The Peter Obi Phenomenon

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With the massive pre-campaign rallies organised by the youths across the major cities in the country, which were not largely influenced by monetary inducements, the supporters of the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi, have elevated a political party without formidable structures to a mass movement, Ejiofor Alike writes

Political pundits were anxious to know the direction of a former Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi, when he announced in late May that he had dumped the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and had also withdrawn from the race for the party’s presidential ticket.

Director General of the Peter Obi Presidential Campaign Organisation, Dr. Doyin Okupe, had reportedly made the announcement after submitting a copy of Obi’s resignation letter to the PDP National Secretariat, Abuja.  His resignation from the party and withdrawal from the race came as a surprise as many believed that he was using the race to negotiate for the vice presidential ticket of the party. 

Obi was the running mate of Atiku Abubakar in 2019 when the former vice president contested the presidential election on the platform of the PDP. It was not surprising that when Obi indicated interest to vie for the presidential ticket of the party ahead of the 2023 general election, many analysts believed that he wanted to emerge as a running mate to Atiku.  This belief was fuelled by the fact that he had no formidable structure to stand on his own.

The former Anambra State governor, however, shocked analysts when he announced his resignation from the party. It then became obvious that he meant business and only withdrew from the race after having realised that he stood no chances to win the party’s ticket.

However, many argued that he should have remained in the party, no matter the odds against him.

Okupe had noted that he took the decision following recent happenings within the party. He, however, failed to disclose the happenings in the party that warranted his resignation.

The former Anambra State governor was one of the 15 presidential aspirants of the PDP.

Since Obi gave no reason for leaving the PDP, there were strong speculations that he left because the party’s national body connived with some leaders of the party in Anambra State to pull the carpet under his feet on the issue of delegate election in the state.  After he had announced his resignation from the PDP, political analysts and his supporters were anxious to know his next move. 

He did not keep his supporters waiting for too long as he announced his decision to join the Labour Party (LP) just barely three days after he quit the PDP. He announced his decision on his official Twitter account on May 27.

“…I have chosen a route that I consider to be in line with our aspirations and my mantra of taking the country from consumption to production; and that is the Labour Party which is synonymous with the people, workers, development, production, securing and uniting Nigerians as one family. I invite all Nigerians to join me in taking back our country. Be assured that I’ll never let you down,” he wrote.

“I thank all Nigerians, especially our youths who have joined me in the mission of taking back and reuniting Nigeria. This project is yours and for the future of your children. I am just a facilitator,” Obi added.

Obi’s political steps continued in quick succession as he also emerged as the party’s presidential candidate barely three days after he joined the party. He emerged as the party’s choice at its national convention and presidential primary in Asaba, the Delta State capital, after other aspirants stepped down for him. Those who stepped down were: Professor Pat Utomi; Faduri Joseph and Olubusola Emmanuel-Tella.

Despite the adoption of the LP for the 2023 presidential election by the Utomi-led National Consultative Front (NCFront), an umbrella body of the Third Force, in collaboration with Comrade Ayuba Wabba-led Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Comrade Quadri Olaleye-led Trade Union Congress (TUC), many still dismissed Obi, saying he had no formidable structure.

While speaking on ARISE NEWS Channel in July, Atiku had argued that Obi had no political structure that could guarantee him victory. He added that the former governor was expecting miracles, insisting that such miracle was difficult to come by.

A former governor of Abia State and Chief Whip of the Nigerian Senate, Orji Uzor Kalu, had also in September argued that Obi had no chance to win the 2023 election. According to Kalu, Obi did not have the kind of structure that could give him victory in the election.

Obi had earlier told critics who claimed that he had no formidable structure to clinch power next year that those making such assertion were referring to political structures of corruption and criminality which he doesn’t have and strongly abhors.

Speaking to Nigerians in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the United States on August 31, the LP presidential standard bearer said the type of structures that his critics were talking about involves bribery and corruption; and also sharing money to acclaimed political stakeholders to enlist their support and help in rigging election.

He argued that such structures do not take into consideration, the character and capabilities of the contestants in providing quality leadership which ultimately matters to the people.

No governor or former governor has identified with the LP but Obi’s supporters, mainly the youths have formed formidable structures to promote his presidential aspiration. So, while the PDP and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) boast of having governors, former governors, senators, members of House of Representatives and other prominent politicians as their members, LP boasts of having the Nigerian youths as its structure. These youths who are tired of what Obi had described structures of sharing money to stakeholders to rig elections, have organised unprecedented pre-campaign rallies across many states in the country to drum up support for Obi’s presidential aspiration. It is on record that several states stood still when these youths marched through their state capitals.

Obi’s critics, who had insisted that his support base was restricted to the internet, had mocked the LP presidential candidate, reminding him that elections were not conducted on the internet. But to demonstrate that it commands heavy physical presence in all the states, Obi’s support group, better known as Obi-dient Movement had locked down many Nigerian cities, sending cold chills down the spines of his political opponents.

Many of the prominent politicians who had dismissed him as paperweight are now singing different tunes, having realised that the youths that constitute the majority of the voting population are behind him. While some of his political opponents have called these youths all kinds of names, others are scared of speaking against them for fear of the backlash.

Today, this support base seems to be increasing, to the extent that polls are beginning to rate him far above other candidates.

The question is: Will the youths’ support for Obi as reflected on the internet and pre-campaign rallies also reflect on the number of votes he will garner in the February 2023 presidential poll? Time will tell.

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