Election 2023 As Giant Killer, End of Incumbency Power?

When the 10th National Assembly, NASS resumes after the inauguration of the new president on 29th May 2023, most of the current members of the Senate and House of Representatives in both the red and green chambers of NASS would be strangers.

That is because a significant number of members of the outgoing assembly who represent the old order would have gone with the winds as they have become victims of what l would like to term,’Obi-Dients Effect’

As the political whirlwind that swept across the country, particularly in the southern region, with more disruptive effects in the south-east, south-south, and south-west as well as a significant swathe of north-central zones took its toll; politics as we used to know it has been upended in the voting bases of most members of the old political order.

Hitherto, as a member of the commentariat, l had been drawing the attention of the Obi-Dients (which is a third force making waves in the political space) to the fact that they were handicapped based on the reality that they had no political structure.

That is underscored by the fact that universally, without structures that are the bulwark of political parties, public office seekers hardly succeed in their quest. It is one of the reasons that even in the almighty United States of America, USA, which is the melting pot of democracy and where independent candidacy is allowed, only one independent candidate has ever become president and that is Mr. George Washington.

Yes, President George Washington, the first and two-time US president is the only independent candidate till date that has won the US Presidency. And on both occasions, George Washington unanimously received all the votes of the electoral college. That is according to reports by scholars which are documented in US archives.

“In both the election of 1789 and 1792 Washington received all votes from the Electoral College. During the first election, Washington won the electors of all ten eligible states. In 1792, Washington received all 132 electoral votes, winning each of the fifteen states, without belonging in any of the major political parties”.

Thereafter, in 1992 and 1996 the billionaire Texas Instruments owner, Mr. Ross Perot also unsuccessfully vied for the office of the president of the US as an independent candidate.

Another politician who attempted to become president in the US in 2016 as an independent candidate and failed, is Mr. Evans McMullin. Billionaire Perot and Mr. McMullin failed to make it into the Oval Office in the White House simply because they had no structure which only well-established political parties can offer.

Incidentally, what just played out in the current election season in Nigeria had happened in the US in 2016 when owing to lack of popularity of the two traditional and major parties’ candidates, Senator Hillary Clinton of the Democratic Party and the billionaire property tzar, Mr. Donald Trump of the Republican Party, provided a window for Mr. McMullin to record the highest performance by non-Republican or Democratic Party candidates in over two decades in US politics.

Co-incidentally, a scenario similar to one painted above got replicated here in Nigeria during the 25 February 2023 presidential and National Assembly elections, as the unpopularity of the candidates of the ruling APC Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and main opposition PDP, Wazirin Atiku Abubakar amongst the youth population that are desperately seeking a change from the old to a new order, threw up Mr. Peter Obi who ran on a platform of no significance, but who embodies the aspirations of the youths.

What the narrative above indicates is that structures matter in politics because without their candidates vying for the presidency of any country do not get their goal accomplished. That is why the likes of Professors Pat Utomi and Kingsley Moghalu who are renowned intellectuals of no mean stature, who are eminently qualified to lead our country, contested for the office of president at various times on the platform of fringe parties that had no structure to be reckoned with, failed spectacularly and embarrassingly.

The same situation applies to media entrepreneurs and journalists, Mr. Omoyele Sowore and Bashorun Dele Momodu who had also thrown their hats into the ring signifying their intentions to become the president of our great country, Nigeria but have serially failed to realize their ambition.

But in rather uncanny ways, Mr. Peter Obi’s case has been better than the previous attempts by the quartet earlier highlighted in the manner that Reverend Jessie Jackson, a black rights activist who contested for the presidency of the USA on several occasions on the platform of fringe parties that are structureless, became the forerunner to Mr. Barrack Obama who achieved the feat of becoming the first and only black man to attain the position of the 44th president of the US.

The reason Jessie Jackson failed and Barack Obama made it into the White House is basically because while the former vied for the office without a structured platform, the latter contested on the platform of an established party with very sturdy platform-the Democratic party.

At the onset of his quest for the presidency of Nigeria after he exited PDP just before the primaries in May and joined the relatively unknown and structureless Labor Party, LP, Mr. Peter Obi was looking like an independent candidate. Hence, I kept raising the concern about the jeopardy that he would face by running for the office of president without doing so on solid political structures.

But going forward, the LP Presidential standard bearer has shed that toga of being structureless, because LP has owing to its tenaciousness and resourcefulness resulting in its resounding success in the current election circle, built the structures which we had been calling the attention of Obi-Dients to, and a critical factor which Mr. Obi and his team appeared to have been treating with contempt.

As can be seen from the narrative above, the prognosis that the LP and Mr. Obi would not be the party and the person respectively that president Muhammadu Buhari would be handing over the reins of government to on 29 May, is both a figment of imagination but based on a close study of presidential system of democracy in the clime where the practice originated-the US.

