What 2023 election has revealed to Nigeria politics since Mr. Peter Obi entered the presidential race was unprecedented. The old guards — PDP and APC were preping their campaign jingles on the usual rhetorics of humongous promises of unrealistic projects. But as the Youths (with yours sincerely in frontline) through various means including media call-outs brought in the third force personified in Peter Obi, the nation’s sociopolitical ecosystem never remained the same.
The question of antecedents and previous track records of each of the foremost contestants took the centre stage. In providing answers to this question, Party relevance got diminished while the persona of individual candidates became illuminated more. Bluntly put, Party doesn’t matter any longer. The credibility of each candidate does.
This was why some legion of young people across various spheres of life and spectre of both social and traditional media who promote the candidacy of Mr. Obi labelled themselves as “OBI-dients”(in other words, they’re loyalists of Obi’s ambition). This doesn’t confer Labour Party membership on them.
This sort of youth pressure group didn’t just start in this particular election season. It was a work in gradual progress from 2015 as young Nigerians (who command the largest voting bloc) tried over the past decade to have their say in shaping the country’s politics. Though it wasn’t clearly spelt out as it is now, the crusade began in 2015 when President Goodluck Jonathan was ousted. Voting population of Youths up North were interested in General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd), more than they were in his Party. And so they voted for him more than they did for APC. They saw the party as mere vehicle to convey their man to Aso Rock They loosely called themselves “Buharists.” Down south, the votes were shared between supporters of then incumbent President Jonathan and promoters of Bola Tinubu’s dynasty that was expanding to the center.
When Buhari performed below their expectations, they rose again in more pronounced volumes, this time across both North and South geopolitical divide. Tossed between the devil and deep blue sea, in the buildup to 2019 election, they choose former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar. The code name “Atikulated” was crafted to define their preference of his candidacy. Seeing that Buhari’s electoral goodwill is waning with the speed of light, his spin doctors advised him not to sign the amended electoral bill which would have made rigging 2019 election more difficult, into law till after the election.
The “Atikulateds” took the games to them, but where unlucky to lose. Unable to bear the weight of maladministration till the next election, the youths aggregated to stamp a protest against bad governance with the code name: #EndSARS in October 2020. The civilian tyranny called “Buhari government” used genocidal brute force to disperse them, leaving a memoir of #Lekki massacre.
Pre -2023, the surviving chunk of these young people saw that the president had bowed to pressure and signed the bill into law. And so, they became bolder and espoused national appeal. They searched for a man of proven character to project for the highest political office in the land. And they didn’t scout long to locate Mr. Peter Obi (a supposedly PDP reject) and literally drafted him to run on their behalf. They began series of crowdfunded “one-million match” for him through out the 36 states and the FCT. Within few weeks of winning the Labour Party presidential ticket, Mr. Obi’s popularity surpassed those of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Dr. Alex Ekwueme — Nigeria’s first President and first Vice President respectively.
Prior to his emergence, no Igbo politician has had trans-regional acceptance across the country than Azikiwe and Ekwueme. But then he is up against titanic politicians who have ‘structures’ with overwhelming advantage of incumbency. This didn’t deter the “Obidients.” The kept the push. Six months into their crusade, they gleefully announced that Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Afenifere, and Meddle Belts Forum as well as Northern Elders Forum (NEF) are all Obidients. Heavy stalwarts like former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Pa Adebanjo, former SGF — Babachir Lawal, Gov. Ortom professed “Obidience” too
The other two camps — PDP and APC went to town with the gospel of what their candidates did when they held public elective offices in the past. “Tinubu built men.” said APC. “Atiku rejigged national economy” sauntered PDP. But Obi was the only one who met his State in bricks and left it in gold with no stain of corruption allegations.
The other two gentlemen left with baggage of poor governance, with Tinubu being accused of “making men” he used to perpetuate his unwholesome hold unto power and conduits into the Lagos state treasury. Atiku’s henchmen claimed he was in charge of national economic council, a monthly meeting which Oby Ezekwesili said was mere conventional convergence of 36 state governors chaired by the vice president, with little or no mandate that bothers on economic stimulus. But the most prominent position of trust he headed — Privatization of public companies he was accused of brazen nepotism.
Of the six previous general elections conducted in Nigeria, none gave rise to fierce scrutiny into the past and present of the candidates than this one, all promoted by the competency demands of the youths. A certain David Hundeyin, even went through rigors to release an investigative journalism report alleging Tinubu to be an illicit drug dealer — “Nigerian Pablo Escobar” according to Sen. Dino Melaye. APC dung deep to unravel Atiku’s phone conversation proving his use of special purpose vehicles (SPVs) to launder money during his time as vice president. All thanks to the uncommon entrance of Obi into the games and the relentless demands of the Nigeria’s youth population who are “Obidient.”
Now, where do the young people go from here? What does the future hold for them if (saying without conceding) Peter Obi loses? In the case that he wins but didn’t meet expectations, what will be their fate? What if he loses the election? Will they still mutter the courage to keep hope alive and wait for the next four years or will their enthusiasm be exhausted?
What if in the next four years, Mr. Obi refuses to run, as he has proved not to be a mercantile politician? Will the youths gas out? We saw the example of Raggae music, which was literally invented to fight human oppression and advocate for social justice. It flourished in Africa during apartheid. But when it was toppled and Mandela became president, the music genre receded into oblivion. Will this youth crusade take similar route, should an Obi presidency engender quality leadership and offer the nation a formidable template for prosperity like Lee Kuan Yew did?
This is where the true test of their zeal rests. Will they keep the fire burning or succumb to stolkholm syndrome.
If (as can be seen) they were driven by genuine patriotism, no power or frustration on earth can suffocate either them or their lofty ideas. The tragedy of being the most populous and naturally endowed black nation on earth, and still remain the poorest should be enough stimulus to propel them on, even when there is no sign of light at the end of the tunnel as President Buhari promised in his broadcast from Addis Ababa last week.
May daylight spare us!
© Jude Eze
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