By Charles Ofoji
The D-Day has finally arrived and over ninety million eligible Nigerian voters will cast their vote to elect a new President in an election like no other, which had been dubbed by some commentators as a ballot-box war between the poor and the rich, who had over the decades fed fat on the commonwealth, to the detriment of the former. A legendary greed, unparalleled even in medieval history, which would also make a good case study in psychiatry.
The big question is: who would be victorious? The downtrodden or a corrupt system that has held them in brutal bondage for decades? Would the ordinary people finally choose to extricate themselves from the iron grip of a ravenous elite or elect to retain the status quo and wallow through another eight years of degradation and dehumanization?
Would they embrace the hope offered by the wealthy but compassionate businessman, Peter Obi of the Labour Party and hand the former frugal Anambra governor the mandate to forge a new, fair country, where the modest dreams of the common people could be realized? A country, where according to Obi, who has upturned Nigerian political architecture with his popular message, “a son or daughter of a nobody can be somebody without knowing anybody” – unlike in the old Nigeria, which he says he wants to dismantle.
About six months ago, Mr. Obi was wandering in a no-man’s land politically, after he was frustrated out of the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP as a result of the massive dollarization of its presidential primary.
He later joined an obscure Labour Party, and with his inspiring message of hope, galvanized millions of Nigerians, especially the youths, who had lost faith in their country, and its rigged political system.
The two main parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party, had dismissed Obi’s rising popularity at their peril. They had mocked him as an internet candidate, but the army of Obedients successfully spread the message of hope and it materialised into one-million marches across the length and breadth of the country.
It had never been witnessed in the annals of Nigerian political history that the electorate, including the jobless, used their own money to buy campaign t-shirts, face-caps and organized rallies. Before now, the culture was that people were paid or hired to attend political rallies – to give the impression that the candidate is popular.
The youths were enthused by Obi’s message that he was not running for president, rather they (the oppressed people) were running for president through him and his likewise popular running-mate, Dr. Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, to take back their country.
Obi promised to turn Nigeria “from consumption to production” so as to create jobs that would employ the teeming youths, who are yet to get a feel that their country is the seventh largest oil exporter in the world. The hundreds of billions of dollars earned from oil since 1960 had not trickled down to the man on the street. And they are nowhere to be seen. Eighty percent of that money had ended up in private pockets. He also successfully bandied his stellar achievements as governor, his frugal management of public funds and his unblemished record of being incorruptible, in a country where everyone seems to be corrupt. He dared anybody in doubt to “go and verify”, and it became a slogan for millions of his supporters, who prided themselves in the integrity and character of the man they were following, almost fanatically. The same cannot be said of his two rivals, Atiku Abubakar of the PDP and Bola Tinubu of the APC, who had all through the campaign window engaged in vicious war of words as to who was more corrupt.
When it was business as usual, this election would have been between the former vice president and former Lagos governor, who solely based his run for president on the claim that he built Lagos – distancing himself as much as possible from President Muhammadu Buhari, his party man, whose administration is struggling, in its twilight, not to be the worst since the country gained independence from Britain. But Nigerians have discovered Obi, got seduced by his uncommon compassionate nature and message of real hope and it has become a real problem for the two parties that have dominated the political space since the fourth Republic in 1999.
Obi’s Labour Party has now become a third major force in Nigerian politics and almost all the opinion polls, including that of CNN and Bloomberg have tipped the simple man from Onitsha to emerge victorious on Saturday.
More people, especially the hitherto lethargic youths, registered to vote in this election like never before. And a historic turnout is expected despite the challenges of insecurity across the country. It is however left to be seen if the polls would turn out to be accurate, and how much the energized youths would eventually turn out to vote, in the face of voter suppression, intimidation and violence, engineered by those who has held the people hostage, and are driven almost insane by fear of an imminent loss of power.
In any case, the momentum is behind Obi, and if he eventually breezes through the finish-line, it would be a tsunami that would politically consume the old force. In the new Nigeria envisaged by the LP flag bearer and his Obidients, they would look like outcasts and would be forced to quit the stage, or even go on exile.
This writer calls for peaceful and credible 2023 general elections as President Muhammadu Buhari has consistently promised. No one needs to tell those in charge that anything to the contrary could set the country on fire.
And I encourage Nigerians to seize this historic opportunity and change their narrative. ITS NOW OR NEVER!