Music stars P-Square and African China took turns to entertain the crowd, mostly youths, in the sweltering afternoon sun, while armed police officers and barrel-chested security guards frisked people at the gates.
“Only [Peter] Obi and my humble self are ready to lead Nigeria to greatness. Nigeria is that great country on the surface of the earth that has been denied leadership,” Datti Baba-Ahmed, the Labour Party’s vice presidential candidate, told the crowd.
He added: “Peter Obi is that international mega superstar.”
Saturday’s rally provided a fitting finale to an LP campaign that had traversed across the length and breadth of Nigeria over the past two months, drawing crowds and sowing hope in the hearts of supporters. Obi, in a tweet on Friday night, described it as “whirlwind and a very value-added experience across the 36 states.”
The finale also gave an insight as to what to expect on 25 February when Nigerians go to the polls to elect a new president. Armed thugs attacked several Labour Party supporters who were on their way to the rally. At least four people were wounded in the incident, police said in a statement.
Lagos is the stronghold of Bola Tinubu, a former governor of the state and the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). It is also home to teeming supporters of the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), whose candidate is former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
Analysts believe that Obi stands a chance of winning if the election is free and fair, and devoid of voter harassment. Nigerians are having their most difficult days yet, fuel queues have lingered for months and the recent CBN Naira Redesign Policy has seen people unable to get cash from their banks. A lot of the PDP supporters, especially in Lagos, are tipped to switch their allegiance to the Labour Party.
“These fellows are not used to level-playing fields, all they know is to cheat,” Pat Utomi, a Labour Party leader, tells The Africa Report.
“We are gonna have to follow them all the way and fight them toe to toe to make sure they don’t succeed.”
But the attacks on party supporters notwithstanding, there were large turnouts of people at the Alaba International Market, Obi’s first port of call on Saturday, and along the road at Odunade Market and Orile as he made his way to the rally ground.
Supporter enthusiasm causes delays
At Yaba, near the University of Lagos, students organised a town hall and hoped Obi’s train would stop by on their way to the rally.
“We came to have a students’ town hall here where we intend to engage with Peter Obi; we are still expecting his presence,” Paul Bakare, a student at the University of Lagos, told The Africa Report. “We are here to ask critical questions with regards to what he will do when he enters power and the steps we need to take to actually put him in power.”
Obi didn’t make it to the students’ town hall. The crowd of supporters impeding his convoy, aided by the crawling Lagos traffic, ensured he arrived at the venue of the rally hours late. On arrival, dozens of supporters pushed against the tinted Mercedes space bus carrying him, trapping him and other occupants inside for nearly an hour. His security details appeared to be at their wits’ end as they searched for ways to push back the crowd without using force.
Eventually, the arrival of Baba-Ahmed provided a much-needed distraction. With the crowd surging away to cheer the vice presidential candidate, Obi quickly alighted from the bus and was escorted by guards onto the podium.
In ‘labour’ for a new Nigeria
Prayers by a Muslim and a Christian leader opened the rally. There was also a one-minute silence to honour those who died during #EndSARS protests against police brutality across Nigeria on 20 October 2020.
We are on the verge of giving birth to a new Nigeria. We are in labour at the moment.
Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, the LP governorship candidate in Lagos, said it is time to change the status quo in the state.
“Lagos does not belong to one person,” he said, in reference to Tinubu, who is regarded as the godfather of Lagos. “It is time for a Lagos that will work for you, work for me.”
“We are on the verge of giving birth to a new Nigeria. We are in labour at the moment,” said Dudu Manuga, the LP national woman leader, urging the crowd to vote in “a new Nigeria.”
“If Obi does not come in as president, forget Nigeria,” said Ayo Adebanjo, the 94-year-old leader of the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere.
Baba-Ahmed urged the crowd to join him to “take back Nigeria.”
“From the day you hear ‘President Peter Obi of Nigeria,’ from that day we shall stop the killing and start the healing, we shall stop the stealing and start the keeping”, he added.
Obi’s speech was largely a repetition of his promises since the campaign began last year: tackling insecurity, fighting corruption, creating jobs, focusing on agriculture, and moving Nigeria “from consumption to production.”
“What we are going to do is very easy. When we do what we’ll do, the youths will be employed, the youths will find jobs. We will no longer allow people to be wealthy without enterprise,” he said.
“Everybody who has money here must be doing something. We will support the youths, the MSMEs, the companies, our promise will not be on TV. It will be physical. You will see it. It will be measurable,” he said in the rally, reiterating campaign promises.
‘Vote for human beings’
Political parties’ rallies also provide a platform to jibe at opponents and the Labour Party members and supporters took no prisoners. There are 18 candidates on the presidential ballot, but Tinubu and Atiku provide the greatest challenge to Obi’s victory.
Comedian Kilnt da Drunk said an Obi loss would see Nigeria shrinking from a country to a state, then to a local government, and finally to a town hall “different from bala blue…,” referring to the APC candidate’s incoherent speech during a meeting with the private sector last November.
You voted for the umbrella, they put you into poverty. You voted for the broom, they sweep you into poverty. When they came into office, 55 million people were in absolute poverty, today they are 95 [million], so it has worsened.
Obi urged the crowd to support the party because it would be the first time in Nigeria that the party chairman, presidential and vice presidential candidates would be people born after [Nigeria’s] Independence (in 1960).
“If you check it, the APC chairman is 75 years, PDP chairman is 72 years, he was [Shehu] Shagari’s minister 40 years ago. Our chairman is 52 years, 20 years difference.
“If you check the age of three of us, the average age is 55. If you check the one of PDP, it’s over 70. The other one [APC] we don’t know their age,” he said.
“You voted for the umbrella, they put you into poverty. You voted for the broom, they sweep you into poverty. When they came into office, 55 million people were in absolute poverty, today they are 95 [million], so it has worsened.
“You’ve voted for umbrella, it didn’t work, you’ve voted for broom, it didn’t work, we now want you to vote for human beings. Go and vote for Mama, Papa, Pikin.” The LP logo shows a woman, man, and child.
So many people have the skills and the zeal to produce something but the country doesn’t encourage us. This country kills destiny, this country will make you you will even hate the fact that you are a student, which is not supposed to be. This country doesn’t give hope
The rally ended after Obi’s speech and the music from the giant loudspeakers returned, drowning the drone of vuvuzelas inside the square.
Chukwudi Okafor, one of the LP supporters making his way out of the grounds after the event, said he had never voted since he got his voter’s card in 2015, but would do so on 25 February.
“I was very happy when I heard a candidate saying he’s going to move this country from consumption to production. I feel as if he’s talking to me because I’m a producer. Nigeria as a country for so long we have been a consumption country,” Okafor, 33, a librarian and paint manufacturer, tells The Africa Report.
“So many people have the skills and the zeal to produce something but the country doesn’t encourage us. This country kills destiny, this country will make you you will even hate the fact that you are a student, which is not supposed to be. This country doesn’t give hope.”
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