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The phenomenon of Peter Obi in the 2023 presidential campaign — By Emeka Ugwuonye

5 min read

Peter Obi, Bola Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar

The Nigerian citizens, particularly voters, have never been mobilized or energized as they are today in preparation for the 2023 presidential elections. Thanks to the personality of Peter Obi, former Governor of Anambra State and former vice presidential candidate under the PDP.

Resigning from PDP and joining the relatively unknown Labor Party turned out a huge shift both for Obi and the average Nigerian voters. For Obi, it placed him on the commanding heights of his party, where he was clearly the most prominent member and its natural leader. And for the poor and frustrated masses of Nigeria, it gave them an instant alternative to the two main parties, so much disliked by the common man.

Obi’s emergence as the presidential candidate and leader of the Labor Party went beyond offering a mere alternative to the voters. Everything in life is relative and we constantly compare the options. So, inevitably, Obi as a candidate, has been compared with the other major candidates and he comes out in shining colors. His record as Governor of Anambra State is clearly unmatched by the record of his opponents in public office. While Obi has shown prudence in the use of public funds, his opponents are badly stained by reputation for greed and corruption.

Naturally, Obi has become the symbol of resistance and a rallying point for millions of Nigerians who saw no future in the status quo. He is the hope of the hopeless and the strength of the weak. If you want to measure the degree of frustration among Nigerians, you only need to watch the blinding passion and devotion of the Obi faithful. They are so attached to the hope of Obi presidency that only very few of them have the time or patience to pause and wonder about the means of achieving their wish. Indeed, many do not realize that it is still only a wish – the wish that Obi would become the president of their desire. It has been like a beautiful dream, which no one wants to wake up from.

But as time goes on, we approach the wake-up moment. For Obi, that moment will come when he moves from those great personal qualities that endear him to the people and start planning on how to confront or resist the aggressive actions of his opponents, which are aimed at stopping him. We have seen a few of such recently. The APC Governor of Kaduna State, clearly worried about Obi’s rising popularity in his State, used the security forces to stop a rally planned by the supporters of Obi. Also, the APC Governor of Ebonyi State used the police to scatter a gathering of Obi’s supporters in his State. The same thing happened even in a more friendly Delta State. Yet, the real campaign season is months away. At some point, Obi supporters must realize that they need the capacity to resist or to counter these aggressive tendencies.

For a country as badly derailed as Nigeria, it will take more than the good character of one man outside government to change much. Obi’s presidency promises a massive transformation almost like the end of Apartheid in South Africa. The most powerful 3% of Nigerians who are comfortable and thriving under the current system that Obi promises to replace will resist him, naturally, once it dawns on them that Obi would become the new reality. And, as all over human history, the top 3% of the populations usually commands more resources and power than the rest. Obi cannot displace that large power base without some resistance from the most powerful He must make a deal to appease them or he must fight and defeat them. And he can’t fight them and can’t defeat them.

We saw a similar development during the last days of Apartheid. Before the ANC could come to power, there was a long period of negotiation between the white powerful minority and the ANC that represented the majority black population of South Africans. The negotiations were in order to find a way to appease the powerful minority in order for it to allow the powerless majority to lead their country. In the present Nigerian scenario, though significantly different, Obi’s supporters expect that there would be elections that would automatically displace the powerful minority and enthrone the powerless majority. This is largely unrealistic. On the other hand, if Obi comes to power and leaves the most powerful 3% untouched and allow them to retain their control over the economy, the followers of Obi will cry foul and that will be the end of Obi revolution. They will stone him.

What it will take Obi to rule Nigeria requires far more than his personal credentials and his good reputation for honesty and simplicity. He needs the muscle to resist or counter the powerful minority. He needs the diplomacy. He needs the goodwill and support of the powerful nations of the world who have the ability to guarantee free and fair elections, and demand for the election result to be released. Obi needs those factors to be able to rule Nigeria.

Presently, Obi’s party has not been able to field candidates for half of the available electable offices. His party has no Governor, no member of the national assembly, no member of state assembly. It is also fair to say they are not represented at the top levels of any institution. They are heavy at the tail, but light at the head. How you can win the presidency with such statistics still baffles one. The only option is to join the sober supporters of Obi in seeking for God’s intervention and a miracle. But to acknowledge that it will take a miracle for Obi to win and be able to rule is an admission that the objective factors are not in his favour.

Unless Obi and his team are able to change operational tactics soon, the situation can be described as Nigerian youths being in a beautiful dream of Obi presidency, but soon to wake up to the ugly reality of Tinubu or Atiku. And that will be sad indeed for this country. That will be hope badly dashed.

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