Opinion poll as a wakeup call to electorates and candidates in Nigeria

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BY BRIGHT JACOB

Uba Group

Last week, the political landscape in Nigeria may have experienced a minor seismic tremor after a public opinion poll commissioned by The Anap Foundation and conducted by NOI polls “unexpectedly” deemed the candidate of the Labour Party in next year’s presidential election, Peter Obi, to be ahead of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar, candidates of the All Progressives Congress and the People’s Democratic Party, respectively, thereby thrusting the former Anambra State Governor into the reckoning to occupy the highly coveted office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

And as much as the ruling and main opposition parties tried to defuse and downplay any “realistic” significance the poll could have on the bearings of the general election, some stakeholders are of the opinion that the result is a wake-up call to the heavyweight political parties to put their houses in order and feel the pulse of the masses who have been yearning for good governance.

In a press statement released on September 15, the President and Founder of Anap Foundation, Atedo Peterside, revealed that the presidential contest was a three-horse race between Obi, Tinubu and Atiku.

Peterside said the result of the polls showed a significant lead for Obi “with 21 percent of voters proposing to vote for him if the presidential election were to be conducted today” as against the 13 percent each for Tinubu and Atiku “who are both tied in second place,” and the New Nigeria People’s Party candidate, Rabiu Kwakwanso, referred to as the “dark horse”, coming in at fourth position with 3 percent of the votes polled.

Peterside also noted that notwithstanding Obi’s 8 percent lead at this stage being significant, it was “not sufficient to separate him completely” from Tinubu and Atiku, as both the ‘undecided voters’ and those who chose not to reveal their preferred candidates, who made up 32 and 15 percent, respectively, of the voters sampled, would ultimately decide which candidate would take the lead to emerge as the President.

It was because of this, Peterside said, the polls were inconclusive in terms of establishing a clear winner, as the undecided/swing voters were “large enough to turn the tables” should they decide to participate in the election.

As expected, the APC and the PDP took umbrage at the outcome of the polls, with the parties, not only rejecting the result, but saying it didn’t work in tandem with the reality on the ground.

According to the Director of Media and Publicity of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, Bayo Onanuga, the party was unperturbed by the outcome of the poll which it called “dubious” and “unreliable” statistics.

It also faulted similar polls conducted in 2014 and 2019 by NOI which didn’t seem to favour President Muhammadu Buhari, but who, nonetheless, was voted into power by Nigerians.

The APC Council claimed it knew the owners of NOI and where their political interests lie.

Onanuga disclosed that the ruling party was putting modalities in place to secure a high margin in the presidential election that would be too wide for anyone to contest.

On his part, spokesman for the Atiku Abubakar Presidential Campaign Organisation, Daniel Bwala, said the polls lacked credibility because the organisers failed to release the “sample size” and the “margin of error” which were vital when determining the accuracy of opinion polling.

Bwala also drew attention to the method of sampling. According to him, if it was obtained via phone calls, then those who didn’t have cell phones must have been excluded from the poll.

While making an assessment of where polling was carried out, Bwala said if it was online, Obi had a measure of people who were very active for him (online) much more than the other candidates.

He, however, stressed that “those who engaged for Obi” and who must have participated in the NOI polls, do not live in Nigeria or have Permanent Voters’ Cards. In his opinion, Obi would be ‘basking in the euphoria of hallucination” if he thought he had real followers.

Speaking to The Point, the Deputy National Organising Secretary of the PDP, Ighoyota Amori, said that Obi was relatively new on the political scene and shouldn’t be carried away by the result of the poll.
Amori also said the opinion poll by NOI could not be relied upon because it was not based on the political reality in Nigeria today.

“It’s a wakeup call for all, especially the youths. They have to come out to vote and walk out those ‘old guns’ that are overdue for retirement, but don’t want to retire”

“I read the news (about the polls) on social media that Peter Obi is ahead of every other Presidential candidate in Nigeria.

