2023, Peter Obi and the Question of Structure

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Dr. Chris Anyokwu

By Chris Anyokwu, 

Such is the asphyxiating stranglehold of despair and disillusionment in which Nigerians have long been held by the two main state political parties, the APC and the PDP, two sides of the same coin, that the momentous advent of Peter Obi seems to be a breath of fresh air to most Nigerians, particularly the youth. Truth be told, this is not the first time Nigerians have been made to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  Most Nigerians still recall with mingled feelings of pained guilt and impotent rage how they all earnestly yearned for anybody but Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan just before the present nightmare began.  They had thought they had been pushed beyond the end of things by the unaccountably disastrous non-performance of Jonathan who had been in the saddle for about six or seven years after combining the remaining years of the late president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s tenure with his own four-year first term in office.  Things had gone from bad to worse as far as all the indicators of development were concerned.  The economy was in complete tatters as the nation’s currency, the Naira, progressively haemorrhaged.  This inexorably had resulted in skyrocketing inflation, thereby inaugurating   mass immiseration and millennial misery.  Insecurity was rife and rampant bookmarked by the Chibok Girls Abduction and the #Bring-Back-Our-Girls movement it spawned.  To be certain, it became commonplace to hear people, both old and young, moaning and cursing Jonathan and his co-travellers in government for leading them to this sorry pass.  They had called him some choice things such as “weak”, “effeminate”, “an apology”, “clueless” and such withering putdowns.  Before he was booted or hounded out of power, Jonathan’s approval ratings were at an all-time low.  He was, in sum, perceived as something of an apology, a pariah of a kind.  He was so roundly deprecated that even if the Almighty God Himself had endorsed him for a second term in office, Nigerians would have scoffed at the divine instruction and pooh-poohed God out of court.  If anything, there was no better time to sell Nigerians a pig in a poke than the period in Nigeria’s history presaging the election cycle of 2015.  Then, Nigeria was a nation at the end of its tether, a nation hobbled by political hors de combat; a nation skewered on the suppurating spits of a negative dialectic of suffering  amid stupendous wealth.  Careering dangerously down the slippery slope of self-destruct, retired General Muhammadu Buhari had materialised on the horizon.  Cameth the hour, cometh the man!  PMB’s spin-doctors didn’t need to cudgeled their brains to excogitate “brilliant” alternative organograms on how to steer the Nigeria ship away from the iceberg of certain disaster and colossal doom.  Jonathan’s score-card was excuse enough for regime change.  The Muslim North and the Christian South were united by their common repulsion for the Lilliputian at the helm.  Thus, enter PMB, a self-styled born-again democrat who claimed to have interred with the erstwhile military dictatorship his dye-in-the-wool religious fundamentalism and political high-handedness.  He had reassured his compatriots that his was not merely a sartorial makeover of putting off the jackboots and putting on the babanriga but a psycho-spiritual volte-face, a genuine repentance: Saul is dead; long live Paul!  Yet again, Buhari and his minders didn’t need to do much to win over the doubting Thomases  among the electorate that he was the awaited Messiah.  Thus riding high on the eddying gale of messianism, PMB had promptly swept Jonathan out of the way, sending him scuttling ungainly  back to the backwaters of Otuoke.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan

Former President Goodluck Jonathan

Peter Obi

Peter Obi

It is instructive to iterate that President Goodluck Jonathan had left a word of caution for Nigerians as he was about to walk quietly into the night.  He had told them that they would regret their decision to ditch him for a serially-wounded and thus vengeful retired infantry General from Daura.  He had told them that they would miss him and prefer his “cluelessness”  to the Lake of Fire awaiting them in the coming dispensation.  Although, to be fair, Jonathan never said these specific words but one does not require a lot of mental acuity to decipher the tone and tenor of his words on marble.  The taste of the pudding is in the eating, as the adage goes.  Nigerians have experienced the vastly divergent styles of leadership of both “rulers” and in hindsight are now cured of all illusion of salvific redemption typified by PMB.  Like the Biblical prophets of old, Jonathan can safely be characterized as a latter-day prophet and seer as far as Nigeria’s political chess-game is concerned.  This is because all the warnings he gave to his hapless and beleaguered compatriots have come to pass.  Nigerians miss President Jonathan sorely; they recall his reign, warts and all, with wistfulness and nostalgia and wish they could turn back the hands of Time.  Their greatest mistake, it would seem, was jettisoning Jonathan.  But it is too late to cry when the head is off.  There’s no point crying over spilt milk.

