The collective power of the people to choose governments through the procedure of elections renders sufficient plausibility to the belief that the will of the people is the ultimate arbiter of rule
— Adam Przeworski, Why bother with elections?
On Saturday, May 29, 1999, Nigeria was ushered into civil rule after years of excruciating military rule and corrupt cronyism. The civilians who took over had a definite mandate: Reset Nigeria, rebuild her economy, empower the people and reposition Africa’s most populous nation to greatness. That mandate, though it resonates as a campaign manifesto, will earlier be torpedoed for the worst form of state capture and clientele politics any nation on earth has ever witnessed. State capture is not too far from a criminal state, where political cabals, gangs, plutocrats and pseudo-technocrats took Nigeria by the jugular and ruled supreme without conscience.
From 1999 to 2015, the Peoples Democratic Party attempted resetting Nigeria during then President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration and succeeded in bringing Nigeria back to the comity of nations, achieved debt cancellation, sustained economic growth and development, and entrenched a pan-Nigerian nation-state. Conversely, the PDP failed woefully to tame corruption; distributive politics and naked sharing of the nation’s wealth among party cronies became a norm and part of statecraft. During the PDP era, graft was elevated to the podium of public policy. The party also postponed the restructuring of the country and promotion of democratic consolidation that would have repositioned Nigeria far better.
After the PDP exit from presidential power in 2015, the All Progressives Congress that came was worse, rapacious and dangerous for a multicultural society like Nigeria. The APC-led government was (and is) corrupt, clueless, intellectually lazy and unfit to govern. It has so much baggage of tribalism, nepotism, religious bigotry is politically chaotic and dangerous to stir the affairs of a heterogeneous nation-state. Worse still, the APC has mismanaged Nigeria’s diversity far more than during the civil war. After eight years of APC’s reign, Nigeria has somersaulted downward from top to bottom, from being the fastest growing economy in 2015 to the poverty capital of the world. A piling debt profile, economic mismanagement, unemployment and insecurity occasioned by religious extremists from Mali, Mauritania, Chad and the Niger Republic conniving with homegrown fundamentalists in Nigeria wanting to de-secularise the country and plant a religious state similar to Afghanistan and Iran. These are the gains and dividends the APC has brought to Nigeria thus far.
With such misfortune from a leadership that is unperturbed about the degradation of the country, which it has supervised, many Nigerians see the forthcoming 2023 general elections as the year of redemption. Many, sensing that the APC was unfit to govern, looked up to the PDP for rescue. But with the coronation of the highest bidder in its pseudo-primary, that hope has been dashed. Then entered the former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi. Obi may not come as a regular politician, but there is something about his chasm and persona that sets him apart.
Obi’s understanding of running a state as a business is a contradiction to the typical Nigerian politician who sees the state as a platform for pilfering, patronage and groping of the national till for personal aggrandisement. His focus on education, production and saving are sustainable antidotes to any nation willing to jumpstart its path to development. Obi’s resolve to empower the Nigerian youth as a critical partner in the Nigerian nation-state is geared toward filling the gap left by the APC and PDP in the last 22 years. His integrity and discreet lifestyle of prudence is a departure from the wasteful years and lives of politicians, whose sole interest in politics and power is to feed fat from the national wealth. Obi, if given the opportunity, is not coming to Nigeria’s seat of power with dozens of concubines nor with a coterie of hangers-on and thieving cronies like 10 whitlow fingers.
It is on the basis of the above credentials that many youths and other Nigerians have now made Obi their sing-song and his campaign a ‘tsunamic wave’ that has two options. The first option is to win the 2023 presidential election while the second option is to cause a disruption in Nigeria’s chronic clientele state and rentier economy. So, for those who are underestimating Obi’s tsunami wave, from these two variables, one is a likely outcome in the February presidential election. The main people supporting Obi’s presidential candidacy are not asking for wraps of dollar or some sleazy deals to lend their support. They are genuinely doing that out of personal conviction.
Again, Obi is not running for the nation’s presidency on the basis of tribe or religion. For instance, this writer is a Boki man from Cross River State and has no links or lineage to Agulu, except the similarity of our surname. But there is a conviction that we should put Nigeria, not our personal interest, first and forward, hence the growing support for Obi. He (Obi) is also running based on competence, ability and capacity to govern; his requisite expertise and experience to manage people and resources. He has no toga of corruption or allegations of helping himself, his family or cronies to state coffers. There is no aura of arrogance, disrespect for the people and puffy shoulders around him, unlike what you see with the APC and PDP. As Przeworski posited in the opening quote above, the will to reset Nigeria lies with the voters and the choices they make in the forthcoming presidential race.
Thus, Nigerians are compelled to face, make or betray history in the 2023 presidential poll. It’s a triumvirate race among Obi of the Labour Party, Bola Tinubu of the APC and Atiku Abubakar of the PDP. It is an election where Nigerians must choose from and depart from the “superficials” and inconsequential primordial tendencies of Emì Lo Kan; born to rule political cabal, an egocentric ambition of a presidential wannabe and the incestuous appetite for feasting on the public purse, and the zeal to turn our presidential villa into a retirement home. Obi represents equity, social justice and competence and has the physical and intellectual capacity to govern and stay the course, and can be trusted with public funds. With Obi, it’s a complete departure from the ‘share the money’ mantra or the To ba t’eka, o le te owo (if you don’t vote, you won’t hold money) ideology. For so long, Nigerians have focused on the above mantra, which has dominated our leadership recruitment process and system. We must, therefore, go for substantive matters of state and humanity. Gabriel S. Lenz in his book, Follow the Leader? How Voters Respond to Politicians’ Policies and Performance, asked, “Do voters still judge politicians on such irrelevant and superficial characteristics, or do voters vote on substantive matters? With Obi, it’s a path with substantive matters, not ‘superficials.’
As Nigerians go to the polls in 2023, they will and should be thinking of the invasion of Nigeria by terrorists wanting to seize and capture their ancestral homes and lands. Voters should be aware that Nigeria is facing an existential threat of hunger, terrorism and extremists attacking churches in Southern Kaduna; in Ondo, Edo, Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa, Enugu states and around the country.
It would be far more disastrous to vote for someone who will turn a blind eye while religious terrorists attack citizens. The 2023 presidential election is very crucial: it’s either we face history or betray it.
Obi, a journalist and researcher, writes from Abuja