The Peter Obi effect: will it be last longing or will it wither out in no time. Read Folasayo’s opinion on how things could unfold.
●17th March 2023
Just before the primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Abuja in May 2022, the former governor of Anambra state, Mr. Peter Obi, left the party to join the Labour Party (LP), and eventually emerged its presidential candidate. Before Mr. Obi left, a section of the Nigerian population who had come to identify themselves with his ideology had asked the PDP to present him as their presidential flagbearer. When it looked as though the PDP was leaning more towards Atiku Abubakar, Mr. Obi, buoyed by the enthusiasm of his supporters who call themselves “Obidients” (there are “BATists” – supporters of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, “Atikulated” – supporters of former Vice President and presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, and others) left the party for the LP.
The LP was formed in 2002 by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) as Party for Social Democracy (PSD). The major political power held by the party was that of a state governor. The former Ondo state governor, Olusegun Mimiko contested and won the governorship of the state and served as a two-term LP governor from 2009-2017, before joining the PDP in 2021. In 2019, Alh. Muhammed Usman Zaki ran for the presidency of Nigeria under the party and got only 0.019% of votes cast. Furthermore, in 2015 and 2019 respectively, the LP only had 1 seat in the House of Representatives.
That was all there was to LP in terms of political office, and political relevance in the country. Today, that story has changed. While the governorship election is yet to be conducted, the LP already has 40 seats in the National Assembly (of the seats declared so far) – six seats in the Senate and 36 seats in the House of Representatives. Their presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, who joined the party less than a year ago, and arriving with his supporters, came third in the just concluded presidential election, winning Lagos, Abuja and 10 other states in the country with 6,101,533 votes (or 25.4% of votes, which is a far cry of 0.019% in 2019). The LP membership has ballooned since Peter Obi joined the party, while its popularity has grown. The LP has achieved all these, despite being accused of being without structure.
Other opposition political parties, seeing the effect the supporters of the LP and Peter Obi can have on the eventual winner of elections in certain places, have been wooing them to their side for the forthcoming Governorship and State Houses of Assembly election; some are seen adding “Obidient” to their campaign slogans.
There is no doubt that the fortunes that have smiled on the LP is as a result of the coming of Peter Obi and his army of supporters into the party. The concern is if this effect will last or if it is a fluke.
There are two sides to the effect that the Obi phenomenon can have – the side of the LP and the side of the electorate at large. On the LP, the Obi effect will be a momentary shock if the successes recorded are not properly managed. The image of Mr. Peter Obi that most people see is that of a public servant who is frugal and believes in due process. The Obi effect will last on the party if the party differs from the other major political parties in terms of its transparency in administration and choosing of political office flagbearers.
Furthermore, those elected on the platform of LP, who are supposed and expected to help solidify its structure will make the Obi effect last by remaining in the party. If they leave the party, the Obi effect will likely wane, and eventually die.
On the general mood of the electorates, there is a believe that despite the developing state of democracy in Nigeria, and seeming inability of relatively smaller political parties to gain inroads into national space, a determined electorate can make it happen. The successes recorded by the LP has made this believe more concrete. This believe may spread to other elections in the future.
Finally, if the Obi effect is built around Peter Obi the man, and not what he seems to represent – probity, accountability, frugality, and simplicity – then it will fade, because he will not be around forever. However, built around what he represents, which many electorates want to see in public life, the effect will remain.
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