Peter Obi and the Viability of a Third Force

Peter Obi and the Viability of a Third Force

In the wake of a new political wave in the country, Emameh Gabriel dissects the political ingredients that Labour Party’s Peter Obi banks on to execute his presidential ambition come 2023.

Following Peter Obi’s defection weeks back from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to Labour Party, there have been speculations of a possible merger with other political parties particulaly the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) to form a “third force” to beat the two major parties in the country namely the All Progressive Congress (APC) and PDP.

The idea of a third force has become a recurrent phenomena in every general election cycle since the successful merger in 2013 that metamorphosed into what is today the All Progressive Congress (APC).

However, in 2019, that did not succeed largely because many of the so-called ‘third force’ candidates were perceived to be elements sponsored by either the PDP or APC.

As 2023 draws closer, the country is yet again caught in another web of a Third Force- a wave that looks likely to upset the current political status quo.

A careful observation of the developments across political parties, especially in the ruling APC where more defections seem likely in the next few weeks, shows that it will be a four horse race, baring any last minute re-alignments.

Primary elections have come and gone and winners have emerged as they try to make inroads into the 2023 general elections, with the two major political parties, the ruling APC and main opposition PDP making frantic efforts to manage their intra party crises in other to avoid any implosion that could cost them the chances to either retain power beyond 2023 or return to power next year after almost eight years of playing opposition at the federal level.

While former Lagos State governor and strongman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu holds the banner for his party, former vice president and serial contender, Atiku Abubakar, looks a strong contender for his party, the PDP, with former Anambra State governor Peter Obi similarly emerging as the presidential candidate of the hitherto relatively unknown Labour Party after dumping the PDP, where he was vice presidential candidate at the 2019 general election and Kwankwaso pushing the mandate of his newly found NNPP, it looks clearly like that election would indeed be keenly contested.

The new entrants, Obi and Kwankwaso, who is building a strong bloc in the North, have cumulatively triggered a new wave of political migration and re-alignment by politicians schemed out and disaffected with the two major political parties.

While Kwankwaso’s NNPP has become the beautiful bride for aggrieved politicians particularly in the Northeast and Northwest, Obi’s Labour Party is also witnessing a resurgence across the country as fresh faced and youthful politicians rally to what they now tagged, ‘Obi-dient’ call, compelling analysts and observers to opine that the movements could be the third force seeking to upstage the two dominant political parties, the APC and PDP.

Obi’s defection from the PDP to Labour Party, allegedly because the main opposition party was unwilling to cede its presidential ticket to the Southeast, has without doubt attracted an unprecedented good will to Obi as Obi-Dient has become the reigning catchword, particularly  on the social media, with calls for  massive voters registration if Obi’s presidency is to become a reality.

His entrance into the race on the platform of an unpopular party and the wave that greeted it thereafter, took many Nigerians by surprise, especially in a country where it is unlikely for an aspirant who is not running under the two major political parties to be a key contender in a presidential election.

Like some analysts have asked before now. What could be Obi’s selling point? Is it because his region, South East, ideally ought to produce the next President of the country? Is it because of his style of politics or his past record in public office and style of governance? Could it be that his entrance into the race provoked the desires of millions of disenchanted youth and undecided voters, most of whom had hitherto wanted to throw their weight behind the candidacy of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who they believe is one of the best for the country? Is religion dictating the tune for him?

Obi As The Southeast Candidate?

Obi himself appears to remain impressively overwhelmed in the face of the billowing adulation he enjoys today from his supporters, especially in the South East and among other Southerners in other parts of country and the world. Like some of his followers, the former Anambra State Governor is also weary of the hype. The fact that his unprecedented rise to fame has extended a little longer than expected, is somewhat surprising to the leading political parties in the country, as his movement continues to gain wider traction.

The question of whether he stands or does not stand the chance to win the presidential election has become the obsessive talking point for Nigerians. Where lies Obi’s strength?

Since after the 2019 general election, the issue of Igbo presidency in 2023 was largely viewed as a thorny one in both the APC and the PDP, especially in the light of the agitations for secession and violent attacks occasioned by the agitations in the region. Leaders from the region had consistently held that it’s the turn of the region to produce the next president, that anything short of that would further polarize the existing political arrangement and trust in the country.

Stakeholders in the region had maintained that political parties should micro-zone their presidential tickets to the region.

