When Emmanuel Macron broke through in French politics, it was because both major parties of government were in decline. Obi will be hoping that he has made the correct diagnosis of Nigeria’s own political landscape.
Obi has some substantial hurdles to clear in his route to the top job. He doesn’t belong to either the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) or the main opposition PDP. He hails from the southeast, Nigeria’s smallest voting bloc.
Although wealthy, he is not a spendthrift like your typical Nigerian politician. He is also not young and therefore not part of the ‘Sorosoke’ generation.
However, he enjoys major support from Nigeria’s youth – the largest demographic in Africa’s biggest democracy – and now hopes to galvanise this support into a revolution of sorts.
Can he pull it off?
This would not be the first time Obi would be attempting the seemingly impossible. In 2003, he left his job as the Chairman of Fidelity Bank – one of Nigeria’s leading banks – to run for governor of Anambra State on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), a new party founded by the late Biafra leader, Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, to challenge the ruling PDP.
Although Obi was well supported in the 2003 election, Dr. Chris Ngige of the PDP was declared the winner by the Independent National Electoral (INEC). Rather than accept his fate, Obi would not take no for an answer.
He challenged the PDP’s victory in court, seeking to be named the winner of that poll. The case dragged on for three years until he won, thereby becoming the first politician in the 4th Republic to become governor through a court judgement.
Obi is as stubborn as they come and unrelenting in his ideals. Barely seven months after he was inaugurated as governor, he was impeached by the Anambra State House of Assembly after a squabble over the budget and his attempt to destroy the rent-seeking system where the political class was given patronage and inflated contracts.
“They wanted to repair the office of the governor, which is my office, the approved budget for 2006 was N298m ($718,151), I repaired everything with N43.2m. They said I didn’t do it through due process, because they had awarded the contract,” he said.
However, Obi remained unperturbed as he sought help from the judiciary once more and his impeachment was overturned. A year later, Nigeria’s electoral body insisted on conducting a fresh governorship election in Anambra State, claiming that Obi was not entitled to four years in office since his predecessor had already served three before his ouster by the court.
INEC conducted an election and President Olusegun Obasanjo’s powerful aide, Andy Uba, of the PDP, was declared the winner and was inaugurated.
Again, Obi would not accept this. He challenged this development and in a landmark decision, the court ruled that every elected governor’s tenure is independent of his predecessor’s and no tenure should last for less than four years and that unlike legislative elections, all governors need not hold their elections at the same time.
Obi was asked to continue serving in office till March 2010. This set the precedent for off season elections in Nigeria.
Good governance advocate
After leaving office in 2014, Obi returned to private business and became an advocate for transparency in governance. During the 2016 Independence Day, he became a social media sensation after delivering a powerful lecture at The Platform, a symposium organised by the Covenant Christian Centre church in Lagos.
If the political environment is fair and just and people vote rationally, Peter Obi would be elected President of Nigeria
As guest speaker, Obi thrilled young Nigerians with stories of how he reduced the cost of governance significantly by eliminating irrelevant government expenses, bureaucratic bottlenecks and selling off some of the government’s assets, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars in the state’s treasury by the time of his departure. Not long after, many Nigerians began to pressure him to return to public office.
The running mate
In 2018, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar emerged as the Presidential candidate of the PDP, defeating Governor Aminu Tambuwal who had been endorsed by many of the governors including the powerful Governor of the oil-rich Rivers State, Nyesom Wike.
It was expected that Atiku would consult with the governors and probably nominate one of them as his running mate. However, the former vice-president unilaterally picked Obi who was considered an outsider in the party.
This put Atiku on a collision course with the governors and would affect the PDP’s Presidential campaign. However, Obi endeared many voters to Atiku but this would not be enough as the PDP lost the Presidential election in 2019. Despite their defeat, Atiku and Obi remained close friends.
