For purposes of clarity, the Nigerian Labour party is a national party interestingly registered by the Nigerian Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress. In that respect it is not a political party associated with any of the major or minor ethnic nationalities. Peter Obi is a Nigerian politician of Igbo descent, a former state Governor, and the PDP Vice Presidential candidate in the 2019 presidential elections. He recently defected from the People’s Democratic Party to join the Labour Party and won the Presidential ticket to lead the party in the forthcoming general elections. Since then, Peter Obi and the Labour Party has caught the imagination of a nation in despair, culminating in the mass political movement popularly referred to as Obi-dient.
WHAT IS GOING ON?
Nigeria is presently at a crossroad, in fact hanging on the precipice, with one leg over the cliff. It has long been predicted that Nigeria was at risk of implosion, but that prediction has recently evolved into reality, thanks to the abysmal record of President Buhari especially his mediocre management of the economy and the terrible mismanagement of Nigeria’s fragile ethnic and religious diversity. The currently severe levels of insurgency, banditry, criminality, bloodletting, and violent separatist agitations are all manifestations of a nation on the fringes of a failed state and simply waiting to implode if preventative action is not taken by the government. Democracy, universally acknowledged as the best arrangement to manage socio-economic and political problems has failed Nigeria. Nigeria’s democratic practice has failed to deliver the so-called dividends of democracy. Instead, the country is critically burdened with a broken economy, and a myriad of intractable issues capable of disintegrating any country. It is against the background of pervading hopelessness that many commentators have concluded that the 2023 general election is a make or mar election.
How did Nigeria get to this?
Nigeria has a turbulent history especially since 1966 when the cataclysmic events of that year resulted a terrible civil war that ended in 1970. Since the end of the civil war military regimes interspersed with democratic governance but as a summary the country’s democratic process remains a developing experiment but certainly has failed to produce positive dividends for the populace. The current democratic era started in 1999. In the 23 years of democratic practice, the process can only be described as an accomplice in producing, (in varying degrees) the most rapaciously corrupt, insensitive, inept, and brazenly uncaring political elite. The result is a country currently prostrate and hoping for a messiah. The last straw on a nation already lying hopelessly is the party primaries of the two major political parties, APC and PDP. Faced with the prospect of a daunting choice between two worn-out men in their late seventies, men with serious political baggage from their prominent roles in Nigeria’s debacle, the country is rising to the challenge of retrieving their country from the abyss. The vanguard of the movement to recover the country is the young and downtrodden, hitherto disempowered, intimidated, hoodwinked, and marginalised. The political awakening is palpable and cuts across the country’s ethnic and religious divide.
Peter Obi and the Labour Party is a direct challenge to the existing order. The new political consciousness is a rude shock to the system and apparently unexpected by the ruling political class. The response from the old order can be predictable. By Nigerian standard and practice the usual ethnic and religious template will be fully deployed to characterise the movement as an ethnic conspiracy. There are already signs that the movement is vulnerable to ethnicization and the ethnic group showing greater enthusiasm for the movement will be compromised and every negative stereotype associated with the group will be woven into it. By prioritising sustainable economic growth and welfare, Peter Obi is a new phenomenon in a country its politics is bedevilled by clueless politicians lacking in any body of ideas and direction. Obi and Baba-Ahmed have shown that they identify with the core ideological underpinnings of Labour movements which agrees with the main principles of a capitalist economy but also emphasises the welfare of the people. So far, they have shown a reasonable balance in reconciling the conflict that arises from Capital utilising Labour in creating wealth and pursuing a welfarist agenda. This is what is exciting the people.
Sooner or later, mischief makers will connect Peter Obi, the Labour party flag bearer to his much-stereotyped Igbo tribe. Unfortunately, the Igbos have acquired undeserved negative images and therefore a cross to carry since the turbulent years of the Nigerian civil war that ended in 1970. One of the allegations against the Igbo is that they have the tendency to dominate, just as they have dominated the commercial life of the country. Their undeniable economic prowess, so-called hubris, and obvious visibility all over the country makes them susceptible to suspicions of being a domineering ethnic group. Nigerian politics including the military era have marginalised the Igbos, but none has made it more obvious and irritatingly glaring as the current Buhari administration. It would not be surprising if commentators still stuck in the old political mindset resort to the ethnic interpretation of the new movement.
But I can say categorically that the new movement has nothing to do with ethnic agenda or any Igbo conspiracy. Let me also state categorically that the Igbos are not interested in the presidency of Nigeria as a matter of desperation. The Igbos have made gigantic strides in their personal and community lives, and they did so without government patronage. The Igbos were the last to be grafted into Nigeria and by the time the Igbo hinterland were conquered by the British circa 1910, many regions of Nigeria had lengthy periods of contacts with the Europeans and therefore had a huge head start in the vital areas of trade and modern education. In a surprising burst of energy in a matter of 4 decades, the Igbos caught up and surpassed other regions in all indices of modernity. The war set them back to Year zero in 1970, but within one decade they were competing again and within 4 decades rose to the current levels of economic supremacy. At each stage, the Igbos never required any government prop to stand. Instead, every obstacle presented a challenge to overcome.
What Igbos have always demanded is a fair and equitable nation, a level playing field that gives everyone the opportunity to achieve his or her potential and to excel. The Igbos naturally like to control their environment but not that of others and that is obvious in the way they have supported the presidential quest of other ethnic groups. Therefore, there is no obsessive desire by the Igbos to grab the Nigerian presidency, only as far the new awareness is for the enthronement of a just, equitable, fair, and well-ordered society to the benefit of all. A restructured Nigeria with appropriate constitutional structures of government and effective Bill of Rights will satisfy the Igbos.
Peter Obi is a decent and capable Nigerian and well-meaning Nigerians are clamouring for him, not because he is Igbo but due to the qualities they are gleaning from his personality, speeches, actions, and records in office. Obi is a successful businessperson with intimidating academic profile. Prior to going into politics and excelling as a state governor, he was already a billionaire with verifiable means of income. If his Igbo ethnic background is of any relevance, it is only in the sense that Peter Obi embodies and exudes those positive qualities of hard work, thrift, and unassumingly selfless service to society that has served the Igbos well in Nigeria. Labour party, Peter Obi and the new political movement is simply a Nigerian project.
Emmanuel Chigozie Osuchukwu is a Nigerian writer and author. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org