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Peter Obi Faces Huge Odds Against APC, PDP

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Peter Obi

By OBINNA EZUGWU

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Mr. Peter Obi, Labour Party presidential candidate, has taken Nigeria’s presidential contest to uncharted waters, and even his critics, who had initially dismissed him as some social media distraction, now concede that he’s a factor going into the 2023 presidential election. But the key question on everyone’s lips is, how far can he really go?

Since the return of democracy in 1999 the contest for power at the centre has largely been a two-horse race. In the presidential contest of that year, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) slogged it out with Chief Olu Falae of the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD), with the former emerging victorious to become only the country’s second executive president, after the late Alhaji Shehu Shagari to whom the military government handed power in 1979.

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The entrance of Muhammadu Buhari, a widely popular figure in the north, into the political equation in 2003, meant that each election since his first outing in 2003, became a contest between himself and the hitherto ruling PDP, up until 2015 when he eventually got the better of the party, following an alliance, primarily between his northern constituency and the Southwest geopolitical zone, that birthed the All Progressives Congress (APC) two years prior, in 2013.

The trajectory continued in 2019 when Buhari, now as incumbent, faced and got the better of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, vice president to Obasanjo, who coincidentally is back on the ballot, still as candidate of the main opposition party.

However, with Peter Obi in the picture, the political equation has changed sharply, and not even the most optimistic supporter of either of the two leading political parties can say for certain that the election would go their way.

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For the first time in the country’s democratic journey, a presidential election may go to a runoff, courtesy of Obi, who has continued to prove doubters wrong, heavily supported by a mass of the country’s disillusioned youth population, even as he could possibly be the ultimate beneficiary of the country’s religious mistrust, which has heightened in recent years.

“Young people are using him as a vehicle to channel their frustration with the Nigerian system,” remarked Idayat Hassan, director of the Centre for Democracy and Development think-tank, in a chat recently.

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“He’s not running just for himself, if you check online sentiment, you’ll see he’s running on behalf of young people. Obi is the first credible ‘third-force’ candidate since the return to democracy in 1999.”

The established political parties still find it difficult to give the former Anambra governor much of a chance, regardless. There is often the talk of structure, which in the context of election, means having political office holders spread across the nation, with enough influence and financial power to deliver their constituencies.

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The PDP, and the ruling APC – which has Bola Tinubu as its presidential candidate, share between them 35 states of the federation, with the latter having a vast majority of the states. Labour Party, Obi’s platform, has none, and pales into insignificance when compared to the two behemoths in terms of finance war chest.

Thus, many argue that given the odds, Obi has no credible route to Aso Rock, a point reinforced by Charles Soludo, governor of his home state in a scatting article published last week.

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“Let’s be clear: Peter Obi knows that he can’t and won’t win. He knows the game he is playing, and we know too; and he knows that we know,” Soludo argued.

“The game he is playing is the main reason he didn’t return to APGA. The brutal truth (and some will say, God forbid) is that there are two persons/parties seriously contesting for president: the rest is exciting drama!”

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Credible as the points raised by the skeptics are, however, they appear to ignore today’s realities: A reasonably improved electoral system driven by technology going into the election, which could make it nearly impossible to rig; a mass of young people angry with a status quo that has only successfully delivered mass poverty and unprecedented security challenges, and have found credible alternative in Obi; a widespread support for power shift to the Southeast; and a time when religious sentiments are likely to influence how many people vote.

All the above factors, one way or another, play into Obi’s strength, and the Labour Party candidate is strategically building on them.

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On Friday last week, Obi returned to Benue State, North Central, for the umpteenth time, where he met stakeholders in Gboko Local Government Area, with a poignant message,

“Vote for those people who know you and know your pains. Next year please, vote for the right persons. We want a Benue where children will be in school and everything will be normal.”

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Benue, like much of the North Central, has borne the brunt of the menace of ‘Fulani’ herdsmen; a band of armed criminals whose stated objective appears to be displacing as many communities through violence; and whose unrestrained carnage, the Buhari-led APC government seem unwilling, or incapable of putting in check.

For many in the North Central region, the election of 2023 is critical. And for his failure to rein in the marauding herders, Buhari, a Fulani, who is sometimes accused of condoning the herders, has cost the APC much of the goodwill it had in 2015, and the PDP candidate, Atiku’s recent comments in response to yet another attack in Benue, which appeared to excuse the atrocity, had rattled many – the former vice president also being of the Fulani stock.

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The herders menace has also helped to heighten religious tension. Being mostly Muslims, their attacks in the predominantly Christian communities in the North Central are interpreted sometimes as an Islamist conquest agenda, even when the overall evidence points to the contrary, and this has in no small way contributed to the elevated religious tension in the country; one that the ruling APC has further worsened by opting for a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket. Christian leaders in the north have since risen up in arms against the ticket.

Indeed, of the three or four leading contestants for the number one job in 2023, namely, Atiku, Tinubu of APC, Obi and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP), the former Anambra governor is the only Christian in the mix in a country that has an even Muslim to Christian population.

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Obi, from the Christian Southeast geopolitical zone, is widely popular in the zone, as well as the adjoining South South, also a Christian zone, and has made tremendous inroads in the Christian sections of the North Central, now known more encompassingly as the Middle Belt region.