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“The result obtained by them is not based on political reality in Nigeria today. You cannot say that Obi of yesterday, who I don’t have anything against as a human, is over and above a party (PDP) that was in power for 16 years and even a party (APC) that has been in power for the last seven years.

“Obi, who left the PDP just ‘yesterday’, who was an aspirant under the PDP just ‘yesterday’, should not be carried away by the result of the poll.

Continuing, Amori described the organisers of the polls as “jobless individuals” and submitted that electioneering campaigns, which hadn’t started, went beyond people in a gathering clapping for a politician. He also insisted that anyone could carry out an opinion poll.

“Some jobless individuals conducted the polls without facts. Campaigns haven’t started. Let the campaigns start. Do you think it’s just a matter of being clapped for by people in the diaspora or any gathering?

“Let the campaigns start. Let people roll out their manifestos, to market themselves and parties to the Nigerian public, for them to choose from.

“You are a journalist. Your organisation can also conduct its own polls, but does that matter? So, let the campaigns start,” he said.

Also reacting, Fred Aigbadumah, a lawyer and political analyst, told The Point that opinion polls could not be relied upon in Nigeria because it does not reflect the political permutation that would take place before the election.

The legal luminary also said that the NOI poll was “mainly based on social media” which doesn’t win elections.

“It is far from reality. It cannot stand and does not suffice for us to conclude that’s the way the election will go,” he said.

Nonetheless, Aigbadumah said the result of the poll was “a wakeup call to all and sundry…both to the electorate and candidates, especially the presidential candidates.

He said the results of the poll also likely reflected “the state of mind of our youths” and was a “good sign.” He, therefore, enjoined the youths to come out en masse to vote out those he called “old guns.”

“You know that if we really have to face reality, the results, to a large extent, reflect the state of mind of our youths, especially the voting population.

“But you know, it is one thing for them to come out with such an opinion and it’s a different thing altogether to come out and vote. It’s a wakeup call on all, especially the youths. They have to come out to vote and walk out those ‘old guns’ that are overdue for retirement, but don’t want to retire. So, it’s a good sign,” he noted.

Asked to comment on Obi being ahead of the PDP that was in power for 16 years, and whether the predictions of the pollsters would come to pass, Aigbadumah said, “If we’re to take the example of what happened in Kenya recently, it does not even need any miracle for it to happen.

“If the people will come out to vote and if their votes will be allowed to count, anything is possible. It is, therefore, not a question whether you have ruled for a hundred years or millennia that matters, but are you doing the right thing? Should Nigeria be where she is today if the two parties that have been in power did the right thing?” he said.

On the allegation of bias leveled against NOI polls by the APC and what his thoughts on it were, he replied he would not be able “to say yes or no” to that. Aigbadumah said in spite of the allegation, the APC should be cautious of Obi’s rising profile, warning that “the falling down of the yellow leaf is a warning to the green one.”

A political analyst and APC chieftain, Moyo Jaji, who also spoke to our correspondent, called the credibility of the organisers of the poll into question.

Jaji said elections were not determined by “flights of fancy,” and based on certain considerations; people had already made up their minds about who they’d vote for.

His words: “With the kind of circumstances we are in, you need to check who the conductors of the polls are. Are they credible? Have they done an outstanding poll in the past one could rely on now?

“Nigerian elections are not determined by “flights of fancy.” People have already made up their minds as to where they’d be and this is conditioned by ethnic consideration, religious consideration and all other primordial considerations. So, to a very large extent, I don’t have so much faith in opinion polls, especially in Nigeria, given the circumstances we find ourselves,” Jaji said.

Asked if he agreed that Obi’s growing popularity was responsible for the results of the poll, Jaji said “polling booths are not found on the internet.”

Jaji observed that some people were known to have allowed others to be on the internet doing their bidding. He also said instead of making “educated guesses” with the help of opinion polls, the antecedents of the candidates involved should be considered.

“As a political analyst, I will tell you that we don’t have polling booths on the internet. I could also afford to let 10,000 people be on the internet doing what I like…or, I could be using different machines…maybe five machines, to conduct the same poll to give me a predetermined result.

