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Nigeria’s ‘Obidient’ Movement is Africa’s Top Social Force in 2023

By Caleb Onyeabor/Special to The African Times/USA

The historic and competitive elections held in the World’s most populated black nation was marked by the emergence, rise and dominance of a movement built around the ambition of one of the presidential contestants, Peter Obi.

With the former Lagos state governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu declaring his intention to run for Presidency under the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar declaring to run under the platform of the major opposition party, People’s Democratic Party (PDP), political analysts quickly concluded that the presidential race will be a two horse race. Peter Obi who had served as former governor of Anambra state and Vice Presidential candidate to the PDP’s Atiku Abubakar was yet to declare his intention to contest. As at this time, he had won large followership with impressive accounts of his stewardship and philosophy both as governor and Vice Presidential candidate.

As a result, there were increasing calls for Mr. Obi to declare for the presidency as against settling for a vice presidential slot under Atiku Abubakar. The number of persons who joined in requesting Peter Obi to declare intention for Presidency increased as the days went on. Thus, a movement was born. Cashing in on that public sentiments that has been built around his name, Obi threw his heart into the ring and declared to contest against his former boss under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Continuing with his impressive tales and philosophy which appeared to many as a shift from the norm, Obi warmed his way into more hearts. His emphasis on his frugality citing his previous record of saving funds instead of spending recklessly as is the norm in public service in Nigeria endeared him to many.

The voice of the members of this movement began to be heard on social media making a case for Obi’s candidacy. As at that time, the corrupt practice of purchasing votes from delegates to win the primary election made it unclear as to how Obi will emerge as a candidate of the PDP even as Obi himself has built his campaign rhetoric about his resolve to win by merit rather than buy his way through. Closer to the primary election, the intense politicking that took place made it clear that Obi would be humiliated in the primary elections as he insisted that he wouldn’t go with the practice of paying delegates to win. Realizing this inevitable outcome, Mr. Obi dumped the People’s Democratic Party, a move that even attracted more followers and admiration for the man. Many who were joining the movement at this time were swayed by the action of a politician refusing to participate in a corrupt electioneering process but rather insisting on merit based nomination. Mr. Obi continued to impress the audience with accounts of his stewardship as governor, daring naysayers with three words that he popularized “Go and Verify”. Before now, asking to be verified was an uncommon practice as politicians want their activities to be shredded in secrecy owing to the numerous corruption practices that are likely to be identified. Obi was not scared of being verified and this elevated him even more. His mastery of the numbers when he makes political speeches further increased his profile and even when he had dumped the People’s Democratic Party, the movement around him continued to grow.

As at this time, political analysts were pointing out that their earlier claim that Obi would go nowhere in the elections was right citing his departure from the PDP as there were no other third force capable enough to rival the two big parties. Obi joined Labour party and his movement named Obidient movement took over with increasing momentum.

The first thing that the Obidient movement was to take over the internet. They took over social media and chased out as well as silenced voices from other parties. The internet was theirs, the social media was theirs. Absolute dominance.

When the noise being made by the Obidient movement on the internet became too loud to be ignored, political analysts weighed in again by predicting that the movement will go nowhere because elections are not won on social media. Powerful figures in the ruling party described them as a social media movement with no real impact and as “Just Four People tweeting in the Room”.

Obi clinching the Labour Party ticket led to another increased momentum as members of the Obidient movement began to troop to the street for rallies. The political calculations of the presidential candidate of the APC where he chose a Muslim vice president candidate and the fact that the presidential candidate of the PDP is from the same ethnic group as the then President further aggravated the decision of members of the public to swarm into the Obidient movement in massive numbers. With many popular celebrities adding their voices too, the boom was obvious. The movement began a wave of “One Million Marches” across key cities in the country. When they were dismissed as inconsequential for the candid reason of lack of political structure that translates to absence in wide areas, the Obidient movement metamorphosed itself into a temporary political structure with a mandate to reach out to as many persons and areas as they could.

The result showed up a few months to the elections when online polls started tipping the labour party candidate ahead.  Analysts and politicians except for a few, in the major parties were still defiant insisting that Obi and his Obidient movement will do no harm. They even predicted that Peter Obi will not win 2 states out of the 36. But one thing that they couldn’t deny was that the Obidient movement has birthed the loudest third force in the history of the country.

Elections came and eyes opened. From four people sitting in a room to a movement that set a couple of records. Like the Spartan King Leonides brushing the face of Xerxes with a spear after Xerxes had boasted of being untouchable, at the eve of the election, the ruling party and the major opposition party had been rattled and counted their losses for underestimating the Obidient movement. Majority of the predictions of political analysts were shattered. Peter Obi and the Labour party won all the states in the South East breaking a record held by the PDP since 1999. The biggest shock of perhaps Nigeria’s fourth republic is the defeat of the candidate of the APC in Lagos state. A state that even Former President Olusegun Obasanjo with his heinous PDP machinery could not capture from Bola Tinubu, Peter Obi and the Obidient movement broke the myth. But for an obvious manipulation of votes in Rivers state, the Labour Party were the rightful winner in that state as reported by investigations from the BBC and Premium Times making it the first time since 1999 that a party other than the PDP reigned supreme in Rivers state in the presidential elections.

The Obidient movement went to the backyard of the President in the FCT and beat the two major parties silly ensuring that none of them secured even 25% of the votes cast in the nation’s capital. It was historic. Surprisingly, the movement made inroads in the North particularly in the North Central clinching the trophy in Plateau states. At the end of the elections, Peter Obi won 12 states and the FCT meaning that he won more states than the candidate of the two major parties although trailed behind the two in the number of official vote count. The impact of the wave led by the Obidient movement was not just felt in the Presidential elections. Sitting legislators lost their reelection bids, sitting governors suffered political defeats and others had to work extra hard to escape the wrath of this movement at the polls.

One thing is clear, this is a movement of the future and if the gains the movement recorded within a short period of time are built upon in subsequent elections, it will take over Nigeria.

Going forward, the movement must not falter. Seeing that it seeks the enthronement of some positive virtues and values in Nigerian politics, it should not falter. More work needs to be done. The temporary structure set up for the election must be expanded and made permanent so that in future elections it will put up a political winning structure that neither of the big parties can rival. To achieve this, members of the movement must join the party from wards to local government, states to national level and be actively involved. Existing support groups must not be dismantled but rather, work harder to build upon their previous success. Structure is people.

Having more people in different levels, different positions, committed and working towards the actualization of a goal. Lastly, the movement must not throw away its dominance of the social media. It was able to go this far because of social media. It should continue to make the social media its forte. Peter Obi should work on building more alliances and the consultations for future elections should begin. The elections may not have ended the way the Obidient movement wanted but whether anyone likes it or not, they cannot take away the fact that the Obidient movement was heard. They shook Nigeria and deserve their flowers.

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