President Muhammadu Buhar

President Muhammadu Buhari

What shall it profit Nigerians to weep and wail over their one costly mistake?  Experience has shown that mere electoralism, that is, the conduct of elections from time to time, does not fundamentally alter the course of a people’s national trajectory.  Although in some sane climes, this might be disproved by reality on ground, qualitatively speaking but in the postcolonial hellhole known as Nigeria, the people know better than to get their hopes up whenever an election cycle comes round.  At all events, the dramatis personae hardly ever change from epoch to agonizing epoch.  It is either the same group of men (almost always men) or their children who are foisted upon the people.  This is a story for another day.  Therefore, regardless of who ends up in the saddle, things simply metastasize from bad to worse for the poor disinherited masses. By now, Nigerians know only too well that there’s a great difference between the politician-as-candidate and the politician-in-power.  Some conspiracy theorists have spun differing yarns about what some regard as the “selectorate” or “the cabal” (a tiny but powerful power honchos and hierarchs) who ceaselessly work the levers of power and also, more crucially, act as gatekeepers over who finally gets to be president.  Now that the two state political parties, the APC and the PDP, have had their Special Conventions and picked their respective presidential nominees, the picture is getting clearer as to where the country is heading.  Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the PDP presidential flag-bearer, is well-known having been Vice to President Olusegun Obasanjo.  And, for his own part, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the APC presidential nominee is universally acknowledged as an experienced political strategist, having served as former Governor of Lagos State and Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  Thus both gentlemen are billionaires, pro-establishment political actors and leaders of men and women.  For a very long time, many people have envisaged a scenario in which Atiku would tackle BAT (no pun intended please!); when the two Titans would step into the “hell in the cell”, (apologies to WWE) duel to the death over the top job!  BAT, for instance, has left no one in doubt (forget the “Emi lo kan” gaffe)  that ruling Nigeria is his ultimate raison d’etre.  Atiku, on the other hand, has flitted from party to party in his desperation to be president as well.  So between these two gentlemen of Verona, sorry, Nigeria we have a balance of vaulting ambition.  There is, in fact, a sense in which the story of Nigeria has been mainly about the contestation of power between two powerful personages: in the 1960s, it’s between Gowon and Ojukwu; in the 1970s, Murtala and Dimka ( or any other ambitious soldier); in the ’80s, Shagari and Awolowo, Buhari versus IBB; in the ’90s, Abacha versus MKO Abiola, etc., etc.  Today we are faced with a slugfest to be joined between Akiku and Tinubu (or the north versus the south, if you prefer).  Interestingly, both have amassed over the years stupendous wealth, a veritable humongous war-chest for the d-day of the Battle Royale.  Additionally, both have spent years building “structure”, meaning leaders at ward, council, state and national levels, establishing networks and alliances, building bridges, criss-crossing the length and breadth of the country as strategy to galvanize bodies and minds towards the realisation of the ultimate dream, namely: to be president of Nigeria come 2023.

Atiku and Tinubu. Credit: The Guardian

Be that as it may, many are equally quick to argue that power has been rotating between the PDP and the APC which Atiku and Tinubu represent with absolutely nothing but insupportable pain, misery and despair to show for it.  They wonder what these two geriatric men would do differently from what their predecessors had done.  Nigerians rightly feel duped, shortchanged and taken for a ride by the Nigerian power elite.  Without exception, regardless of party affiliation, everyone of them is in politics, it would seem, for personal self-aggrandizement and for dynastic self-perpetuation.  But these people are infinitely energized by the nation’s legendary amnesia and time-honoured myopia, two conditions perfect for the perpetual subjugation of a people.  It, thus, matters precious little if the people are wallowing in disease, poverty and ignorance, so long as the man of power is from their “tribe and tongue”, they would happily renew his mandate to continue to superintend over their collective hopelessness.  It also matters little whether some of the loud-mouthed members of the electorate are PhD holders, professors, media executives, leaders of thought and the professional types.  When it comes to national politics, they are no better than the roadside Akara, seller, Iya Sikirat, the Mama-Put or Kabiru, the illiterate vulcanizer.  All claims to superior logic and sapience end up on the dunghill of muddle-headed subjectivism, medieval atavism and downright irrationality.  In a word, this tribal bigotry, the widest chink in Nigeria’s socio-political armour, is the undying curse of the nation.

