It appears the camps of top contenders for the next President of Nigeria, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and Atiku Abubakar, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are concerned over the growing popularity of the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi, among the youth.
The general election in Nigeria is scheduled to hold, February 2023 but as expected in every election cycle, political shenanigans have already commenced ahead of campaigns scheduled to officially begin on September 28, 2022, according to Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) timetable.
Since the return of democracy in 1999, the presidential election has always been a two horse race between the PDP and APC. While former Lagos state governor, Tinubu and former vice president, Abubakar are seen as the main contenders in the upcoming election, it appears it will be a different scenario in 2023, with the entrance of Labour Party’s Obi.
Obi served as the Governor of Anambra State between 2006 and 2014 under the platform of the All Progressive Grand Alliance. In 2014, months after handing over to Willie Obiano, the former governor defected to the PDP. He was the vice-presidential candidate in 2019 to Atiku Abubakar. After Atiku lost to President Muhammadu Buhari, Obi who’s desperate to make Nigeria work again, in March, 2022, declared interest to run for presidency in 2023 under the platform of PDP, a position his former principal Atiku is also jostling for.
Three days before the PDP presidential primaries held on May 28, Obi defected to Labour Party, and became the presidential candidate of the Party. Since he became LP flagbearer for the 2023 presidential poll, Obi has not only popularised the party, the support for him has grown tremendously with many youth pledging to work for his victory. He’s emergence also gave rise to defections from the ruling APC and main opposition PDP to the LP.
As his popularity grows, the proverbial “Third Force” in Nigerian politics is making itself heard again. The idea of a third force has become a recurrent phenomena in every general election cycle since the successful merger in 2013 that metamorphosed into what is today known as the All Progressive Congress (APC).
However, in 2019, that did not succeed largely because many of the so-called ‘third force’ candidates were perceived to be elements sponsored by either the PDP or APC.
While some are wondering if Obi can really topple the two-party consensus that has defined Nigerian politics since 1999, it can be said that much of the growing support for Obi among a cross section of disaffected young people is born out of understandable frustration with the system, specifically the fact that the presidential candidates of the two main political parties, are perceived as symbolizing the business as usual brand of politics that has led the country to the brink of economic collapse.
The economic hardship is hitting hard, and people are blaming the two major parties for this situation, given that both have ruled the country at various times without improving the standard of living of people, hence the possibility of a third force phenomenon gives many Nigerians hope.
Again, the disaffection of youth for the current government and Obi’s emergence is believed to be the reason for upsurge in the number of applicants for Permanent Voters Card (PVCs).
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which just concluded its Continuous Voter’s Registration (CVR) exercise across the country in its latest report disclosed that about 71% percent of the 12.2 million newly registered voters are youth.
Most of the youth rushing to the INEC centres for registration said via many social media platforms that they are for Obi to change the status quo as represented by APC and PDP. Obi’s supporters, known as the “Obi-dients” believe he and his running mate Datti Baba-Ahmed are the chosen one to make Nigeria better.
As the 2023 general election draws closer, the three major political parties, APC, PDP and LP, are currently strategising to convince youth, who constitute the larger percentage of the voting population on why they should vote for them. Part of those campaign strategies can come in form of criticisms, fault finding, blame games to garner votes.
While there are 15 other presidential candidates jostling for the number one seat in the country, only Obi’s name is on the lips of the ruling APC and main opposition PDP.
At first ‘Obi-dients’ were dismissed as social media ‘keypad warriors’ who cannot be able to deliver victory for the labour party come 2023, but the massive love and support he’s getting from the youth both on and off social media has made the two major political parties realize he’s a force to be reckoned with, and hence has become a topic of discussion.
Recent Comments, Jabs, Altercations
Last month, PDP presidential candidate, Atiku downplayed the possibility of Obi winning the 2023 presidential election.
The former Vice President, while appearing on Arise TV was of the view that it would take a miracle for Obi to win the 2023 presidential election because, according to him, 90 percent of Northerners are not on social media.
He also said Obi made a mistake leaving the PDP as his new party LP has no structure at the grassroots level to ensure victory in 2023.
Also, former Senator representing Kogi west and Atiku’s spokesman, Dino Melaye, claimed Obi was not known nationally until Atiku “identified him”.
Another close ally of Atiku and former aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Reno Omokri is well known for his new dislike for Obi. Omokri via his various social media handles always stresses why Nigerians should vote for Atiku and not Obi or Tinubu.
An instance can be seen in one of his numerous posts, where he claimed that the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) hiding under the ‘Obidients’ advocates, are plotting to kill him for daring to make comments on the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP) Obi, which they found uncomplementary.
For the ruling party, the APC presidential candidate, Tinubu at the party’s mega rally for Osun state gubernatorial election last month, mocked labour party members, saying they will labour in vain till they die.
Recently, Tinubu’s campaign organisation had called on the LP candidate to rein in his supporters, who it accused of spreading fake news about its candidate. In a statement by Bayo Onanuga, the Director of Media and Communications, in the Tinubu Campaign Organisation, the appeal followed a false report purporting that Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo wrote a letter to Tinubu, asking him to support Obi and focus on his health.
Akufo-Addo denounced the development via his official Twitter account, saying it was a product of deliberate mischief with the intent to deceive the public.
From the ongoing, it is clear, the problem is that nobody predicted the national acceptance of Obi and his phenomenally growing chances of emerging as the country’s President in 2023.
Both Tinubu and Obi, are from the southern part of the country and Abubakar is the major contender from the north. And as recently predicted by an APC chieftain, Hillard Etta, Obi who, according to him, is the paradigm APC need to deal with, is going to eat up the PDP votes in South South and South East, leaving APC and Labour Party to contend for votes in South South and South East.
He said, “Obi is popular in the metropolitan Abuja, metropolitan Lagos, but in the rural areas of Nigeria – people in Zungeru or in Zanko Kataf, ask them about Obi, most of them will mistaken him for a spare parts trader. The truth is Obi is a phenomenon in the South South, South East, metropolitan Abuja, Lagos on Facebook, Instagram and U-tube.”
Probably, this is what is creating nightmares from the other camps. However, Obi has reacted to every jabs, assumptions and allegations against him in a very gentlemanly and noble manner expected of an aspiring President. His party recently held its first summit of the Obi-Datti support groups at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, where they gathered to familiarise and further map out strategies for coordination of their national wide directorates.