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By Caleb Onyeabor/Special to The African Times/USA
Like in most democracies, the Nigerian people will go to the polls in February to decide who will run their country for the next four years. For them, it has been more likened to the Hobson’s choice, or a choice between the devil and the deep blue seas. Worse off on the list of the various elections is the Presidential election. Their experiences with corrupt elected officials has led to voter apathy. Turn out is often epileptic. But it seems that all that is about to change. Or, is it going to be business as usual? Certainly not !
All things being equal, there will be election next year to determine who will be Nigeria’s next President after the eight-year tenure of Muhammadu Buhari. Of interest to pundits is the overarching interest of the youthful segment of the population. They are found in the creeks, backwoods, and on the streets of major urban centers.
The youths, most of who are among the burgeoning army of the country’s unemployed who are clamoring for a change of guards. And they seem fired up. Leading up to the official commencement of the national campaign, there have been a rash of mass demonstrations and rallies around the country. There is no doubt that the enthusiasm to participate in the 2023 elections by these youths is unprecedented. Voter registration has been at an all-time high. Older voters who had lost interest in the electoral process have seemingly regained their mojo. They are all invigorated and are dusting up their voters card, and determined to force a change.
For the first time in the history of Africa’s most populous nation, an organic movement for a presidential candidate seemingly sprang forth from almost nowhere. Many say that there is a deviation from the usual practices of the past where politicians and their agents openly solicit and buy votes.This time around, the beleaguered youths are rejecting mouth-watering monetary. As a counter-action, there has been a groundswell mobilization of these youths who donate monies from their scarce resources to support the candidacy of Peter Obi, a former state governor from the southeast part of the country heavily promoted by his supporters, especially the youths, as austere, someone who they believe has the capacity to address the manifold problems of their beloved country. According to one of those who spoke to The African Times/USA, “Nigerians for the first time are rallying behind a candidate who has not attempted to buy their votes”.
Peter Obi has in a few months risen from being an underdog to representing a third force in the Nigerian political space. Not only has he edged his way into being a major candidate in the election, he has become the hope of a large section of the Nigerian population, many of who have been frustrated by the worsening economic and security situation in the country.
“A frugal administrator whose tales of cutting down the cost of governance during his eight-year tenure as governor of Anambra endeared him to the youths. Since the people are only used to leaders who rather waste public funds than make heaven, the story of Peter Obi as governor resonated with his supporters. For the first time, Nigerians got to hear of a governor who gave a proper account of his stewardship and even invited the anti-graft agencies to audit his administration’s finances before leaving. In a country where stealing and mismanagement of public finance has become a fanciful, hearing about this man was music the ears of Nigerians. That Peter Obi refused to accept the ridiculous pensions and gratuities given to former public executive office holders because he believes the funds can be channeled to other areas of people needs presented him as an angel in a country ruling class dominated by openly corrupt individuals”.
“Peter Obi furthered cemented the boom in his public profile with an account of how he cleared the debt of the state he governed and saved money for his successor to kickstart the new government. In a country where politicians will rather die than leave the treasury intact, for most people, such a man stood out.
“His outing in 2019 where he participated in the vice Presidential debate as vice president of the candidate of the main opposition party got many more wondering why he wasn’t contesting for the office of the President given his outstanding understanding of the issues and problems coupled with his track record as governor. In 2022, he bowed to public pressure to resist settling for the vice Presidential candidate position to contest for the top office. His ordeals as an aspirant in the country’s main opposition party where he was being frustrated by systemic politicians for refusing to participate in the age long practice of sharing money to win delegates vote, his withdrawal from the party into a small and largely unknown political party has made him become the symbol for defeating the old practice.
“When the support for Peter Obi began, it was dismissed by the establishment as “social media noise” but to the surprise of these naysayers, the movement has grown into a force to be reckoned with “Nigeria is perhaps, one of the world biggest paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty. The country is currently vying for the position of the world’s headquarters of poverty despite its enormous human and natural resources. Plagued by security challenges in the northern and southern parts of the country, an unemployment rate of 33%, inflation rate of over 20 person, debts of over 40 trillion naira, highest out of school children in the world and dwindling standards of living, the candidacy of Peter Obi is representing that ray of hope that Nigerians badly need”.
“His campaign has been built around the economic policy of transforming Nigeria from a consumer nation into production one. His usual frugal approach to finance is featuring in his aggressive plan to cut down the cost of governance and replicate government waste of public funds with the use of these funds to rejig the economic and social systems of the country has found a spot in the psyche of his audience.
“To many Nigerians, Peter Obi is not just the man who can salvage the dying country but a leader whose victory at the polls will represent the victory of the masses over the ambition of a group of corrupt and inefficient politicians.
When you do the right thing, you stand out. Good leadership and development is not rocket science. In a country with a history of bad leaders, it is easy to shine when you are a bit different. Running against two formidable and well-funded opponents in Bola Ahmed Tinubu, also former state governor and a titan of the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar representing the main opposition party the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Obi has his work cut out for him. How he survives or triumphs will depend largely on this army of youths determined to upstage the status quo. Nigerian youths with about 65% of Nigeria’s population is already a majority. The energy is there. They have the keys to Aso Rock if only they are united and determined to wrestle power from the status quo. This – the unity and determination of the youths during the elections proper – is the one last thing that must happen for the Peter Obi Miracle to be possible next year.
In the midst of political and economic turmoil, African leaders can never resign voluntarily until they are coerced and ousted from power through public unrest or uncivil means. In 2019, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan after 30 years in power and 3 months of civil unrest had to be ousted by the military and placed in detention. In the same year, Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced to resign by civil unrest against his fifth term after spending 20 years in power.
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