Nigeria 2023: Why are Osinbajo supporters gravitating towards Peter Obi?

By Akin Irede
Posted on Wednesday, 22 June 2022 11:34

Nigeria presidential aspirant Peter Obi
Nigeria presidential aspirant Peter Obi (photo: Twitter)

Having lost the presidential primary of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to Lagos godfather, Bola Tinubu, Nigeria’s Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo is calling on his supporters to rally around Tinubu ahead of the poll. However, Osinbajo's supporters are having their heads turned, citing integrity and religion as core issues.

“You cannot wish the country well and vote for someone you do not believe in,” Osinbajo said at the 7 June presidential primary of the APC when it was becoming obvious that delegates at the convention were set to elect Tinubu as the party’s candidate.

Two days after his defeat, Tinubu visited Osinbajo at his official residence to mend fences with him and photos of them sharing an intimate handshake were sent to the media. Moments later, Osinbajo also issued a statement saying: “To all members of our great party, regardless of who you voted for at the primaries, we must now unite behind our presidential candidate and flag bearer to ensure victory for our party in the 2023 elections.” 

Shifting grounds

However, many of Osinbajo’s supporters – especially those who are not members of the APC – are now shifting their support to Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party.

It has been observed that although Osinbajo was a member of the APC, he has a large following among Nigeria’s educated and non-partisan middle class as well as the intelligentsia. Additionally, some notable members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) like Deputy Governor Philip Shaibu of Edo State had publicly endorsed Osinbajo for the presidency back in January.

Since Osinbajo’s defeat at the APC primary, many supporters are now campaigning for Obi, a development which some in the APC are not comfortable with.

“We have noticed this trend and it is becoming more glaring each day. The VP is aware of this and he is meeting support groups to convince them to channel their support to Tinubu. Some supporters are adamant. We just hope Tinubu’s camp doesn’t feel that it is a deliberate attempt to undermine his campaign,” says an associate of the VP who wishes to remain anonymous.

Even so, Dr. Abimbola Oyarinu, the spokesman for Identify The Right Leader Initiative – a support group – who had for the last four months been campaigning for Osinbajo, tells The Africa Report that he and many others in this category will vote for Obi in accordance with their conscience and ideals.

“The reason for our shift to Peter Obi is the same reason we supported Osinbajo in the first place. It has to do with integrity and character. When it comes to the issue of integrity, Osinbajo ranks higher than Peter Obi, but with Osinbajo out of the race, the closest to him in integrity and competence is Obi; so, we see politics beyond political parties because political parties in Nigeria are not based on ideology but individuals,” he says.

Similarly, Jack Obinyan, a social media influencer who has for the last five years promoted the idea of Osinbajo succeeding President Muhammadu Buhari, has now changed his profile pictures on all social media platforms to Obi’s.

Obinyan, a former social media adviser to the Edo State governor, is now spending a considerable amount of time convincing his over 140,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter to vote for Obi.

“I follow individual ideologies as opposed to partisan politics,” Obinyan says.

For Progress Okuk, a fashion designer with over 14,000 followers on Facebook, her social media campaign has also switched from Osinbajo to Obi.

Integrity questions

Both Atiku Abubakar of the PDP and Tinubu of the APC are wealthy and have at several times been accused of diverting public funds, though they have never been found guilty by a court of law.

There are several petitions against Tinubu at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), but it is widely believed that he runs Lagos State. He is currently facing allegations in court of secretly controlling Alpha Beta, a private company that was given a monopoly to collect billions of dollars in taxes in the state. Earlier, in 1993, Tinubu forfeited $460,000 to the US government after a criminal complaint was filed against him, according to court documents.

Atiku, on the other hand, was under investigation by American authorities for his alleged links to US Congressman William Jefferson who was later convicted of financial impropriety. Jefferson, who was probed by the FBI, was caught on tape saying Atiku stood to benefit $500,000 in a broadband deal in Nigeria. In 2007, a Nigerian Senate committee also accused Atiku of diverting more than $100m in public funds to private interests.

Obi has also been accused of corruption and even admitted to investing some state funds in his family business “for the prosperity of Anambra State” when he was governor. He was also mentioned in the infamous Pandora Papers for having secret assets abroad, which he failed to disclose to Nigerian authorities as required by law. However, the ex-governor is generally perceived to have a better reputation than Atiku and Tinubu. His frugality in governance and campaign for fiscal discipline has also earned him support.

Kayode Ajulo, who is the coordinator of Progressive Lawyers for Osinbajo, tells The Africa Report that most of Osinbajo’s supporters who are not members of the APC will vote based on their convictions and not party affiliation.

“Most of the people that supported Osinbajo are independent minded people who are not affiliated with any party. I supported Osinbajo not because he was in the APC, but because of his capacity. None of us collected any money from him, so some will move to Tinubu, Obi and others, but I am still monitoring events before I support anyone,” he says.

Religious factor

Apart from the ‘integrity argument’, one of the main reasons Osinbajo supporters are shifting towards Obi also has to do with religion. The two main parties – the APC and the PDP – have picked Muslims as their presidential candidates, including the northern Third Force party, the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), which has also elected Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, a northern Muslim, as its presidential candidate. This is coming after Buhari, a staunch Muslim, has served almost eight years.

In the case of the APC, Tinubu, who is a Muslim, has picked a northern Muslim, Kabir Masari, as his running mate albeit just in the interim. This has further infuriated Christian conservatives who now feel marginalised in a country grappling with Islamist terrorism.

The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), one of Nigeria’s biggest churches with millions of members, had earlier in the year set up a political department to promote the candidacy of some of its members with political ambitions. With Osinbajo, a senior pastor of the RCCG now out of the race, the support base he once had is now up for grabs and Obi, who is Roman Catholic, is the only Christian who stands a chance of winning the election.

Sarah Omakwu, senior pastor at Family Worship Centre, one of Abuja’s biggest churches, all but told her thousands of followers to ensure that Obi, who lacks a political structure, wins next February’s presidential poll.

“If they are not afraid to pick a Muslim in the APC and a Muslim in the PDP, let us not be afraid to say we are Christians. It is a total disregard for Christians and we will not take it. Therefore you will get your PVC [Permanent Voter’s Card] and we will waste our vote [on] that candidate that they say doesn’t have a structure,” Omakwu said in a video that has gone viral on social media.

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