DIRISU YAKUBU writes about the game-changing performance of the candidate of the Labour Party in the just-concluded presidential election, Peter Obi, who polled over six million votes
What started as a joke a few months ago has morphed into a national movement labelled by many as the third force expected to produce a new government in the next few years.
Not many gave him a chance when on May 24, 2022, he communicated to the leadership of Nigeria’s largest opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, his intent to resign his membership in pursuit of a presidential ambition on the platform of another party.
For Peter Obi, the enigmatic political figure loved by the young and the old in equal measure, the move meant it was time to unchain himself from the shackles of politics of the old order.
Riding on the wave of mass support, symbolised largely by youths tired of the system that had seen them toil for years with little to show for it, Obi, presidential candidate of the Labour Party in the just-concluded poll, has demonstrated the inelastic power inherent in true love. Spending less than a fraction of what the President-elect, Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party spent during the campaigns, Obi won in 12 states including Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory.
A few weeks before election, many pundits wrote him off, citing his “no shishi” (a candidate not given to monetary inducement) disposition as the reason only a few would eventually vote for him. How wrong they were!
His “no shishi” political philosophy singlehandedly changed the national campaign landscape where hitherto politicians used to shamelessly share money, foodstuffs, clothing, etc. Every politician became extremely careful not to be caught dolling out cash or gift of any kind to persuade voters to support him.
Born on 19 July 1961, Peter is partly Okonkwo, the main character in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart as his fame “rested on solid personal achievements.” At a relatively young age of 61, Obi has brought honour to the nation’s politics through a combination of hard work, honesty and records uncommon with politicians in this part of the world. Obi is integrity personified.
An alumnus of the prestigious Christ The King College, Onitsha, Obi studied at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, bagging a degree in Philosophy in 1984.
His quest for more academic laurels further took him to the London School of Economics and Columbia Business School, earning postgraduate degrees in Financial Management/ Business Policy and Marketing Management respectively.
Obi’s resignation from the PDP and pitching tent with a less fancied, less respected and less formidable Labour Party saw a meteoric rise in his political fortune. Few politicians and naysayers gave him a chance given the popularity of the two candidates of the political behemoths, the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party.
To worsen matters, Obi’s home state governor, Charles Soludo, came short of writing the former Anambra State governor off when he declared the race a two-horse contest between Tinubu and Atiku.
Obi’s huge support base derives in part from the sundry youth groups made up of artisans, students, musicians, entertainers and social media influencers who deployed their mastery of social media to drum up support for him.
Unlike the support base of Atiku and Tinubu who were waiting for “logistics” to hit the streets to mobilise for their candidates, Obi’s supporters who dubbed themselves as ‘Obi-dients” used their personal resources to sell the LP’s manifesto to Nigerians.
On Twitter and Facebook, Obi-dients held several educational sessions, enlightening Nigerians on the dangers of pitching tents with the old order. Many heeded the message, which culminated in his impressive outing on Saturday.
Peter Okoye, one half of the P-Square musical group literally put his life into the Obi project, earning himself commendation and condemnation in the process. His fallout with Seun Kuti, a fellow musician and son of late Afrobeat founder Fela Kuti, readily comes to mind.
Worthy of mention too is Mr Macaroni, skit superstar, who never hesitated to remind anyone who cared to listen that he was for Obi in rain and shine.
With the political stage set, Obi kept his eyes on the ball towards the goalpost. He had garnered a worthwhile experience as a two-term governor of Anambra State. He was not a neophyte in the management of political stardom.
Peter Obi had contested the governorship election in Anambra state in 2003 on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance and ‘lost’ to PDP’s Chris Ngige. He challenged the victory in court and almost three years later, he was declared the authentic winner of the poll.
Seven months in the saddle, he was impeached in controversial circumstances. Not one to give up without a fight because of his belief in the rule of law, the soft-spoken Philosopher-King sought legal redress in court, leading to the nullification of the impeachment by the Court of Appeal on 9 February 2007.
In 2010, he won a second term in office beating PDP’s Charles Soludo (incumbent Anambra state governor).
Questions have been asked about who truly is the authentic political leader of the Igbo nation after the demise of Chukwuemeka Ojukwu. With many Ndi Igbo laying claims to that title, it was to Obi that Atiku Abubakar turned to in 2019 for his choice of running mate when he ran against Muhammadu Buhari in the presidential election of that year.
Full of experience and hindsight, as skeletal preparations for the 2023 presidential election began, Obi was quick to realise that the process for the selection of the party’s candidate would be anything but transparent in the PDP.
As a result, he communicated his intention in writing to the Iyorchia Ayu-led National Working Committee to resign from the party. He subsequently joined the Labour Party in a defection that can be described as one of the smartest political moves in Nigeria’s recent political history. Soon after joining, highly respected Pat Utomi, a Professor of Political Economy perished his presidential ambition for Obi, a huge testament to the latter’s rising popularity.
