Overzealous supporters of Mr. Peter Obi sounded discordant tunes in Lagos last week. Their voices, recorded and shared in video clips that went viral, grated on the ears. They never realized that their misguided and ill-advised rants were stoking afresh the embers of ethnic discord. After the unfortunate Lagos monarchic rant of 2019, the Yoruba and Igbo have tried to patch up the unfortunate episode and consign it, as we normally say, to the dustbin of history.
The clips that the Lagos supporters shared made it clear that they are yet to see that Obi is no longer a regular ethnic politician contesting for President. We will not blame these Igbo supporters in Lagos for thinking that Obi is still their ethnic champion. Although his national mission and message remain the same, his method has changed. In the early part of this year 2022, people were begging him to climb the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) platform to represent Ndigbo in Nigeria.
To be fair to him, Obi never resorted to ethnic rhetoric in pursuing his goal, but he nevertheless dithered over the decision for a curious reason. He said he was not going to contest if PDP did not zone the presidency to the SouthEast. He joined the race with the same mindset. But something approximating an epiphanic encounter opened his eyes to what he was about to miss. Peter dumped PDP to become the biblical Paul with an apostolic message of hope, not for his Igbo relatives alone but for all Nigerians groaning under the consequences of a failed leadership.
Obi’s overzealous supporters, preponderantly Igbo, do not reckon with their hero’s transition to advocate of the disadvantaged and vulnerable. Mr. Obi is selling a powerful message that resonates nationwide. He neither speaks the violent dialect of IPOB nor does he sing the victim song of Igbo marginalization. He has instead positioned himself as facilitator for all who desire to rescue Nigeria from those kneeling on the neck of the poor, the unemployed and the vulnerable.
The big issues he has taken on are the concerns of all. The issues are free from ethnic, religious and other divisive categorizations. Given this central and common message, therefore, the Lagos videos shared on the social media remarkably corrupt Obi’s message, his outlook and his mission. His misguided Lagos supporters did not have to pick ethnic fights with any group through their social media rant.
Here is an example of what they could have done. On Saturday, June 11, and purely out of curiosity, I joined one of the now frequent Twitter conversations on Obi. The theme of this conversation was how to promote a nationwide community-driven campaign for the Labour Party candidate. Over 5,000 citizens listened in and contributed ideas. A smart young female lawyer who was an important voice in the #EndSARS movement moderated the event. She is not Igbo but has publicly committed to promoting the idea that Obi placed on the nation’s conversation table. Similarly, most of the participants were people willing to allow the candidate to become the facilitator for Nigerian youths. Obi has become the leader to use for the 2023 presidential election to free their country from the iron grip of corruption, nepotism and mediocrity, which hitherto masquerade as leadership.
Obi’s message resonates because the youth now see how they can politically overpower the old guard to take over and govern the country by themselves. They no longer need to gather in protest at toll stations where they become soft targets for brutal authority enforcers.
Like other participants, I gained from listening to experts on political marketing and strategy at the Twitter meeting. It was also an opportunity to deepen my understanding of what motivates Nigerian youths. What makes them think Obi is the change vehicle for a country that the world has grown tired of its shenanigans?
The coming battle is both ideological and cultural. It is no longer a three-way fight among the trio of Atiku Abubakar, Bola Tinubu and Peter Obi. It is a battle between the rulers of Nigeria on one hand and the owners of Naija Republic on the other. It was Reuben Abati who first outlined the features of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and a growing subculture known as Naija Republic. As matters stand today, Nigeria has solidified its image as the land of mediocrity, where citizens abuse and kill themselves in proxy battles for their political leaders who, in turn, are struggling for the spoils of power. Today, the Republic surrenders over 90 per cent of what it earns to service foreign debts. It allows over 60 per cent of its citizens to live in abject poverty. And it is unable to arrest soar-away inflation and unemployment. Citizens cower in fear as armed robbers, kidnappers, bandits and terrorists overwhelm government security, kill and rape citizens and raid individual savings and SME business capital of the struggling poor.
Naija Republic, on the other hand, is the creativity and innovation enclave that bad governance and necessity forced on Nigeria. Naija youths, for instance, rule the African fintech space, accounting for more than a third of its $4 billion continental funding in 2021. Naija Republic equally rules African arts and entertainment through its world-acclaimed music and movie industry. Given government support, business in Naija Republic should surpass agriculture as the biggest contributor to the nation’s GDP. This Republic embraces and is in fact ruled by the youth population.
Given the above scenario, the 2023 presidential election promises to pit both republics in a titanic battle to determine the future of Nigeria. What the rabid Lagos supporters failed to realise was that this battle has absolutely nothing to do with the singular power struggles of the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani. It is a battle between the old guard, represented by the Waziri and the Jagaban, and the avant-garde, represented by the likes of Peter Obi and Omoyele Sowore.
The beauty of the 2023 elections is that neither of the two republics represents ethnic tendencies. Any individual candidate may win majority votes in their ethnic enclaves but, as usual, winning the ballot depends on how deep they are able to penetrate the hinterland to persuade voters outside their catchment areas. It is for this reason that any ethnic supporters must be circumspect in words and actions, if they genuinely want to help their candidates cross ethnic divides. To put the matter baldly, anyone who wants to join the Naija Republic for Peter Obi movement must endeavour to speak and act like a member. As an example, if someone finds it challenging to register to vote at any location in Nigeria, they should not jump onto the social media to claim that officials failed to register them because of where they come from.
This claim is very childish, to put it mildly. INEC is not a state or tribal organisation managed solely by the Yoruba, the Hausa, the Igbo, or by any other ethnic group. It is a Nigerian federal institution doing the best it can to promote voter enrolment and voter participation in Nigeria’s federal and state elections. Additionally, there are groups assisting INEC to promote voter enrollment, including those managed by volunteers from Naija Republic. These groups assist potential voters in difficulty to resolve challenges they have with registration or updating of their voter cards. They guide registrants through alternative channels to achieve their desired ends. Why not use their purpose-built solutions? Depositing fake news, exaggerations and rants on the social media is not a solution to your desire to register. It merely distracts from the tasks ahead.
No one knows what will happen in the next eight months before the vote. Naija Republic voters should note that millions of Nigerian voters support the old guard, including young people like themselves. This support cuts across ethnic regions. The Waziri Adamawa will secure millions of votes in the South-East and South-West, just as the Jagaban Borgu will make considerable inroads into the South-East and the entire North. Supporters of the old guard are also better prepared. They have registered and collected their PVCs long before now. And they have the willingness to step out and the patience to wait and vote on election day. They are also better motivated because their flagbearers come with deep pockets and are not afraid to offer inducements.
Before long, the old guard will launch blistering intellectual and media firepower to blow away hapless citizens of Naija Republic. Their methods are usually unorthodox and amoral but amazingly effective, as we all saw in 2015 and 2019. For instance, their social media army will run with the ideas here, register fake Igbo names, and use them to provoke massive ethnic fears around Peter Obi. They will wear the youths down. Will the usually impatient youths withstand the media saturation bombing? Will they maintain a stoic patience and remain focused long enough to ride the storm that will splash across their beloved social media spaces? These are matters that anyone who wants to vote for a candidate from Naija Republic must constantly keep in mind as D-Day approaches.
The stakes are high. If you do not understand the nature of the coming battle, you will be hurting your candidate by promoting ethnic conversations around them. This is as true of supporters of Peter Obi as it is of those who swear by Bola Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar.