Nigeria 2023: Is the Labour Party’s woeful outing in Ekiti, Osun a concern for Peter Obi?

By Akin Irede
Posted on Friday, 22 July 2022 09:27

Peter Obi, Labour party candidate
Peter Obi, Labour party candidate (rights reserved)

The Presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, seeks to break the 23-year duopoly of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the February Presidential election in Nigeria. However, the woeful performance of his party in the last two governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun have now become a cause for concern

Millions of Nigerians stayed glued to their television sets last Sunday to watch the live announcement of the results of the keenly contested Osun State governorship election. While the ruling APC polled 375,027 votes; the main opposition PDP got 403, 371.

However, the Labour Party polled just 2, 729 out of the 804, 450 votes cast despite the rising popularity of its Presidential candidate, Obi, who had also visited the state ahead of the election to campaign for his party’s governorship candidate, Lasun Yusuff, a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Earlier in the Ekiti State governorship election in June, the Labour Party polled just 195 votes out of the 360, 753 votes cast while the APC, Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the PDP got the bulk of the votes. The Labour Party’s campaign in Ekiti was also undermined by rumours that its governorship candidate, Daramola Olugbenga, had endorsed the APC, a report which was denied by the Labour Party.

No structure

The Labour Party’s major challenge is its clear lack of a grassroots base as well as its inability to muster the needed funds to execute elections in Nigeria. Of the 36 governors in Nigeria, none is a member of the Labour Party while out of the 469 federal lawmakers, less than four are members of the party.

From all indications, Obi is the only popular candidate in the party but it remains to be seen if this only tree can make a forest. Besides, his supporters are mostly young southern educated Nigerians while he remains largely unknown in the Muslim north.

It also remains unclear how the ex-governor, who has a reputation of being stingy, hopes to raise the billions of dollars needed to win a nationwide election in Nigeria. Even though many of his supporters have promised to contribute money to his campaign, it remains unknown how much they can possibly raise.

Already APC Presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, has been publicly endorsed by one of Nigeria’s richest men, Femi Otedola, and will also be expected to get support from his oil mogul nephew, Wale Tinubu, who is the CEO of Oando Plc. Recently, Tinubu also met with the billionaire Chagoury brothers in France who will also be expected to make donations to his campaign. Traditionally, the APC establishment through its governors will also be expected to make contributions to the Presidential campaign.

Similarly, former Vice-Presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, also met with his wealthy partners in the UAE, Spain and Morocco all with a view to gathering funds. PDP governors will also be expected to make contributions to his campaign.

Presidential election costs have risen astronomically in Nigeria in recent times with at least a billion dollars spent on hiring polling unit agents, logistics, chartering private jets, publicity, campaign security, legal fees and buying of votes on Election Day across the country.

The Project Lead, Nigeria Youth Futures Fund, Ope Oriniowo, who is also a youth activist, tells The Africa Report that Obi would not be able to muster the kind of funds that other established parties would be able to raise regardless of the fact that many Nigerians have expressed the willingness to contribute to his campaign.

“No matter how much they [Obi supporters] are able to bring together, it can never rival what is obtainable in establishment parties because if you look at how political machinery is being oiled, it is being oiled by the Nigerian system.

“It means that the funds come from the proceeds of corruption, kickbacks from contractors etc. Politics is not in isolation but a reflection of existing socio-economic systems and it is a game of interests. So, the business interests that align with these parties are the ones oiling these campaigns,” Oriniowo says.

He adds that even if Obi loses next year, the number of votes he is able to garner will reflect the changes in Nigeria’s voting pattern as it may show the feasibility of an independent candidacy.

No cause for alarm

But Obi has played down the woeful performances of his party in recent elections. The Presidential candidate reminded his ‘Obidient’ supporters that he only joined the Labour Party less than two months ago and it would be difficult to change the fortunes of the party within such a short time.

He maintains that seven months is still a long time and within that period, he would have been able to sell his message across Nigeria.

“The outcome of this particular [Osun] election is not a verdict on our exponentially growing strength nationwide, especially when viewed against the fact that we are barely one month old in the party and we had to contend with forces that have been entrenched in the state for the last two decades,” Obi says.

Similarly, his campaign manager, Doyin Okupe, tells The Africa Report that raising funds would not be a problem for the movement because several interested citizens have expressed their willingness to donate to the campaign.

Okupe argues that in the Presidential election, Nigerians will vote for the candidate and not the political party, adding that this will work in Obi’s favour.

“We have the backing of the people and we are overwhelmed. People have been begging us to provide details of our bank accounts so they can make deposits. We are the ones even begging them to. There are up to 10 million Nigerians that can give us 1,000 naira ($2.3) each,” he says.

However, Dr Aminu Hayatu of the Political Science Department at Bayero University, Kano, says although the Labour Party and its candidate are increasing in popularity, the momentum may not be enough to displace the two major political parties which already have a national spread.

But Hayatu concedes that the Labour Party’s popularity will continue to increase especially in some regions of the country.

“I think the Labour Party has improved. But of course, you cannot take it away from the APC and the PDP that they have been rooted in the national polity for a very long time and it will not be easy for marginal political parties like the Labour Party to within the blink of an eye, uproot these parties and assert itself,” he says.

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