Friday, December 30, 2022
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Harrisburg, PA, USA

s everyone knows, the current political environment, in Nigeria, is a new one. It is different from anything Nigeria has ever known in the past. For years, certain political parties, in whatever metamorphic form they have transfigured over the years, have dominated the political space. Politicians who wanted to be of political relevance, always joined them. As a result, political outcomes always seemed either predetermined or known. This year has been different. Since Governor Peter Obi made his entry into a relatively obscure political party- the Labor party, things have changed.

Sensing that their salvation does not lie in the hands of the old timers, the youth of Nigeria have dominated the political internet and physical space in Nigeria. They are promoting Governor Obi as a savior because of his ideals and empathetic stance on practically all issues pertaining to the youth. He assures them that should he win, their woes would start petering out to vanishing points. They are called Obidients. Because of them, Obi’s political rallies are now always packed to the brim and have been very impressive. Also, because of the fullness of Obi’s rallies, some of his followers (Obidients) have started making declarative statements about an assured victory for Obi as the next president in a few months. While optimism is good, this is dangerous for the Obidients and I will expatiate below.

I have observed that even though Obi’s political rallies are packed, the rallies of the other two leading candidates- Atiku and Tinubu, are also packed. This means that if we judge success just by rally size, no one can correctly predict what the outcome of the elections will be early 2023. This tells me that the victory some Obidients think is a forgone conclusion is really not. If Obidients want victory, they must continue to work even harder. But whenever someone makes the observation about the other two political parties drawing impressive crowds too, some folks in the Obidient family dismiss them as “rented crowd”. This nonchalant disposition is VERY dangerous for Obi and his followers!

Yesterday, I was talking with my brother and brought up this issue about Obidients dismissing the equally impressive crowd at the rallies of the other two candidates as rented. He said something that really caught my attention just like he does as someone who is a trained authority in political analysis, diplomacy and international relations. He simply said, “if a crowd can be rented to attend political party rallies, they can also be rented to vote for the same people”. He basically summed up my fears. Nigeria is fraught with economic malfeasance but also political impropriety. I recall the election that threw up Buhari some 4 years ago. While voting was going on, I spoke to a lady in Nigeria who was at the voting precinct getting ready to vote. I just wanted to get a sense of what was going on. She said, “this people are giving voters N2,500 if the voter pledged to vote for a certain candidate.” Then as if she had not sunk my feelings and beliefs in Nigerian politics, she added, “I got my own money and on my way back from voting, I will use it to buy food”. In my native dialect she said, “kam lie nke mfulu n’anya”- “ I will eat the one I can see”. I did not even bother to ask who she voted for. I was disenchanted and dismayed. Nothing says that this cannot happen again!

Why do I narrate the above? Because, I have come to believe that since Nigeria has tried the other political parties and candidates and nothing different from the past happened, we need a new direction. From my perspective, we need to try Obi. From what he has been saying on the campaign trail, there is a bigger chance that he will bring in economic and fiscal sensibilities that Nigeria has been lacking for many years. While I am not expecting any miracle because I think he will meet an empty treasury from Buhari who has squandered Nigeria’s riches, I think he will begin to change things for the better.

But Obi cannot win if his supporters do not have a certain urgency and understanding that the two other candidates are pulling crowds too and whether rented or not, these folks could also be “rented” to vote for them. For Obi to win, Obidients must take the other two candidates and their supporters very seriously and start working on how to widen Obi’s tent and convincingly bring in these folks. They cannot do that if they simply dismiss the rival supporters as rented. It will make them rest on their oars and believe they have won. If they take them seriously, they will be forced to work harder in gaining converts, picking their PVCs and planning on voting that day, come rain come shine.

Again, if a crowd can be rented to stand in a stadium, under the blazing sun for hours, to cheer a candidate they may not even like, they can also easily be paid to stand in line for two hours, at the voting precinct, to cast their vote and go home.

A word is enough for the wise

Author of the books- 1. Nigeria: Contemporary Commentaries and Essays

2. Surviving in Biafra: The Story of the Nigerian Civil War