A close friend and comrade recently asked me if I am Obedient, suggesting that I am supporting Mr. Peter Obi, the Presidential candidate of the Labour Party. To say the least, I was very dismayed that anyone could imagine I will support any candidate other than Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. I may excuse any person if he/she is meeting me for the first time.
Having come a long way both as activist and learner of politics since my student days in the 1980s, our commitment to politics and the development of Nigeria was informed by a clear vision to build a society founded on equality and justice. Our politics of support or opposition to leaders normally take bearing from our assessment of commitment of individual leaders to issues of equality and justice, which is more a function of producing accountable leaders who will work to meet the expectations of citizens.
Somehow, our contemporary reality is that political choices are largely informed by sentiments often based on perceptions without any evidential objective indicator of probable commitment to deliver services and meet the expectations of citizens. It is more a case of blind expectations, which can only lead us to more frustrations and anger with our leaders. Partly because scholarship is very poor today in Nigeria, there are many so-called Obidient supporters who promote outright falsehood and political hate against other candidates and their supporters. This is unfortunately self-defeatist. As a member of APC, I want to campaign for all our candidates while at the same time respecting our opposition. People are free to make their choices and we should respect that. Once the element of respect is removed from the politics of choices of candidates, then democracy risks being downgraded to the level of anarchy.
The temptation to indulge in politics of disrespect could be linked to the apparent lack of confidence of winning the election. It is almost a case of if I lose it means the bad people have imposed themselves again. Everything is reduced to a contest between the good and the bad. What makes any candidate good or bad is left to some intuitive presentations by individuals who often reduced political contests to bullying conditions. With reference to the so-called Obidient, as much as we respect their choice, we also must appeal to them to honestly recognise the shortcomings of Mr. Peter Obi as a politician and Labour Party (LP) as a political party. Recognising these shortcomings will be important in convincing Nigerians that they are engaging the contest also as a strategy to reform both the person of Mr. Peter Obi and the organisation of LP as a political party.
In terms of the person of Mr. Peter Obi, so far, his characteristics is that of a typical Nigerian politician who is more of an election merchant presenting himself every four years for election, even if it means changing political party. Being an election merchant connotes an obvious lack of commitment and discipline to be loyal to any political party. This partly explains why Mr. Obi moved from All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and now LP between 2015 and now. What is the guarantee that his candidature of LP also bears a commitment to develop the LP and get it to overcome all its challenges. Noting that it is public knowledge that LP has been embroiled in a leadership crisis, how is Mr. Obi using his campaign to negotiate the resolution of the LP crisis. From a distant point of view, Mr. Obi is in fact indifferent to the crisis facing LP.
Beyond being indifferent, Mr. Obi is clearly alien to any ideological standpoint that can bring him close to the working class, which is the primary constituency of LP. Some of us are privileged to have been intellectually and organically connected to that constituency.
In fact, I am privileged to have managed the project which conceived and facilitated the initial negotiation between the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and its partners, notably civil society, which produced the LP in 2003. Part of the reality facing LP had to do with the close shop mentality of labour leaders, which blocked the party from being open to other Nigerians outside the mainstream labour movement. This reality blew open in the face of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole for instance when in 2007 after serving his eight years term as President of NLC and wanted to win the 2007 governorship election in Edo State, he had to syndicate alliance with Action Congress (AC).
Interestingly, once he won the 2007 election that was the end of the alliance as he moved to AC, while his LP membership became history. Part of what must be recognised in all these debates is that the fallacious politics of 2023 is more about the disappointments of Nigerians with our leaders and the state of the nation. While it is important to recognise the legitimate disappointment of Nigerians with our leaders and the state of the nation, it will remain a fallacy to imagine that a simple choice of a typical election merchant can resolve Nigeria’s challenges.
Not just Peter Obi, any other politician with the characteristics of changing political parties for the purpose of contesting elections, such a person is not what Nigeria needs today. Without prejudice to my respect for Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Sen. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, they are both in the same category with Mr. Obi. Alhaji Atiku has been either a Presidential candidate or aspirant in every election in different parties since 2007. Sen. Kwankwaso has moved from PDP to APC, back to PDP between 2015 and 2019, before finally forming New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) in 2022 and presenting himself as the presidential candidate of the party for the 2023 election.
Out of all the leading candidates, the only one that has never left his party to any party is Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. He is the only one that although he has been a national political leader since he left office as Governor of Lagos State in 2007, is presenting himself for the first time as a presidential candidate for the 2023 elections. In addition, he is the only contestant who together with other leaders of APC envisioned the political roadmap for the defeat of PDP. Together with President Muhammadu Buhari they provided the inspirational leadership that successfully negotiated the emergence of APC in 2013. The formation of APC was the first successful merger negotiation of opposition parties in Nigeria. It was also the first opposition to defeat a ruling party in 2015.
Without doubt, Nigerians had a lot of expectations. One of the expectations of Nigerians and indeed many of us in APC is that the management of the APC will broaden internal democracy and minimise, if not eliminate politics of imposition of candidates, which is the main characteristics of PDP. Broadening internal democracy is correlated to facilitate the emergence of good accountable leaders. Internal management of political parties and the process of candidates’ selection within a political party are strongly entwined such that once leaders of a political party are weakly accountable to members and interest groups within the party, it will be highly probable that internal process of candidate selection will hardly be representative of the diverse interests of members.
Once the emergence of candidates is not representative of the interests of members of political parties, elected representatives produced by such parties are more likely to be unaccountable to the electorate. Before highlighting our reality in APC, it is interesting how activists with some clear ideological orientation can suggest that a Mr. Obi, who within a week of his exit from PDP and joining LP, can inspire any hope of emerging as an accountable president. In the case of Alhaji Atiku, the level of intolerance and mismanagement of internal leadership dispute should frighten every patriotic Nigerian about entrusting the leadership of the country to such a person. Sen. Kwankwaso’s politics present him as a philosopher king who only revolves around his person and any opposition will not be allowed.
Lokman writes from Abuja