Nigeria: Can Baba-Ahmed boost Peter Obi’s chances in the Muslim north?

By Akin Irede
Posted on Monday, 11 July 2022 15:34

Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed. Labour Party. (Photo: Twitter)

The Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi, has picked a former senator, Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, as his running mate ahead of the crucial 2023 Presidential election in Nigeria. Obi, who is from the southeast region, is now banking on Baba-Ahmed to make inroads into the Muslim north. Will he deliver?

After weeks of speculation, former Governor Obi has announced educator and economist, Baba-Ahmed as his running mate in the 2023 general election. Initially, Obi had nominated his campaign manager, Dr Doyin Okupe, as his running mate pending the emergence of his preferred option.

He entered into negotiations with ex-Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso who has a cult following in Kano State, the ‘voting capital’ of the country. However, they failed to reach an agreement.

Obi, a Christian from the southeast and Baba-Ahmed, a Muslim from the northwest, are now running on what Nigerians call a balanced ticket as it reflects the country’s religious and ethnic diversity.

Who is Baba-Ahmed?

Baba-Ahmed is a former federal lawmaker from Kaduna State, a state with one of the largest voting populations in the country. He is one of the sons of an influential Mauritanian Islamic scholar, Baba Ahmed, a Fulani pastoral nomad who settled in the city of Zaria and sired 33 children including Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, one of the leaders of the Northern Elders Forum, an organisation that promotes northern interests.

The Vice-Presidential candidate of the Labour Party is the founder of Baze University, Abuja, which was established about 11 years ago. Earlier, he served as a member of the House of Representatives and briefly as a senator and was one of the vocal critics of the third term agenda of President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2006.

Like Obi, Baba-Ahmed is an advocate of fiscal discipline and preaches frugality. He is also averse to bribing voters. He opted out of the Peoples Democratic Party’s Kaduna State governorship primary in May, saying happenings in the party are “inconsistent with his purpose in politics.” His associates, however, said he decided to drop out of the race because he was not willing to bribe delegates.

Can he make a difference?

Although he has won two legislative elections, Baba-Ahmed has never been tested in a statewide election, much less a presidential one. In the presidential primary of the PDP in 2018, Baba-Ahmed came last out of the 12 contestants. These days, he is regarded more as a technocrat and an academic rather than a politician.

Reacting to his emergence, Joe Igbokwe, a former Spokesman for the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos State, said Baba-Ahmed would not be able to able to boost Obi’s chances in the Muslim north, adding that it had become obvious that Obi’s candidacy was only a social media popularity contest.

“It is political suicide to pick a VP candidate who cannot deliver something as ordinary as his local government for you in a presidential election. Anyways, everyone will wake up from the social media delusion soon,” he said.

But Obi’s spokesman, Valentine Obienyem, says the 2023 presidential election is about the candidate that has the best credentials and Nigerians are tired of frail men. The election, he says, will be about competence.

“He is among the most perceptive and penetrating minds. Together with Obi, they will certainly represent a progressive force we need in this country. A force that will establish political stability, restore morality, protect lives and property, end banditry, reassure the people, aid industry and transform the country from consumption to production,” he argues.

Muslim north

An analysis of past elections by The Africa Report shows that the Muslim dominated areas of the north have only voted for northern Muslim Presidential candidates since 2003. These states are: Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Zamfara, Sokoto, Yobe, Jigawa, Bauchi, Borno, Adamawa and Gombe states. These states control over 35% of the total number of votes in the country.

With Obi as the main face of the ticket, a Christian from the southeast, it remains to be seen how Baba-Ahmed would be able to pull supporters to his side especially with two prominent northerners – Atiku Abubakar and Kwankwaso – also running for President.

The challenge is that social media doesn’t always reflect reality. If the youths can make good their threats on social media, there is no reason Obi shouldn’t win.

As a senator, Baba-Ahmed was condemned by some activists for calling for the murder of homosexuals during a debate in the legislative chamber on November 29, 2011, shortly before the anti-same sex marriage bill was passed. “Such elements (homosexuals) in society should be killed,” he said.

Labour party problem

Apart from religion, the Labour party platform is generally unknown in most parts of the country, especially in the north.

Currently, there is no governor in the country that is a member of the Labour party while out of the 469 members of the National Assembly, less than five are in the Labour party. Besides, the north is largely controlled by the APC which has 16 governors in the region. With the grassroots support and the structure in place, coupled with the huge funds they have access to, Obi making inroads into these states could be a tall order.

Dan Ekere, a political analyst and lecturer at the Philosophy Department in the University of Lagos, tells The Africa Report that Obi has become a phenomenon and it would be dangerous for any politician to underestimate him.

Ekere adds that Baba-Ahmed, who is an accomplished academic, is also a perfect match for Obi. He, however, says money and ethnicity could undermine Obi’s chances.

“The challenge is that social media doesn’t always reflect reality. If the youths can make good their threats on social media, there is no reason Obi shouldn’t win. But how many of these youths are registered voters? How many of them are willing to look the other way when offered money? Also, how will Obi penetrate the north? I don’t know how popular Baba Ahmed is in the north. Most of the people supporting Obi are from the south. That is my fear. Otherwise, he is a phenomenon,” Ekere says.

Saidu Dukawa, a Political Science lecturer at the Bayero University Kano, believes the Obi and Baba-Ahmed ticket is a brilliant combination.

Dukawa tells The Africa Report that Baba-Ahmed comes from an upright and influential Kaduna family and should be able to sway some northern votes towards Obi. He, however, adds that there is a need for the people not to sell their votes. “I hope Nigerians can come to their senses. This is the right choice as far as I am concerned,” he says.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options