Since our presidential system of government was copied from the US, I had tasked myself with the duty of taking a deep dive into the annals of US practice of presidential type of democracy with a view to thoroughly interrogating it in order to figure out what worked and did not work for them.

The self-imposed assignment was accomplished by applying trend analysis. And based on my finding, I concluded that the LP and its presidential candidate Mr. Obi had vaulting ambition for intending to occupy Aso Rock Villa as the ruling party and the president of Nigeria respectively in the current election circle without the bulwark of a political structure.

The LP being a relatively unknown political platform without established political structures and Mr. Obi, at that time, being a sort of an unknown political quantity, exhibited the characteristics of independent candidacy as we know it in the US presidential system of government, hence I deemed his aspiration as unrealistic and unachievable, since rigging is usually carried out by state actors or the establishment?

For instance, assuming for the purpose of this analogy, the APC actually doctored the results of the election held in the 176,856 polling units set up by INEC nationwide as being alleged, would the feat of rigging have been carried without its structure?

But living in denial publicly, the LP/Obi-Dients had discountenanced our wise counsel by claiming that structures were irrelevant in politics. Meanwhile, they were privately motivating and recruiting an army of aggrieved Nigerians (mainly the youth of the #Endsars cohort) who having had enough of bad government, were determined to force a change through a legitimate political process.

As such, it was easy for that highly incensed and energized crop of Nigerians that were willing and ready to get involved in salvaging their beloved country from the leadership morass that they had identified as the bane of their beloved country, Nigeria did not hesitate in serving as volunteer foot soldiers for the LP and its standard bearer Mr. Obi which culminated into the superlative performance of the hitherto fledgling political party.

In addition to the backing of the angry youths seeking a rebirth of our country, is the heft given to the movement by political intellectuals such as prof Pat Utomi, Mr. Donald Duke, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, and Balogun Akin Osuntokun amongst others who were also supported with the statesmanlike fire power of former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, who l like to refer to as president emeritus because unlike his predecessors, he appears to be determined not to quit the political stage. Hence, he keeps meddling in governance.

Equally formidable is the backing from ethnic nationality groups such as Afenefere – Yoruba socio-cultural group led by Pa Adebanjo, Pan Niger Delta ethnic and cultural group, PANDEF led by Pa EK Clark, and Middle Belt Forum, the social cultural group of people of north central zone under the leadership of Dr. Pogu Bitrus.

The final icing on the cake that bolstered the chances of the LP and Mr. Obi is the boost from the Nigeria Labor Congress, NLC-a union comprising of the nation’s civil servants which comprise of a significant number of the nation’s workforce countrywide that agreed to align with the LP in their struggle to replace the old structure with a new one. The NLC support conferred a more national outlook on the political movement which had from its humble beginnings coalesced into a rampaging political force.

As it is both remarkable and unprecedented, credit should go to the newly elected NLC leadership under Comrade Joe Ajaero, that made it possible for the LP to receive the total and undiluted support of the NLC, which has an unenviable reputation for always being disagreeable with members of the political class.

And it has turned out quite surprisingly that it is the referenced structures formed by non-political actors that have proven to be more formidable and potent for boosting Mr. Obi’s ambitious quest for the presidency of Nigeria than the political structures as we used to know them.

Nevertheless, since the LP presidential candidate has been unable to make it into Aso Rock Villa in the current dispensation, despite his best effort, l have been proven right that in the absence of some fundamentals that are strategic for success in Nigerian political environment such as political structures, it is difficult if not impossible to ascend to the highest rung of the political ladder.

Having said that, there are inspiring lessons inherent in the tremendous electoral success recorded by Obi-Dients and their presidential candidate, Mr. Obi as reflected by the major upsets that they have recorded after the 25th February presidential and National Assembly elections. The part that is most outstanding to me is that despite the fact that the dream of the party and its presidential standard bearer did not come into fruition, their strenuous and dogged fight paid off somehow.

That reality is underscored by the fact that they have grabbed a handful of cloud (6 senate and 34 HoR seats) even though their hope was to reach for the stars and co-habit with them in the sky (presidential seat in Aso Rock Villa) which is a mission that they failed to accomplish.

In light of the effect of their current accomplishment, whereby only Senators lfeanyi Uba of YPP and Eyinanya Abaribe of APGA have been able to return to the NASS from the entire five (5) south-eastern states, the Obi-Dients who are currently being wooed by multiple suitors in states that their presidential candidate won, have every reason to aspire to reap further benefits of their huge impact on Nigerian politics, particularly in the eastern flank of our country both in the upcoming subnational elections on 11th March and thereafter in 2027.

