Nigeria: How #EndSARS figures are transforming into an ‘Obidient’ army

By Akin Irede
Posted on Tuesday, 12 July 2022 12:39

Peter Obi (photo: facebook @PeterObiGregory )

Nearly two years after the historic #EndSARS protests of Nigerian police brutality, the youth arrowheads of the campaign have become an army of political supporters. Now the ‘Obidients’, many of the notable figures of #EndSARS channel their energy towards the presidential campaign of the Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi. With Nigeria’s Presidential election a mere seven months away, they have ignited the political candidature of a man who, without their zeal, would have remained a marginal contestant.

In late 2020, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the US similarly started as a campaign against police brutality toward African Americans. Even after the street protests ended, the sentiment of redressing anti-blackness lingered and carried over into the presidential elections. BLM metamorphosed into a political force and significantly contributed to the defeat of then President Donald Trump, whose large following among white nationalists had made him dismiss calls for police reforms.

Around that same time as the BLM protests, even though thousands of miles away, Nigerian youths were on the streets of key cities similarly protesting corruption and extrajudicial killings by the police’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

The #EndSARS demonstrations, which had Lagos megacity as its epicentre with the Lekki toll plaza as its ground zero, would later spiral out of control as thugs – some of whom were allegedly sponsored by the government – and other non-state actors, took over the demonstrations. They vandalised properties, released thousands of prisoners from correctional facilities, and created disaffection for #EndSARS protesters.

Although the Nigerian protests failed to yield the much-needed police reforms, this new crop of Nigerian youths, tagged the Soro Soke (Speak Up) generation, resoundingly demonstrated that they had the numbers and if they could unite, they could upend the current political order run by a few old and corrupt men for decades.

Rise of Obidients

When the politics season began in 2022, hopes of these youths running for election were dashed by the decision of the major political parties to impose huge sums on the cost of presidential nomination forms. Although the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) pegged the cost of its presidential form at over $240,000, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) imposed a fee of nearly $100,000 on its forms. The amount was deemed too high, even though a discount was given to people under the age of 40.

Apart from the high cost of fees, it became obvious that the presidential tickets of the major political parties would go to the highest bidders as party delegates at the primaries were said to have demanded at least $10,000 each. In the end, Lagos godfather Bola Tinubu and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar emerged as the standard bearers of the APC and the PDP respectively.

The emergence of these two old men, both in their 70s and with allegations of graft hanging on their necks, was rejected by a large number of youth who saw them as part of the ‘decay’ that had robbed them of the dividends of democracy.

This rejection of the system, which Atiku and Tinubu represent, coupled with the anti-government sentiments of the #EndSARS momentum crystallised into a force for social change and a support base for Peter Obi who, curiously, was Atiku’s running mate in 2019 and was up until two months ago, a member of the PDP.

Issues of police brutality are connected to bad governance and who will give us good governance?

Rinu Bolatito Oduala, who was one of the arrowheads of the #EndSARS protests, tells The Africa Report that it would not be entirely correct to say that the entire #EndSARS movement is supporting Obi. This is because #EndSARS was an organic movement comprising people of diverse political backgrounds and had no clear-cut leaders, unlike the BLM Movement.

Oduala, whose bank accounts were frozen by the Nigerian government for mobilising funds for the protests, however, admits that many of the #EndSARS figures are supporting Obi because he represents the sort of change from the old order that the protesters had demonstrated against.

“Issues of police brutality are connected to bad governance and who will give us good governance? It is certainly not the same parties that have been running the country,” she says. “[…] the campaign is organic especially when it comes to mobilising and funding. In this regard, it is like #EndSARS because it wasn’t planned, so this campaign could be likened to #EndSARS.”

 Can ‘Obidients’ topple the system?

These Obi supporters, who tag themselves ‘Obidient’, have adopted an approach like the #EndSARS method to mobilise support for him.

Like the #EndSARS, the Obidient movement is largely driven by educated youths who have a very strong social media presence. Also similar to #EndSARS, these youths are also holding street processions, albeit on a smaller scale, and seek to raise about $250m through voluntary donations. A toll-free telephone number has also been set up for the campaign.

Apart from Oduala, many other #EndSARS advocates have joined the Obidient movement. Modupe Odele, who had her passport seized by the Nigerian government for taking part in the #EndSARS protests, is now among the many ‘Obidients’ and drums support for him on Twitter where she has over 430,000 followers. She also announced that a website for Peter Obi volunteers was being set up.

Similarly, Victor Israel Bassey, a pharmacist based in Port Harcourt, whose accounts were frozen for taking part in the #EndSARS protests, has become an avowed ‘Obidient’ and is “preaching the gospel far and wide”.

Aisha Yesufu, the activist whose iconic photo of a raised clench fist became the symbol of the #EndSARS movement, has also joined the Peter Obi train and has let her 1.2 million followers on Twitter understand the importance of voting for him in next year’s election.

“A 100 billion naira [donation] is doable. Our little money when added together by many of us will lead to that sum. Let us not be afraid. Let me start with Nigerians in the Diaspora. If 1,000,000 Nigerians in Diaspora donate $100 that will be $100m  or 60bn naira,” she said on Twitter.

Obi could be a beneficiary of the #EndSARS, but you need to mobilise people and get them to vote.

However, it remains unclear if the Labour Party structure is strong enough to connect effectively with the grassroots and topple the APC and the PDP which have both been ruling Nigeria since the beginning of the 4th Republic in 1999. The Labour Party, which is supported by organised labour, has no governor or notable politician within its fold.

Also, many see Obi supporters as obnoxious and immature elements that are averse to criticism and are quick to threaten dissenting voices on social media.

Reno Omokri, a columnist and ex-presidential adviser who shares this view, said on Twitter: “The threats are too much. My life is at risk. If anything happens to me, my wife, my children or siblings, the world should hold Peter Obi responsible. He has raised a horde of intolerant and violent Obidients who just want to replace tyranny with theirs.”

These verbal attacks, observers say, may cost Obi some support. Obi has repeatedly issued statements calling on his supporters to be civil.

In an interview with The Africa Report, Abimbola Adelakun, a social commentator and lecturer at the University of Texas, says since Obi’s campaign was driven by disenfranchised youths, they cannot but be disruptive.

Movements involving youth are generally characterised by dissatisfaction with the establishment. The youth phase is typically marked by dissidence and revolt against tradition, the heady idealism that one can change the world for the better. When it becomes a political movement, especially with the backdrop of social life in Nigeria, they cannot but be that intense.

On whether the #EndSARS campaign strategy could secure victory for Obi at the polls, Adelakun says nothing is impossible in politics.

“In the case of the US and Black Lives Matter, there was a huge voter turnout during the election. Obi could be a beneficiary of the #EndSARS, but you need to mobilise people and get them to vote. Remember that the US elections in 2020 had a historic turnout, so people must move out on Election Day for the movement to become a political victory,” she says.

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