“But we need to consider all the antecedents of all the people (candidates) involved. Through that, we can come to an educated guess, not necessarily by whatever polls result.

“Because, until we go to the polls, nobody can conclusively say this is the way it (political contest) is going. That’s why we are campaigning. But like I said, polling booths are not on the internet. One should take such results with a pinch of salt,” Jaji declared.

Making his own assessment on the importance of opinion polls, a chieftain of the PDP in Edo State, Ogbeide Ifaluyi-Isibor, said that polls, though not 100 percent accurate, were a reflection of the thoughts and wishes of the people. He said all over the world, people relied on them because they gave “a semblance of what the people are thinking.”

Ifaluyi-Isibor noted that contrary to what the APC said about the NOI polls being conducted in 2014 and 2019 with its predictions failing, various polls conducted at the time had actually predicted a close contest between former president Jonathan and incumbent president, Buhari, with any of the two predicted to win by a narrow margin.

“Opinion polls are a reflection of the thoughts and wishes of the people. So, whether it’s in Nigeria or abroad, they are relied upon because they (polls) give you a semblance of what the people are thinking.

“They might not all be accurate, but they give you an idea of the direction people are tilting towards, and to be honest with you, opinion polls have always been around and played a major role in our politics.

“I remember in 2014, between President Goodluck Jonathan and Buhari. All opinion polls that were conducted at the time were really very close and predicted that any of the two candidates could win by a narrow margin. Some predicted that Jonathan was going to win by a narrow margin while others predicted that Buhari could also win by a narrow margin, and at the end of the day, that was how the election played out…Buhari eventually won by a narrow margin.

“So, opinion polls may not be 100 percent accurate, but they have a semblance of accuracy that has guided the society on whatever issue the opinion was originated for,” Ifaluyi-Isibor said.

On the pronouncement by the APC and PDP that the results were a reflection of social media and not reality on the ground, the grassroots politician said, “When a man is defeated, he is going to hang on whatever he can to save his face. Even if we are going to say that it’s a reflection of social media, are there aliens on social media?

“If the social media played no role, why are the APC and PDP spending so much money on social media ads and campaigns to get more followers there?

“Had it been any of them (APC, PDP) won, they would tell you that these are Nigerians, but because they lost, they are blaming social media.

The Production Engineering graduate from the University of Benin further stated that nobody should take for granted the opinions made on social media “because those people are human beings, they’re Nigerians and a bulk of them are eligible voters.

Ifaluyi-Isibor recounted what happened when the Obidient movement started, “When Peter Obi started his movement, they said it’s just a social media thing, it will die down when the European Champions League or Big Brother Naija start. Both started but the Obidient movement was even more vocal.

“They (opposition) came again and said it was Nigerians in the diaspora who have no PVCs. But then they started seeing the Obidient walks in different parts of the country. They’re equally seeing the turnout of people and they are saying these are just ‘young’ people.

“So, the narrative has been shifting. From ‘it’s just social media’ to ‘it’s just the diasporans’ to ‘it’s just young people,’ the two main parties have suddenly become opposition parties. I’m saying ‘opposition’ because for 2023, the LP appears to be the dominant party.

Ifaluyi-Isibor said the APC, PDP and NNPP were now acting like opposition parties because their various spokespersons were coming on national televisions to talk about Obi. According to Ifaluyi-Isibor, “If Obi was so insignificant, if his supporters are merely on social media and don’t have PVCs, why is everybody bothered about PO?

“So, it is not true that it’s a social media thing. It is a reflection of what Nigerians are saying and wherever you go, for every five persons you ask, at least three are Obidients,” he stressed.

On the allegation by the APC and PDP about the poll being biased, Ifaluyi-Isibor urged the political parties to conduct their own polls if they were disgruntled with the results.

“The NOI polls biased? How? Was it organised by members of the LP? If they say they know the owners, conduct your own polls and let us see the outcome. There’s nothing that will be conducted on or offline that will tilt towards Asiwaju or Atiku,” he claimed.