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As can be seen from the February 25 Presidential election, those who wrote him off were forced to have a rethink when at the end of collation, Obi polled a total of 6, 093, 962 votes in 12 states comprising Edo, Cross River, Delta, Lagos, Plateau, Benue, Imo, Ebonyi, Nasarawa, Anambra, Abia and Enugu states.
It is shocking that the so-called behemoths, Tinubu and Atiku, barely managed to win the same number of states.
Obi’s 25 per cent score of total votes cast has been interpreted as a statement of intent as many see him as a future president if he sustains the tempo.
Meanwhile, the Vice presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Datti Baba-Ahmed, who worked tirelessly with Obi with the aim of changing the face of governance in the country one and for all, has vowed to seek legal means to contest the electoral process that produced the president-elect, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
Baba-Ahmed made the pledge at a press conference held at the party’s national headquarters in Abuja on Wednesday.
A livid Baba-Ahmed stated that LP was determined to fight the injustice that dashed the hope of distraught Nigerians through all legal and peaceful means.
This is even as the LP presidential campaign council claimed that the manner the Independent National Electoral Commission hurriedly announced the results and gave out Certificates of Return to both Tinubu and his running mate, Senator Kashim Shettima, reeks of collusion.
The development is coming barely 24 hours after Tinubu was announced as the winner of Saturday’s presidential poll.
The APC standard bearer polled 8,794,726 votes to defeat his closest rivals, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party and Labour Party’s Peter Obi by 6,984,520 and 6,101,533 votes respectively.
Baba-Ahmed decried that the election did not meet the minimum standard as prescribed by INEC guidelines and the Electoral Act 2022.
He said, “It is our position that the purported result did not meet the minimum criteria of a transparent, free and fair election. In addition to the most condemnable attacks, violence, voter intimidation and suppression, the election was conducted in clear violation of agreed and promised INEC rules and guidelines, the Electoral Act 2002 as amended, and indeed the Nigerian Constitution. As evident, the institutions of the state and leaders that were supposed to ensure the sanctity of the election, again and as in the past, collaborated and colluded to subvert the will of the good people of Nigeria.
“Please be assured of our determination to fight the injustice that has been perpetrated on Nigerians through all legal and peaceful means. While painful, we implore you to please remain peaceful and calm. As our fight and determination for a New Nigeria is just beginning, we equally encourage you all to continue with the campaigns and vote massively for Labour Party in the forthcoming governorship and states house of Assembly election on Saturday 11th March 2023.
“Our Principal, His Excellency, Mr Peter Obi, will in due course speak to you all and indeed the nation.”
In a related development, the Chief Spokesman for the LP Presidential Campaign Council, Yunusa Tanko, said the drama leading to the presentation of a certificate of return to Tinubu was a well-rehearsed script
“It was pre-planned. But, of course, we have just concluded a meeting with His Excellency Peter Obi and we are moving in our legal team who are compiling our pieces of evidence and results.
“There are other Civil Society Organisations planning to go on civil disobedience to show their displeasure in terms of seeking a political solution to the problem.
“The truth is that we are fighting the process and not necessarily those who have already been elected. The process must be fought to give resilience to those who hope to contest future elections. This level of impunity and shenanigans cannot be allowed to continue in our country. This is why this battle must be fought to a logical conclusion,” he stated.
On a call for a unity government in the new administration, Tanko said that the party was not interested in any of such moves.
He said, “We said that we are going to court. We are not interested in discussing anything on a government of national unity. What we have so far resolved is to head to the court for redress.”
Tinubu may have won the poll but there is no gainsaying that the President-elect is fated to live henceforth in fear of the “little boy” from Anambra who exposed his vulnerability in Lagos for the first time since the return to democracy. He beat the famous Jagaban in Lagos, his hitherto fortress.
That’s not all. The man who prides himself as the landlord of the FCT, Senator Philip Aduda, lost his tenancy of the Senate to Mrs Ireti Kingibe of the LP. Mrs Kingibe, a serial contestant of the FCT seat won only because Obi made it easier for voters to vote for anyone on the ballot on the platform of the Labour Party.
In the South-East, the quest of Governors Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and Okezie Ikpeazu to retire to the Senate after two terms in their respective Government Houses hit an impregnable wall as LP candidates won convincingly. The same for Abia State where the LP candidates had a field day by riding on the Obi fame.
In the South-South, Governor Ben Ayade’s impeccable English was not enough to win him a seat in the Senate. He lost to the Obi factor as were the likes of Tanko Al-Makura and Ndudi Elumelu amongst others.
He may have lost the election but only a political greenhorn will write off Obi going forward. Nigerians can’t wait for too long for this philosopher-king to take over the saddle at the centre to showcase the true essence of governance.