Candidate Peter Obi and the Wages of Political Naïveté


By Ahmed Musa Husaini

For those of us on the frontline in 2014/15, there is an interesting parallel between the new online frenzy for Peter Obi and that of 2015 Muhammadu Buhari. Both campaigns boast of fanatical and aggressive (often abusive) support base, both ride on the so called individual infallibility of their candidates, both consider any opposition to their candidate as treason, and both pride in their bloated sense of political entitlement. Their candidate is the messiah, and the only messiah!

There are of course notable differences. Peter Obi is eloquent and articulate. Buhari is not. But what Buhari lacked in intellectual sophistry, he amply made up with a track record of personal integrity and administrative discipline. And while Peter Obi is mostly known (beyond Nigeria’s cyberspace) in his own part of the country, there’s hardly any Nigerian of voting age that didn’t know the Buhari brand, for good or wrong reasons. Apart from serving as head of state, he had also contested in all the then three previous presidential elections.

I must confess, like most Nigerians, that I know little about Peter Obi and his record as Anambra governor other than what is publicly available (which is scanty). What I can readily remember is that the current Anambra governor Charles Soludo called Obi’s time as governor of Anambra a ‘third class performance,’ citing how poverty level in Anambra grew from 28% in 2004 to 68% in 2010 under Peter Obi’s watch, and stylishly dismissing his economic policies as trader-economics that’s more about micromanagement than governance.

Soludo’s judgement notwithstanding, I still believe Obi was a decent governor by Nigerian standard. I also believe he’s eminently qualified to aspire for the presidency just like other candidates. Records of projects he executed as governor are there for all to judge. But what that Soludo citation proves to us is that there are relatively unfavorable opinions about Obi’s performance which are credible and legitimate and shared by people his supporters cannot easily dismiss, and that this latest attempt to re-brand him in impeccably saintly robes is a calculated attempt at political propaganda, something we are accustomed to every election cycle.

But political propaganda is mostly what the ongoing Obi online frenzy is all about. From countering negative online reviews about Obi, to manipulating web SEOs with favorable contents, to even creating fake Obi-supporting Twitter accounts with northern and Muslim-sounding names in their efforts to manufacture and project a false image of nationwide (grassroots) acceptability for their candidate. Pray tell that those fake Twitter accounts and bots like Zullum Tambuwal will turn out en masse to vote for him on election day.

This brings me to the latest mobilization for PVC registration in mostly Obi-leaning areas/enclaves which is clearly driven by Peter Obi supporters. This political mobilization also has its own parallel in the Southeast embrace of Jonathan in the deeply polarizing years of 2010-2015. While political mobilization is commendable and people have the right to vote candidates of their own choice, we must have it in mind that other people and candidates are equally mobilizing, and it is the cumulative Nigerian acceptance (not sectional) that ultimately determines the winner.

This is important to avoid a repeat of what happened in the southeast post-2015 where after their preferred candidate was defeated, the region plunged into secession politics, riding on the wave of free-floating ethnic hatred that culminated in the reign of Nnamdi Kanu and his murderous Ipob hordes. It is interesting that after heeding to Ipob order of election boycot and PVC burning, and after tacitly endorsing Ipob’s campaign of murder and arson against INEC officials and assets, the already electorally disadvantaged southeast is now in a late rush for PVCs.

My worry is not that Obi will lose, he will very likely lose for obvious reasons. He remains a regional/sectional candidate, with neither a broad name recognition nor formidable political platform/structure to boot. A handful of nationally-looking protest support (from those dissatisfied with outcomes of primaries in APC and PDP) won’t change that fact. No doubt he will disrupt political dynamics in the Southeast, but not enough to tip the political balance in his favor nationwide. Is that worth the try? That answer will become ready by 2027.

My worry is what will become of the southeast after his seemingly inevitable defeat? Jonathan and his Niger Delta were able to move on post-2015, even secretly joining the APC, while the southeast clung to a narrative of political victimhood. With the way the Peter Obi phenomenon is unfolding, it appears that we have learnt nothing about such past experiences. What are those lessons? That power (democratic power) is negotiated not usurped, that such negotiations involve deals and trade-offs, and trade-offs are better sealed in an atmosphere of mutual trust, confidence and respect; and that you cannot blackmail the rest of the country into voting your candidate, no matter how brilliant or credible.

The question now is; what assurances do we have that after Peter Obi’s defeat in 2023 election which is highly likely, that those who orchestrated the Ipob madness post-2015 will not exploit the southeast’s anger and despair once again towards another insurgency, towards another election boycott, PVC burning and secessionary politics? This answer is important in order to prevent post-2015 history from repeating itself post-2023. For the wages of political naivety is despair.

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