The bid for the Nigerian Presidency has always been a two-horse race, since the country’s independence on October 1, 1960. Despite several military interventions, it’s remained the same each time democracy returned, and has been since the beginning of the current 4th republic in 1999. While there have been changes in name and formation in other parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has remained constant since 1999, and only lost the presidential seat in 2015, after four previous successful runs. In addition to the two-horse race and the PDP’s regular show since 1999, one other thing that has been constant is Nigerians’ misery in the hands of successive governments, a misery that has been compounded since 2015, and is now at a level never experienced before.
For a long time, Nigerians yearned for a third force in the country’s political space, especially in the race for the country’s top job, the presidency. An attempt was made by various persons and political parties in the 2019 general elections, but none of them succeeded in convincing Nigerians, and so the two-horse race continued. When the race to 2023 began seriously earlier in the year, the quest for a third force was again raised, though with little enthusiasm. But when Peter Obi dumped the PDP and joined the hibernating Labour Party in May 2022, the long-desired third force was born. Nigerian youths were so engrossed in the quest that they told Peter Obi that the decision to run for president was not even his to make. In other words, they had decided and Obi had no choice but to run with the tide.
To make things crystal clear to the establishment, the Nigerian youths said they were running for president through Peter Obi. Can you beat that? When a man finds favour, everything becomes easy. Things he previously struggled with getting done almost effortlessly. He then seems like the man has got some magic. These, and more, have happened since Peter Obi got the Labour Party’s presidential ticket. First, the establishment and their supporters dismissed Obi’s bid as one of those short-lived dreams that never become reality, more like a fantasy. Obi and the Nigerian youths crossed that river. The establishment again said the Obi quest had no structure and would fizzle out soon. Again, Obi and the Nigerian youth crossed that river. A popular columnist, whose principal is also in the race, even wrote an article predicting the death of the Obi quest. He has since learned his lessons in the hands of angry ‘obidients’.
Now, that’s what the establishment and their supporters have refused to acknowledge, the anger of the ordinary Nigerian who has been made to endure decades of unimaginable misery at the hands of leaders who delight in ruining their own country. At independence in 1960, there were dreams and aspirations for a great country to be built in the geographical space marked by Nigeria. The euphoria was shared by both young and old, male and female, across ethnic and religious lines. And that was a period when the wind of development was blowing across the world, with countries like Singapore and the UAE marching on to create countries that are today acknowledged as significant successes all over the world. Nigeria appeared, at the time, to be on a similar path, especially with the visionary leadership of Obafemi Awolowo in Nigeria’s Western region.
Unfortunately, irresponsible politics and recurrent military interventions killed that Nigerian dream, even before its seed became a sprout. From a real federal system, with federating units and a federal government, Nigeria’s governance was turned to a unitary one. That was the first bullet the country received, and it became fatal. Today the country says it operates a federal government, but it’s just on paper. Restructuring – the widely acknowledged first step to fixing the country’s numerous challenges – has been deployed as a mere political tool by dishonest politicians who remember it only when their hands are not in the country’s cookie jar. An increasing number of Nigerians are saying they have had enough of abuse, and are daring the establishment ahead of 2023. But this enthusiasm over potential change is not new.
The year 2015 had a similar level of energy but turned out the darkest point in the country’s 62 years of independence. “I have chosen a route that I consider to be in line with our aspirations and my mantra of taking the country from consumption to production; and that is the Labour Party which is synonymous with the people, workers, development, production, securing and uniting Nigerians as one family. I invite all Nigerians to join me in taking back our country. Be assured that I’ll never let you down,” Obi said when he joined the Labour Party in May. It is easy to pledge allegiance when you are in need, so Obi’s promise to never let Nigeria down is better taken with caution. He is after all not exactly an outsider in the running of the country till this point. After eight years as governor of Anambra State, as well as running as Vice-Presidential candidate on the platform of one of the two major parties, it would be naive to assume Obi an outsider.
Besides, Obi is friend – and brother – to members of the establishment. He has said that himself.
While these should make the Nigerian youths cautious in their expectations from an Obi presidency, it does not necessarily mean he cannot do well for the country, even with his relationships with members of the establishment. At least, he is believed to have been relatively different – positively so – when he served as governor of Anambra State, with his major selling point being frugality and prudence with public funds. And nobody would deny that Nigeria at this critical point needs, more than anything else, a frugal and prudent manager of resources, especially extremely limited resources like Nigeria currently has. Obi and Nigerians must, however, note that as important as frugality is, the next president must find ways to grow the country’s purse, in order to have the much-needed funds to address the numerous needs of the country.
As appealing as the Obi bride has been to Nigerians, there is a need for caution, especially after the events of the last almost eight years. Strangely, the Nigerian youths are not displaying awareness of the harsh lessons learnt from the 2015 tsunami that swept PDP out of Aso Rock. They are so angry with the system that anyone who queues behind the other presidential aspirants is denounced as an enemy of the country. There is no point in debating the justification of this anger, the reasons are glaring for all to see. The caution needed here is two-fold, and refusing to exercise this caution might prove another serious error and cause significant disappointment. One, the Obi presidency is not yet an accomplished mission, and may not be. If it becomes reality, Nigerians must exercise restraint in their expectations from Obi, to avoid/limit the pain of dashed hopes.
Listening to Obi’s responses to questions on critical issues should actually make any obidient see reasons for caution. His coherence is not the best, and his thoughts and ideas do not flow very well. This was especially evident in his interview with CNN’s Zain Asher. He actually appeared fatigued from constant travel marketing his candidacy locally and internationally. His fatigue may have contributed to his less than par responses to Asher, so that may be overlooked. But with the campaigns officially on, Nigerians must watch all the aspirants and interrogate them rigorously. The presidential candidates must be interrogated, so must their running mates. Nigerians must not accept what the ruling APC has been doing, sending their Vice-Presidential candidate to engagements when the presidential candidate himself should have been there.
Obi is obviously relishing the momentum the Nigerian youths are giving his bid. He must, however, recognize that this is a cross he has voluntarily carried and must bear it till either Golgotha or Paradise. He must also know that 2023 is not an end in itself, but only a means to an end. Irrespective of the outcome of the 2023 general elections, Obi cannot drop this cross. Even if he loses the election, he must carry on, and not go into silence with the intention of waiting for another four years to try again. He must be at the forefront of the battle to save the country by constantly making his voice heard when things are not going well. He cannot be a useless opposition like the PDP has been since 2015. The fate of the Nigerian dream cannot be hung on the outcome of the next election. If this whirlwind turns out unable to sweep away the establishment in 2023, it must not allow the eventual winner a breathing space to continue the status quo. Whatever the outcome of 2023, one thing has been established so far. And that’s the fact that with consistent efforts, the Nigerian dream can become reality. It is only a matter of time.