 

When it comes to national politics, they are no better than the roadside Akara, seller, Iya Sikirat, the Mama-Put or Kabiru, the illiterate vulcanizer.  All claims to superior logic and sapience end up on the dunghill of muddle-headed subjectivism, medieval atavism and downright irrationality.  In a word, this tribal bigotry, the widest chink in Nigeria’s socio-political armour, is the undying curse of the nation.

Interestingly, people have been touting the idea of what they love to refer to as the “Third Force”, that is, a countervailing tendency against the PDP and the APC.  For all intents and purposes, it does appear Mr Peter Obi, the presidential nominee of the dominant faction of the Labour Party represents this.  Mr Obi, former Governor of Anambra
State, banker, entrepreneur, administrator per excellence, inter alia, seems too good to be true.  Seeing him you would wonder if a good thing could come out of Nazareth (read; postcolonial Nigeria).  Fetchingly youngish, articulate, extremely grounded in the “nuts and bolts” of  realpolitik and economic management having been trained in the best universities in Europe and America, Peter Obi seems tailor-made to fit the bill, an answer to the cries and tears of Nigerians these several seasons.  Truthfully, he ticks all the boxes regarding the rare qualities of leadership – goal-driven, detribalized and burning with patriotic and pan-Nigerian ardour.  But, like Naaman, he is … well, Igbo.  And that’s a lapsus calami!  Can Nigerians slough off the intrusive spectre of the past, as Ogbonnaya Onu cried out at the APC convention, and do the Igbo justice?  People say Peter Obi has got no “structure” in place to gain the presidency.  And we ask: what is “structure” but men and women united by a common purpose and driven by the desire to change a negative situation?  Again, Peter Obi is considered as an upstart, an idealist.  They say he is stingy, a cardinal sin in these parts a la delegates! The Labour Party, truth be told, is nothing but an amalgam of strange bedfellows; most of them political underdogs, mere plebeians or lumpen-proletariat, comprising members of the underclasses and the dirt-poor.  On this vexed issue of lack of “structure”, hear Peter Obi: “Whenever I hear of “no structure”, my answer to it is simple.  The 100 million Nigerians that live under poverty will be the structure; the 35 million youths who don’t know where the next meal will come from will be the structure, the elderly, our mothers, our fathers, the old ones who are dying for being owed gratuity will be the structure; the ASUU, the lecturers who are being owed and the students who are not in school will be the structure, the structure is about human beings”.  And since politics is capital-intensive, the Labour Party seems out of its depth and in straitened circumstances in spite of Peter Obi’s rumoured billions. What are a young boy’s suit and tie to his father’s ragged wardrobe?  However, since elections are won and lost by voters, Peter Obi can leverage the teeming armies of the fellahin, the largely disillusioned and disaffected Nigerian workers, market men and women, students, artisans, in short, everyday people to take a pot-shot at the 2023 presidential election.  Who knows?  Who knows? But a reality-check is in order at this juncture.  So long as ethnicism always trumps commonsense in matters political in Nigeria; so long as ours is patently driven by lucre; so long as “stomach infrastructure” remains the foundation of our electoral system and so long as a shadowy  “cabal” continues to determine our political destiny, Mr Peter Obi may perish the thought of succeeding PMB in the near future and prepare instead to take tutorials from his more hardnosed, battle-ready opponents. Or, perhaps a return to the PDP to pick up the VP slot is on the cards?   The clock is ticking… and destiny waits.

 

Chris Anyokwu writes from University of Lagos.

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