But the pertinent and yet to be answered question popping in my head is: would the LP remain cohesive and maintain the type of resolve and intense sense of purpose with which it tackled the current election or would the passion and zeal wear off before the next major election circle?

The answer would in large part depend on if things do not fall apart within the party, as they are wont to in politics, and how well the APC party and its candidate, now president-elect Asiwaju Bola Tinubu perform in office between now and 2027.

The assertion above is underscored by the fact that whether we admit it or not, it is the abysmal performance of the outgoing government led by president Buhari that has motivated a lot of political office contestants to throw their hats into the ring because they feel they can do better.

Having said that, it needs to be acknowledged that Obi-Dients have been very good listeners to and learners from public commentators whose criticisms appear to have motivated and galvanized them into becoming more tenacious. That is evidenced by the fact that they continued to push ahead with the can-do-spirit that has paid off as reflected by the great success that they achieved during the presidential and National Assembly polls.

The good news is that going forward the LP or the Obi-Dients, as earlier stated, would be having the much-vaunted structures in light of the number of legislators that they now have at the national level (6 senators and 34 HoR members) when the 10th assembly is inaugurated.

And that would be in addition to the governors and members of state legislatures that may be added to the LP platform, if the party replicates the type of success that it achieved at the national level during the upcoming 11th March election exercise at subnational level by winning the gubernatorial and legislative contests in as many states that its presidential flag bearer Mr. Obi came tops.

In the event that such fortune comes the way of Obi-Dient family a second time, perhaps there would be a harvest of governors and state house of assembly members joining the LP platform. By implication the anticipated additional number of elected politicians after 11th March polls would be joining in the forming and strengthening of the building of the LP political structure to fortify it for future political endeavors. That is what I have been harping on as being necessary, if not a requirement for accomplishing the goal of hoisting the LP flag in Aso Rock Villa presidential seat of power.

Buoyed by their recent sensational wins reflected by the fact that the LP came tops in eleven (11) states plus the federal Capital territory, FCT for which they got rewarded with abundance of legislators, they would justifiably be leaving no stone unturned in their jostle for a foothold in the states.

How their ambition to snatch power at the sub national level pans out would reveal whether Mr. Peter Obi’s mission to Aso Rock Villa was the sole motivation for the voters that turned out massively to cast their ballots for the LP candidate on 25 February or a holistic desire for a major change in the political arena by Nigerians.

Clearly, politics in our country is no more business as usual as a result of the onslaught and run-away success of the LP in the 25 February elections.

That is because the ‘Peter Obi Effect’ has practically consumed everything on its path in the manner that severe weather conditions such as tornados and earthquakes often leave in their wake, sorrow and gnashing of teeth.

As INEC is concluding it’s work, it is estimated that about 90% of the current legislators of Igbo extraction unable to make it into the 10th NASS, would be scratching their heads and wringing their fingers trying to figure out how ‘Obi-Dients Effect’ happened to them in the manner that folks tease each other that Nigeria would soon ‘happen’ to them.

The consequence is that quite a number of the members of the 10th assembly from the eastern region would comprise of newly minted LP law makers that would be resuming in the NASS upon inauguration. And the flip side of shedding such a significant number of Igbo legislators in one fell swoop in NASS is that it would represent a loss of institutional memory for NASS and deplete Igbo high ranking members of NASS.

Regrettably, that would not augur well for the Igbo nation because there may also not be enough ranking members from the eastern part of the country to take on chairmanship roles in NASS committees.

Anambra state governor, Prof Chukwuma Soludo had made the point that Mr. Obi’s quest for the presidency would rob former vice president, Waziri Atiku Abubakar and presidential candidate of the PDP of the chance to win the presidential contest in his combustible and incendiary open letter last November to the LP Presidential candidate, Mr. Obi titled “History Beckons And l Will Not Be Silent (part 1)’’ that drew the flak of Ndi-Igbo. Rather than discourage them, apparently it galvanized the Igbo resolve to vote for Mr. Obi.

Clearly, Governor Soludo was being prophetic as Obi’s exploits via his commandeering of south east and south-south votes is the PDP presidential flag bearer’s loss as it is largely responsible for his inability to triumph over his main rival in the contest, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu of APC in the presidential race.

No matter, the prism from which it is considered, the seismic change in the political space in Igbo land would be either a negative or positive development on the fortunes of Igbo people. And the dictum: different strokes for different folks, rings true in this instance. Then again, history has taught us that there are always collateral damages arising from revolutions.

The assertion above is derived from the fact that since the return to democratic system of governance in 1999, it was only in 2015 when a coalition of opposition parties led by incumbent president Mohammadu Buhari and president-elect, Tinubu combined forces by collapsing their respective political structures into one political platform-All Progressives Congress, APC, to oust then ruling PDP, that such huge exodus of law makers happened.

