By Kola King
The former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi is a contrarian, and not the typical politician. He’s a maverick politician. His style is refreshingly simple and organic. He served for two terms as governor bringing prudence, transparency, and accountability to government business. His simplicity and humility have endeared him to many Nigerians who are all too familiar with the political class who display excesses, opulence, and crass opportunism at every turn. In general, politics in this clime is seen as an avenue for state capture, or put simply, corruption, which explains why there’s no distinction between government finances and private money. During his tenure as governor, Obi is reputed to have handled government finances with prudence and foresight. According to reports, there was appreciable progress in the area of healthcare, education, infrastructural development, and security among others during his time. For him, politics means service delivery to the electorate. In this regard, Obi is the direct opposite of the typical Nigerian politician. In a nutshell, Obi’s vision and mission are to restore ethics, hard work, and productivity, and to reduce consumption. In short, he wants to put Nigeria back to work.
His first foray into the presidential race was in 2019 as a vice-presidential candidate on the ticket of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who was the standard-bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Before porting to the Labour Party, Obi had picked the 40 million naira presidential nomination forms of the PDP but sensing that the race had been heavily monetised and compromised he jumped ship and subsequently picked the presidential ticket of the Labour Party.
Most politicians had dismissed him as a nonstarter, writing him off as a presidential wannabe. Besides, he was derided for leaving the PDP, and in the estimation of his political foes, he was actually heading towards inevitable defeat and disgrace in the presidential primary of the PDP before his shock defection to Labour Party. Also, despite clamour for a president of Southeast extraction, PDP governors in that region and other political grandees there had turned their backs on Obi, leaving him to his own devices. However, it is to his advantage that his entry into the race is being propelled by youths, women, and general compatriots rather than a narrow ethnic agenda. Still, not only did Obi join Labour Party but the presidential ticket was conceded to him by Professor Pat Utomi, the brain behind the third force that aims to wrest power from the two main parties. Since his foray into Labour Party, he has galvanized the moribund party and breathed new life into it. Obimania started like a spark of bushfire but it has suddenly turned to wildfire in harmattan, with tongues of fire, as it were, leaping and threatening to bring down the tower of impunity and corruption that has characterized our national politics over the years.
The Obi phenomenon has turned into a national movement with the youths being the arrowhead and vanguard of this unique phenomenon that has taken Nigerian politics by storm. They are all over social media with the Obi agenda. Generally, Obi is perceived as a man with vision and gravitas capable of turning things around. On the other hand, his detractors have scoffed at him, saying he has no structures. But what’s the meaning of structure in Nigerian politics. It simply means thuggery, vote-buying, ballot snatching, and bullion vans. But for Obi, the most important structure is the people, especially the thousands of jobless youths, the poor, and the dispossessed. By his foray into the presidential race, Obi has assumed the status of a folk hero and tribune of the underclass and underprivileged. For him, the millions of Nigerian youths who are jobless, those on compulsory holiday due to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) strike action, and millions of the dispossessed are the structures he relies upon to win the presidential ticket.
With Obi riding on the crest waves of youth’s discontent and with a host of celebrities mobilizing for him, the main political parties, APC and PDP, are confounded by this political upstart that appears determined to shake the political status quo to its foundation. By repudiating the monetization of the political process, especially the party primaries, Obi has seemingly wormed his way into the hearts and minds of the youths and many compatriots. Thus it came as no surprise that youths have shown more than a keen interest in politics. In fact, Obi has started a revolution that may create an upset in the upcoming general elections, and with the possibility of a run-off election. Taken together, the power of Obi’s vision and mission has gingered the youths to get their Permanent Voters Cards (PVC) in order to change the status quo. Because of this, thousands of youths have been trooping out to collect their PVCs determined to bring about a positive change. For this reason, INEC has had to extend the closing date of registration for PVC, citing an upsurge of voters eager to register.
For the youths, Obi represents the spark plug for the great reawakening of a hitherto dormant but powerful force in society. This powerful force was demonstrated during the #EndSARS protests in 2020. Also, taking a cue from the youths, the Church is now in the vanguard of registration for voters cards as the laity have been advised to perform their civic duty by getting their voters cards. Whether youths on social media will be able to translate all their support for Obi into votes in real life will depend on their turnout during the elections.
The Obi phenomenon can be likened to the Buhari momentum in 2015 when he captured the imagination of the nation with his spartan lifestyle and discipline in contradistinction to the then-ruling PDP that had come to symbolize corruption, waste, impunity, and gross mismanagement of the national patrimony. Though Obi and Buhari are polar opposites. Their economic viewpoints are diametrically opposed but he shares Buhari’s spartan lifestyle and discipline. While the Buhari persona has taken a hit over the years, disrobing the myth for what it is, on his part, Obi has demonstrated that he’s not an ethnic champion and has broken free of the ethnic cocoon and stretched his hands across the east-west road and across the River Niger. Besides, Obi harps on the ethos of hard work and productivity as the surefire prescription for economic revival. Moreover, Obi is very parsimonious and would prefer to spend on worthy causes rather than fritter money away on frivolities. We have the testimony of Bianca Ojukwu, widow of Ikemba Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu on this score.
In some respects, the power of Obi’s persona was recently demonstrated when Rev Father Ejike Mbaka of the Adoration Ministry, Enugu called out Obi as a stingy man and that he was not destined to win the presidential elections. No sooner did Mbaka make his declaration than he felt the full weight of Obi’s footsoldiers who descended on him and took him to the cleaners. The fury of the youths seemingly neutralized Mbaka’s damaging outburst and was the reason why Mbaka made a U-turn. The youths had turned the table against Mbaka. So Mbaka quickly recanted, apologized, and prayed for Obi’s success at the polls. Mbaka has rendered an unreserved apology to the Church and Mr. Peter Obi. Now Mbaka is in hot water and has received his comeuppance as the Catholic Bishop of Enugu Diocese, Bishop Callistus Onaga has closed down the Adoration Ministry and suspended him as well. All this was a fallout from Mbaka’s outburst against Obi.
Having said all this, can a tidal wave of youthful fury and anger at the status quo sweep Obi into the sanctum sanctorum of power? It’s a long shot. Even if he falls short, he should rest assured that he has started a movement that would wrest power sooner than later from the rearguard politics that has held Nigeria down for so long. Today, Obi carries in his pouch the hopes and dreams of youths and millions of compatriots eager for a new Nigeria built on equity, justice, and fairness.