only bogus and misleading but generally deceptive. All three other major political parties vehemently kicked against the NOI poll.
In separate reactions, they claimed the polls were a far cry from the realities on the ground. One of the spokespersons of the Atiku Abubakar presidential campaign, Daniel Bwala, during an appearance on national television, questioned the techniques adopted for the NOI poll and described the excitement it generated in some quarters as mere ‘hallucination’.
He argued that a “normal poll that will attract credibility will be a poll that will clearly release the sample size and the margin of error as the report is being released because the sample size and the margin of error will help in identifying whether the polling was actually carried out correctly or not.
“Then, you can further ask for the sampling. Was it done through a phone call? If it was done through a phone call, then the people who did not have phones were probably not part of the polling.
“You also go to the extent of demographics and the place where the polling was carried out. I know they said it was random sampling. But then, because of the result, I’m tempted to believe that this polling was carried out online because Peter Obi has a number of people who are very active for him online much more than the other candidates.
The APC in a reaction by the Director, Media and Publicity of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, Bayo Onanuga, accused the NOI of turning its “political bias in an election period to fraudulent statistics”.
“The NOI has chosen the preferred candidate and has decided to use fake, dubious statistics to package him to the Nigerian voters,” Onanuga said in the statement.
He added that “We know, as a matter of fact, the owners of NOI and where their political interest lies and wish to advise NOI to stop polluting the political system with irresponsible, unscientific, and biased polling so that we don’t expose the puppeteers pulling its strings.”
In his reaction, Reno Omokri, a former presidential aide to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, claimed that Obi lags far behind in experience when compared to other candidates.
He also claimed that in terms of education, from the available records, Obi was far behind Atiku, Tinubu and Kwankwaso .
He argued on his Twitter account that “If, as Obidients have been saying, that this election is about competence, then you are exposing yourselves if you go ahead to vote a man whose highest educational qualification is a second class lower degree in Philosophy over a PhD in Water Engineering and Masters with distinction in International Relations.
“Let us face facts. In terms of business, Obi is behind Waziri Atiku. In terms of experience, he is behind Atiku, Tinubu and Kwankwaso. In terms of education, he is still behind Atiku, Tinubu and Kwankwaso.”
MOOD OF THE MOMENT
However, supporters and sympathizers of Obi would not be deterred by the scathing criticism of the polls by supporters of other candidates. For them, Obi is an idea whose time has come.
Speaking to The Point, Nollywood’s producer/director, Jerry Isichie, described the current upward swing in Obi’s rating as the mood of the moment.
“Honestly, if you ask me I will tell you that it’s clearly the mood of the masses of our people. The citizens are so disenchanted with the big two parties. That is the APC and PDP that are seeking alternatives. In Peter Obi, they have found a leader that embodies their wishes and aspirations.
“For the first time in this nation, the youths are showing a level of political awareness like never before. It is clear that the #Endsars protest and the oppressive manner the government quelled it, has sparked a consciousness in the younger ones. Their support for Peter Obi is their trying to be proactive and playing a major role in deciding who governs them.
“They have seized the narrative and they are bent on making a positive change which in my estimation is a beautiful thing for our democratic evolution.
“You can see the OBIdient marches and the mammoth crowds that participate across the length and breadth of this nation. This is a pointer to the fact that the results of polls are real.”
Isichie contended that the reactions were to be expected as they were typical of the average Nigerian politician and that he was not surprised by it.
“Well, the reactions are typical of the average politician to the polls. It is not surprising. They are still in denial. They believe it will be business as usual. But the earlier they understand that the train has left the station, the better for their well-being.”
Notwithstanding Obi’s popularity, especially on social media and topping pre-election polls, many analysts still hold strongly that the obvious lack of structures at various levels by the party across the country may count against it when it matters most, except the party seizes the opportunity of the remaining 142 days left for the campaign to do the needful.