He had launched his campaign in Nasarawa, a north central state, after a well attended rally in Plateau, even as he has now visited Benue on numerous occasions. The three regions had hitherto been strongholds of the PDP, but Obi with his Labour Party, has become a favourite there, which makes for an interesting contest in 2023.

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“I come from the North Central, Peter Obi will most likely win Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa, Abuja, and at least come second in Kogi,” said Monday Egwuda, a political enthusiast from Kogi State. “Don’t also forget that Obi is popular in places like Southern Kaduna.”

Obi is looking to galvanise support in the three zones of the Southeast, South South South and North Central, which would give him strong footing to challenge for a share of the spoils in the Northeast, Atiku’s zone; the Northwest, and the Southwest, Tinubu’s stronghold.

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The backing of his candidacy by Babachir Lawal, former secretary to the government of the federation and a member of the APC has been countered by fellow northern Christian leaders in the ruling party, like Yakubu Dogara, former speaker of the house of representatives and Senator Philip Aduda. But it speaks to his growing acceptance in the Christian north, and Lawal opined, the former Anambra governor is vastly popular in places like Southern Gombe, Taraba, among other areas.

Atiku, having seen the three zones, which should have been his strongholds challenged by Obi, has doubled his efforts in wining the support of his core northern constituency, while Tinubu, whose decision to opt for Muslim-Muslim ticket, having particularly alienated segments of the north, is also staking claim to the region, even as Kwankwaso, former governor of Kano State; a widely popular figure in the state, is determined to take a chunk of the votes, which indeed makes the north the battleground region. Again, a scenario that could play out in Obi’s favour.

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Yet, Obi, whose entire power bid has been odd defying, is also gradually warming up to the core northern bloc, and could very well stand a chance in the region.

“Although there is still a lot of indifference — and, in some cases, resentment — to Peter Obi in the Muslim north, I am sensing a progressive acceptance of his candidacy,” observed Farooq Kperogi, a professor of journalism, recently.

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“A person I spoke with from Kano, who says he is now warming up to Obi, told me several people he knows and interacts with in the Northwest are giving Obi a chance both because of the growing intensity of the hurt Buhari has inflicted on people in the region and the fact that the alternatives to Obi seem like Buhari.”

On October 17, Obi was presented with an opportunity to sell himself to the region, at the Suga News Committee Interactive Session in Kaduna, and he made sufficient use of it, putting on a commendable show.

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His performance at the session was widely acclaimed, and by contrast, those of both Atiku and Tinubu were largely insipid, remembered mostly for the controversies stirred and gaffes made.

“It is still too early to give Obi much of a chance in the north, but I can say he’s becoming more popular,” said Hussaini Mohammed in Kano.

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“Many people I know who watched his outing at the Arewa session were impressed, and I can count two people who have already told me that their votes are for Obi.”

Broadly speaking, Nigeria has five voting blocs spread across the six geopolitical zones, namely: the Northern Muslim bloc, the northern Christian bloc, the Southwest or the Yoruba bloc; the Southeast or the Igbo bloc and the South South or southern ethnic minority bloc.

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Obi appears to be the favourite to edge his opponents in three of the blocs, namely the northern Christian bloc, the Southeast bloc and the South South bloc, which given the possibility of him doing well in Lagos, puts him at a huge advantage.

Of the five, however, the Northern Muslim bloc is the most populous as it comprises people of different ethnic groups spread across three geopolitical zones, united by religion.

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Regardless, with the bloc’s votes likely to be split, it may end up not having as much impact in the overall outcome of the election.

“Today, 90 percent of polls done say Peter Obi is well ahead of the other contestants. It is no longer news that it is a three-cornered race,” declared Doyin Okupe, director-general of the Peter Obi presidential campaign, in response to the remarks made by Soludo.

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“Even in the three-cornered race, we are no longer the third force. We have now taken over and bypassed the two establishments and these two are now contesting for second and third positions.”

Overall, many say they support Obi on account of his track record of accountability and integrity, which appear to be his core strength.

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Indeed, many educated and progressive minded individuals across regions appear more drawn to his candidacy, even as his comparative youthfulness makes him more attractive to the neutrals than his septuagenarian opponents.

“Peter Obi has got the Competence, Capacity, Capability, Character, and Integrity to provide the right leadership and sense of direction needed to pull this country out of the doldrums,” noted Hassan Stan-Labo, retired Army General.

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However, Obi, despite the many positives, has two major handicaps. First, he has been unable to galvanise the support of the political leaders of his base, particularly the Southeast.

The outburst of Soludo last week, is a reminder that he doesn’t have the full backing of even the governor of his home state, which could be critical. APC governors in the Southeast, namely Hope Uzodimma of Imo and David Umahi of Anambra are also actively campaigning for their party’s presidential candidate, Tinubu; while those of the PDP, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and Okezie Ikpeazu of Enugu and Abia states, have been reluctant to openly back his candidacy, despite being part of the G-5 governors, along with Nyesom Wike of Rivers, Samuel Ortom of Benue and Seyi Makinde of Oyo, at loggerheads with Atiku, the party’s presidential candidate.

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Secondly, the former Anambra governor is running on the platform of a small party. It would be a major upset if a candidate from a small party won, given the strength of the PDP and the APC.

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