In the PDP, the region pushed to produce the presidential candidate of the party, as leading politicians joined the push for power not only to come down South, but to the Southeast, on the argument that of all three dominant ethnic groups, only the Southeast Igbos are yet to enjoy their fair share of the underlying principle that has defined Nigeria’s politics since the start of the fourth republic.

Sadly these wishes fell on deaf ear as both the ruling party and the opposition PDP opted for an open primary, a decision that paved the way for money bags to snatch the tickets of their respective political parties.

Consequently, with Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar’s emergence as presidential flag bearers of both the APC and the PDP, many in the region consider  Obi’s Labour Party move a deft one that deserves to be supported with every weight.

It is in this regard that voters of most Igbo extraction in the South East, at the famous Alaba International Market in Lagos and across other regions of the country are mobilizing massively and have declared operation show your PVC in readiness to vote massively for the former Anambra State governor in next year’s presidential election.

Last weekend, Igbo Elders Consultative Forum, a group also known as Ime-obi Ohanaeze Ndigbo berated the APC and the opposition PDP for their refusal to zone the presidency to the South-East region.

The group also described Igbo delegates who voted against South-East aspirants in the presidential primaries for the 2023 election as “serial betrayals and shameless saboteurs”.

In a statement issued in Abuja, Secretary of the group, Prof. Charles Nwekeaku, expressed disappoinment over the commercialization of the presidential primaries of the All Progressives Congress and Peoples Democratic Party, declaring that the South East would not vote the APC and PDP in 2023, “as they do not deserve our votes anymore”.

He said, “This will not happen again as the Igbo Elders shall provide a new leadership that will strengthen the Ohaneze leadership in Igbo land. Those betrayals will retire from politics shamefully and unceremoniously as they will never represent South East in any public service again.

“We observed with grave concern the unprecedented monetisation of the recent political parties’ primary elections, especially the presidential election at which highest bidders emerged as presidential candidates.

“More worrisome was the failure of the major political parties, namely, the ruling APC, and PDP, to zone the Presidency to the South East in keeping with the Federal Character principle and zoning arrangement as contained in Section 14 (3) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the various political parties constitutions for the sake of justice, equity, fairness, peace and stability of the country”, the statement further read.

Obi as Possible Beneficiary of Christians’ Voters

Obi is the most prominent Christian among the array of presidential aspirants across board and the only Christian among the projected leading quartet of parties for the 2023 presidential election. This would no doubt be one of his selling point to the Christian community in the country. Obi may be the one to reap from the suspicion of Christians about alleged marginalization in the national political space.

This explains why Churches and other ecclesiastical bodies have joined the clamour for massive participation of citizens in the 2023 general elections. Pastors that have added their voices and admonished christians to get their PVCs in order to decide the outcome of the 2023 presidential election include Bishop David Abioye, the Vice President of Living Faith Church Worldwide, Bishop John Ibenu, the General Overseer of the Chapel of Evangelical, Pastor Sarah Omakwu of Family Worship Centre and a host of others.

Even popular Nigerian clergyman and General Overseer of the Redeem Christian Church of God (RCCG) Pastor Enoch Adeoye has launched “Operation SHOW YOUR PVC” in all the provinces of the church through a letter to his congregation.

The letter read in part: “We refer to the above and wish to kindly inform you that we have received a directive from the Mission Authority to ensure a high level of sensitisation in all our parishes on the need for all our members to get their Permanent Voter Cards (PVC) in the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise.

“Based on the above, Provincial Headquarters and Mega Parishes are encouraged to use their parish as a centre for one or two days to facilitate their members’ and interested neighbours’ registration considering the closeness of the deadline (June 30th, 2022) of the Continuous Voter Registration exercise.

“Provinces will be required to send a summarised report of parishes’ compliance with the above directive to the office of the undersigned, stating the number of adult members versus the number of PVCs counted. The report is expected on or before 27th June 2022, for onward compilation to the Mission Authority.

On his part, Pastor Abioye, claimed that Christians are being marginalized in the country, alleging that most of the attacks carried out by those who he described as bloodthirsty bandits are targeted against the Christians. While asking members to vote candidates who would defend the Christians.

He said: “Who are the people to vote for? First of all, vote for competence, vote for delivery. Who is it that can competently lead this nation? Who are the ones that can bring us out of the mess, killings, corruption? Find out but get your card ready.

“We vote for competence and we vote for the defence of the faith. You know how much the church has suffered in the last eight years. Killings in Plateau, Taraba, Benue and largely in Christian communities. All the ones that have been killing people, have you heard that anyone was arrested? No! you won’t hear that. How many of the officials went to Owo where the bandits killed people?

