As Nigeria’s newly-elected president Bola Tinabu seems to be making his mark by undoing many of his predecessor’s policies – another battle is being waged in the courts between him and one of his rivals Peter Gregory Obi.
Obi has alleged the election was rigged in favor of Tinabu and is in court trying to prove this. Whether he succeeds or not, his ‘non-election’ remains controversial, with many asking what happened to that ‘influential’ youth vote he seemed to inspire confidence in during a poll with the lowest voter turnout since the country returned to democracy.
When Obi, the former governor of Anambra State, got a presidential ticket under the platform of the Labour Party, a political party with a poor track record, in May 2022, he attracted 1.2 million new followers on the giant social media network Twitter.
He had left the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – a party considered to be a serious presidential challenge, and his followership on Twitter is 3.5 million and growing.
It was the under-30 youth population that makes up about 70 percent of Nigeria’s population, drummed-up support for him, despite his party’s lack of political following.
The pre-election narrative was that the youth were tired of the old politicians, who they believe have nothing new to offer.
They saw Obi as a credible alternative, and his followers ran social media campaigns like #take back Naija on Twitter and tagged themselves “Obi-dients.”
“The run-up saw increased youth participation in the discourse and campaigns. Socioeconomic problems, including incessant university strikes and high youth unemployment, apparently contributed to their engagement. Young people made up around 76 percent of newly registered voters, with 40 percent of that number identifying as students,” says Teniola Tayo, Consultant, ISS and Principal Advisor, Aloinett Advisors on the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) website.
However, the official election turnout tells a different story – the election had the lowest voter turnout in the country’s history of democracy, and youth turnout, despite a spirited run-up to the election, was abysmal, also the lowest since Nigeria’s independence. In 36 states, less than half of the eligible population voted, and no state had a turnout above 40 percent.
In the three largest states based on voter registration — Lagos, Kano, and Rivers — less than a third of the eligible population voted. Rivers State turnout was 15.6 percent, the lowest in the country.
Overall, the national turnout was 29 percent. Of the 93.4 million registered voters, 87.2 million people collected their Permanent Voters Card, but the total number of actual voters on election day was 24.9 million.
So What Went Wrong?
Dada Emmanuel, 20, a university student, is an Obi supporter. He trekked more than 18 kilometers to his polling unit on February 25, 2023, to exercise his vote.
“I saw Peter Obi as the best of the three major candidates because he seemed to have more realistic aspirations for Nigeria, the ruling party failed us, and I think a change of government would have been nice for a better Nigeria,” said Emmanuel.
When Obi lost the election to Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who was considered aged and feeble, he felt disillusioned.
Obi was among the top 15 presidential contenders under the umbrella of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) before he left the party in May 2022, less than three days before the party’s primary on account of the internal imbroglio within the party, making Alhaji Atiku Abubakar the flag bearer.
The Emergence of the Labour Party or Should That Be the Emergence of Obi Party?
The Labour Party was formed in 2002 and registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC.
Compared with the All Progressive Congress (APC) and PDP, it was considered unpopular and, in the 2019 elections, recorded a dismal performance.
Samuel Ayomide, 18, knew this but still threw his weight behind Obi.
“Peter Obi was the only presidential aspirant without any corruption links. He is the only ex-governor that receives no pension from his state. Compare that with Tinubu, who collects (a pension) from Lagos every month,” he says.
Whatever the results, it is clear that Obi’s presence in the LP made a massive difference, and the party garnered 6,101,533, ranking third.
Obi and PDP’s Abubaker are among several petitioners who are being heard in the courts disputing the election, but the judgments will only be known months after Tinubu’s inauguration as president.
Obi has asked urged the court to nullify Tinubu’s victory and order a fresh poll.
Joseph Owan, a political analyst and Oyo State coordinator for World Largest Lesson, Nigeria, says he believes Nigerian youth are on the verge of changing the narrative because they followed the person and not the party.
“In everything involving elections, we all know that in the past, the election is always between the two top political parties (PDP & APC). With so little time, Obi came on board, (and) we all saw how he made waves based on the numbers of States he won during the presidential election.”
Owan maintained that there is a bright future for Obi in the next presidential election if he doesn’t win the case in court.
“By then, he will have established himself in terms of awareness, orientation, and advocacy in some key places like the Northern and Southwestern states,” he says, adding that his popularity will increase with time.
Nevertheless, the road to success is not an easy one in Nigeria, as there are many conflicting agendas at play.
Professor Pius Abioje of the Department of Religions at the University of Ilorin says Nigeria is not structured for equity, which resulted in the “survival of the fittest” among the politicians.
“There is a prevailing jungle law of survival of the fittest. Politicians use ethnicity, religion, and money to get patronage,” he told IPS.
Abioje further says that a detachment of religion from politics could be a solution – but there was a long way to go – with political support often divided along religious lines.
“These dwindling numbers highlight how Nigeria’s politics and state institutions continue to exclude rather than include,” an associate fellow of the Africa Programme at Chatham House London, Leena Hoffmann, was quoted as saying in Dataphyte.
Idayat Hassan, director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), quoted in the Premium Times, called on INEC to improve its election management and embark on a voter register audit. “Nigeria doesn’t have a voter register audit, an audit that takes out those who have died and all other ineligible voters from the system.”
“The fact that a significant percentage of Nigerians fail to engage in elections is a concern and perhaps points to growing disillusionment with their ability to shape a more democratic society,” she said.
IPS UN Bureau Report