The presidential candidate
In the run-up to the 2023 presidential election, Obi obtained the N40m ($95,000) presidential form of the PDP to compete against 14 other aspirants, including his former running mate, Atiku; Governor Wike, Governor Udom Emmanuel, Governor Bala Mohammed, Governor Tambuwal, ex-Governor Ayodele Fayose, former Senate President Pius Anyim, and a few others.
As the lobbying of delegates began, Obi’s prudence started to work against him as he refused to distribute money as many of his contenders were doing. He ultimately failed to bring enough delegates to his side. Having seen the writing on the wall, Obi dumped the party five days to the primary to save himself from a humiliating defeat.
Obi now seeks to go up against an establishment he was once part of and hopes to win on a new platform
Speaking to The Africa Report, Obi’s Campaign Manager, Dr. Doyin Okupe, who is a former presidential adviser, says he was certain that delegates to the PDP primary would be demanding at least $20,000 each in order to vote for a candidate. Okupe said Obi was unwilling to do this and decided that it was honourable for him to leave the party.
“At the PDP governorship primary in Delta State, some delegates were paid $10,000 each to vote. If this could happen in just one state, we figured that delegates to the presidential primary could receive as much as $20,000 each. Peter Obi would never do this,” he says.
Following his exit, he commenced negotiations with influential Kano politician, ex-Governor Rabiu Kwaknwaso, who offered Obi the option of being his running mate in the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), but Obi insisted on being the presidential candidate instead and talks collapsed.
In the end, the ex-governor settled for the presidential ticket of the Labour Party, which prides itself as the ‘third force’ party having been adopted by the organised labour and several civil society groups. Like France’s President Emmanuel Macron, Obi now seeks to go up against an establishment he was once part of and hopes to win on a new platform.
Upending the system
At his maiden speech, after emerging as the candidate of the Labour Party, the ex-governor promised to return Nigeria back to the people saying: “As I am nominated today, I humbly proclaim that the journey towards the emancipation of the country has begun.”
“In the battle to retake Nigeria, the odds are great and seemingly insurmountable, but with our commitment, patriotism and understanding that we are doing, what we are supposed to do for our country, lest she shall die, we shall move on discontent with what is and focus on enthroning what ought to be. In doing this, our battle cry shall remain: get your PVC (Permanent Voter’s Card) and become part of this great liberation!” he said.
Obi’s candidacy has been well received by many Nigerians, especially the youths who seek a departure from the APC and the PDP, which have ruled Nigeria for the last 23 years. Apart from being mentioned in the infamous Pandora Papers for having secret assets abroad which he failed to disclose to Nigerian authorities as required by law, Obi is generally perceived to possess a better reputation than most Nigerian politicians.
He is an intellectual having amassed degrees from some of the best universities in the world, including Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford and Columbia. The ex-banker boasts of sterling achievements in both the private and public sectors. Chances appear bright for him as the Labour Party, which he recently joined has been adopted by the organised labour and hundreds of civil society groups.
However, analysts say money politics could still undermine Obi’s chances at the polls next year as major parties will still induce millions of voters at polling units.
Besides, Obi’s region, the southeast, which is the smallest politically and has the lowest voting population, has been witnessing violent secessionist protests that have led to a drop in political activities and a very low voter registration. His home state, Anambra, witnessed a voter turnout of less than 10% at the governorship election back in November. It also remains to be seen if the Muslim parts of the north – which have the largest voting strength – would vote an Igbo Christian.
Speaking with The Africa Report, Prof. Saleh Dauda of the Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of Abuja, says Obi is not likely to win next year’s election because Nigerians mostly vote based on ethnic and religious sentiments.
“If the political environment is fair and just and people vote rationally, Peter Obi would be elected President of Nigeria, but the Nigerian political space is dominated by sentiments such as ethnicity, religion and region.
“Since [the] majority of Nigerians don’t vote according to the credibility, I don’t see him winning next year’s election. He can garner some votes but he cannot win in a highly fragmented society like Nigeria where in the last seven years the country has become more divided than ever. The odds are against Obi but personally I wish he emerges as President because of his incorruptibility,” says Dauda.
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