“If anybody tells you now that there is no religion in politics, they are deceiving you. Don’t hide it, vote for your faith. Till tomorrow, I will vote for my faith. I won’t vote someone who will slaughter me”, Abioye stated.

To Dr Ibenu, the PVC remain the only tool Christians can use to elect credible leaders in 2023.

The former chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Kogi state chapter, said Christians will no longer fold their arms in terms of the affairs that concern them, stressing that this is the right time to change the narrative.

He urged Christians, particularly those who have attained the age of eighteen, to go and obtain their voter cards to enable them to participate fully in the general elections and come with it next Sunday, adding that is one of its strategies to change bad governance in Nigeria.

A Youthful Mandate

While Christians and Southeasterners are widely projected to throw their support behind Obi, another group of Nigerians that are also expected to back and campaign for Obi are mostly youth and middle class Nigerians, many of whom are disenchanted with both dominant parties viewed as different sides of the same coin.

These groups in the lead up to the APC presidential convention had placed their hopes on the aspiration of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who they considered as a excellent democrat and digital leader capable of moving the country forward from its current situation because of his intellectual dexterity and calm mien. But their hope dashed out as the numbers rolled in dismally on June 8 making them reckon that the only way to salvage the country and guarantee their Nigerian dream is to throw their weight behind Obi’s presidential ambition, hence the deluge of Obi-dient followers taken over the social media space propped up by the celebrity endorsements given Obi an ostensible edge.

Early last month, he was endorsed by some celebrities including the musical duo  popularly referred called Psquare, actor Chidi Mokeme, and comedian Okey Bakassi. Obi caused a social media frenzy receny when he visited Egypt purportedly to understudy the country’s power sector in the hope of tackling Nigeria’s perennial electricity crisis and reviving its industrial base.

An Uphill Battle

Despite the social media buzz around Peter Obi’s presidential candidature, winning the presidential election with his current structure is without any doubt an uphill battle for him, particularly arrayed against the likes of Bola Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar and Rabiu Kwankwaso, who are veteran politicians and regional power brokers.

While Obi may easily come off as a man with high integrity quotient, he is not entirely free of controversies. His name has  surfaced in the Panama Papers, which is an international indictment of politicians allegedly using offshore tax havens to launder illicit funds. An allegation he has denied and he has not been arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for money laundering or financial crime.

While Obi may seem like the champion of the Southeast, the region has also been the stronghold of the PDP for a long time, until the not too recent gale of defections to the APC, and Atiku Abubakar enjoyed significant support from the region in the 2019 presidential election, a feat analysts are still predicting would be replicated given his deep seated structure and network of supporters in the region.

Some observers even opine that under the assault of Tinubu’s massive financial war chest, votes from the region will end up being divided between Obi, Atiku and the Lagos strong man.

Speaking recently former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, said the Southeast would not vote Obi. Ekweremadu, in the viral video said the South East cannot take the risk of voting for Labour Party in the 2023 presidential election.

He stated the region will rather vote for the presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar and support the PDP because its vice-presidential candidate, Ifeanyi Okowa is from the region.

According to him: “I assure you that South East will vote for the People Democratic Party (PDP). I can guarantee that. No doubt Peter Obi is our son, but you need to be dynamic.

“You need to ask yourself, can Peter win the presidential election? Can the East afford to throw away their votes? Can we afford to be sentimental in matters that concern our people, our children, and our future? No.

“We do not intend to do a thing which we will regret in future. So, while we believe that Peter is ably qualified, we believe that the future of our people lies with PDP. So, we need to make that decision as the leaders. I am going to sit with our people and explain to them.”

“Okowa, of course, is one of us, so there is no difference between Okowa and Peter in terms of protecting the interest of the South. So, we will go and give the people of the South East that opportunity.”

While many analysts are still predicting  splitting of the votes across regional lines, much intrigues and realignments are still anticipated between now and next year.

In less than three months, Obi has achieved what many politicians of his contemporary in the country cannot achieve without a viable platform, but it remains to be seen how he can upset the status quo against money bags like Atiku Abubakar and especially the flag bearer of the ruling APC and former Lagos State Governor, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, who will confront him not only with his structure but federal might.

Supporters of Obi have vowed to match the likes of Tinubu and Atiku at the polls with every resources at their disposal to retire them from politics for good so as to pave ways for fresh breeds of politicians to take over the country’s political space but this will take more than mere expression to achieve as the clock ticks!

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