Nigeria is at a most critical crossroad in her history of post-colonial existence. Some 83 million voters are expected to determine the fate of 213 million citizens of Africa’s most populous country. The February 25th 2023 presidential and national assembly elections are, no doubt, a defining moment. Moment that will seal the wind of sail in the weeks, months and years ahead for a much-troubled voyage in nationhood. Moment that will either lift the blistering burdens off a beleagued population or reinforce the fetters foisted by a failing state. Moment that will either dislodge the old order or consolidate its reign. The moment is momentous. All pun intended.
But there is one movement that has become the most significant factor in defining the much-anticipated moment. This movement is a thunderbolt. It is a rallying call. A battle cry. It is a hope-filled ride; riding on a fervour of cross-breed faith and ripping down walls of religious divides. It is a fancy flight; floating on wings that wriggle through tribal identities and ethnic differences. It is a leveller bulldozing humps of Biafra hubris and dumping lumps of regional prejudice further afield. It is a redemption song hummed by former leaders, chorused by those seeking to lead and echoed by the proselytized. It is called the obidient movement. It is anchored on the candidacy of Mr. Peter Obi, presidential candidate of the Labour party, a hitherto obscure political vehicle poorly dressed in proletarian garb. It is a classic case of the man making the party. But while Obi is the life of the party, the Nigerian people are the heartbeat of the movement. The obidient movement is a seed sown on the fertile soil of street credibility and rooted in the manured structure of collective sufferings. It is that orgasmic catharsis of a people denied for decades of the fruits of their toils now suddenly strengthened by prospect of a ray at the end of the tunnel. Millions of Nigerians hold tight to the possibility of a turnaround where present and future generations can truly benefit from their God-given endowments plenteous in both human and material resources. That is why the movement is both organic and volcanic. That is why it is spontaneous and ubiquitous at the same time. That is why the 2023 presidential election will be like none other before it.
It is not the two-horse race of the past. Mr. Obi has stamped foot as the third force of disruption. And that is the minimum value he brings to the contest to become Nigeria’s number one citizen. It is important to point out that this purveyor of the obidient movement is not altogether new in the power game of the country. Just like Abubakar Atiku of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), he has occupied public office in the past and ran as vice presidential candidate in the 2019 election. Like Tinubu, he was governor of a state for two terms. Both men and Atiku, who was vice president under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration for eight years, have been trumpeting their achievements while in office. So, in a sense, Obi cannot be said to be an outlier. But his supporters insist he is completely immune from the malaise of corruption, reputational crisis and sordid political shenanigans that are associated with his rivals. This flattering credential has been the fuel powering his ascendancy from a hitherto dark horse into a favourite. At least in the estimation of his die-hard followers.
What is however without contestation by many analysts is that Obi’s candidacy has upset the applecart for Atiku and Tinubu who are the dominant representatives of the establishment flank in the 2023 elections. For both strong contenders, things are no longer at ease as it would not be a straight win or lose for either the APC or PDP candidate. Both men, dyed-in-the-wool political strategists and master-executors of the realm, have postured different degrees of entitlement to the crown. While one heavily draws on debts of political IOUs for which he now demands a return of favours, the other strives on the strength of a skewed voter demographic that reinforces Nigeria’s notorious federal imbalance and long-held population myths. Both men are however dogged by a similar challenge of protracted intra-party upheavals that could tell adversely on their chances at the polls. While Atiku is braving through the discontentment of a post-primary contest which saw the main opposition PDP standing its acclaimed power rotation policy on its head, Tinubu is hampered by the perennial centripetalism of a quickly cobbled power-grab machine. Matters are even worse for the latter as the APC-controlled federal-government is neck-deep in pushing policies and engaging in several governance faux-Pax that daily alienate citizens from his preachments to ‘continue from where’ the incumbent president will stop on May 29 this year. It even gets more complicated for the flagbearer when President Muhammadu Buhari, the face and moral authority of the ruling party, is widely perceived to be unfavourably disposed to having Tinubu as his successor.
But for all three frontline candidates, there is a fourth force albatross standing on the way. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, presidential candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), is a potent barrier to harvesting the avalanche of votes in the north, especially in Kano State, where he once held sway as governor. A last-minute alliance with Musa Kwankwaso will certainly be a game-changer for any of the front-liner combatants. And in politics, a deft manoeuvre can prove very valuable in the wee hours before polls open.
However, what the 2023 electioneering has shown is that the obidient movement is the indisputable game-changer. The obidients came to town and changed the dance. But can they change Nigeria’s political game of established elite prebendalism and parasitic power-mongering? The bubble will either burst or boom. It is only 7 days away. The world waits. With baited breathe.