Is it not amazing that the LP which only roughly nine (9) months ago was just a quaint party, almost of no consequence, is making the type of extraordinary impact made by APC in 2015 by wielding a huge influence on politics and politicians at the national and likely subnational levels, if they are triumphant in the 11 March election?

Hitherto, the highest level that the LP had attained was to have been the platform leveraged for two state governors to emerge. These are Chief Olusegun Mimiko who governed Ondo state 2009 to 2017 and Comrade Adams Oshiomole, governor of Edo state from 2008 to 2016.

But going forward the party would be having more than a handful of legislators from the twelve (11) states plus the federal capital territory, FCT in which it has won majority votes.

By the last count, arising from ‘Obi Effect’, at least eight serving and former governors had been denied senate seats courtesy of the revolution caused by the inimitable Peter Obi and his highly motivated devotees – Obi-Dients.

The serving and former governors that did not succeed in their bid for the Senate due to Obi-Dient cyclone-like effect that changed Nigeria’s presidential race from a traditional two horse race to a quadruplet one are: Abia state’s Okezie Ikpeazu, Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi state, Taraba state’s Darius Ishaku, Benue state’s Samuel Ortom and Enugu state’s Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi as well as Plateau state’s Simon Lalong and Ben Ayade of Cross River state.

The misfortune did not afflict men only. About six (6) female senators – Stella Oduah, and Uche Ekwunife, of Anambra state, Biodun Olujimi of Ekiti state, Nora Ladi Dadu from Plateau state as well as Akon Etim Eyakenyi of Akwa Ibom states, some of who had become sort of permanent fixtures in NASS in nearly two (2 ) and half decades were also consumed by the vicious storm of Obi-Dients – Labour Party army of voters with the sole mission to replace the old political order with a new crop in the bid to force a national rebirth on Nigeria.

That will further whittle down the 5% female representation in the outgoing 9th NASS, although the 10th assembly is coming with a new female senator, Architect Ireti Kingibe of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja. By comparison, in the current 118th Congress in the USA, women have 28% representation.

Arising from the sea change triggered by the Obi-Dients political tidal wave, it is now a settled belief that incumbents no longer have bragging rights over elective offices as the LP that initially seemed like a Lilliputian under the leadership of Mr. Obi has literally mauled giants like the former ruling PDP and the current ruling APC candidates in their traditional strong holds in Igbo land, Niger Delta region, a couple of north central states and Abuja as well as Lagos state in Yoruba land where the party enjoys an overwhelming voters support.

One thing that is poignant about the 25th February election 2023 is that it has wittingly and unwittingly wrought a fundamental change on the entire political landscape of Nigeria. And a good number of the victims of the rumble are yet to catch their breath or regain composure.

In fact, the powerlessness of incumbents in influencing election results by a sleight of hand is reflected by the fact that the national chairmen of both the APC and PDP did not win their wards in both Plateau and Benue states.

Even president Buhari’s home state, Katsina was lost to the opposition party, PDP just as the president-elect Asiwaju Bola Tinubu also lost his home state, Lagos to LP.

Based on the statistics released by INEC Chairman, last Saturday, in the Senate, the APC has won 57 seats; APGA – 1; LP – 6, NNPP – 2; PDP – 29; just as SDP also won 2; while the YPP maintains its 1 seat in the senate.

In the House of Representatives, the APC won 162 seats; ADC – 2; APGA – 4; LP – 34; NNPP – 18; PDP – 102; SDP – 2; while YPP won 1 seat.

Effectively, unlike the 9th and outgoing NASS which featured only members of APC, PDP, and YPP, the 10th NASS will welcome lawmakers from the stable of LP, NNPP, APGA, SDP and ADC who will be joining them.

That means there will be at least 8 political parties in NASS and it is part of the gains of this election circle that signpost the deepening of democracy in our country.

As INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmoud Yakubu has noted, the 10th NASS is the most diverse and it is a product of the political revolution that has just happened and facilitated by a reformed electoral system intrinsic in the Electoral Act 2022 that was built on a bulwark of technology.

It is a pity that the benefits of an otherwise very robust electoral reform were not allowed to be fully harnessed and savored due to what the election umpire has referred to as glitches which have cast doubts in the minds of otherwise very enthusiastic electorate.

But skeptical Nigerians who went through grit and grime to vote are unconvinced by the excuse advanced by INEC for the floundering recorded during the 25 February presidential elections by the agency.

Rather they deem it as pre meditated foul play, thus casting a negative aura of doubts on BVAS that had worked effectively and efficiently in Delta, Anambra, Edo, Ekiti, Ondo and Osun states during by-elections for legislators and off-season governorship elections.

The situation is further complicated by the electoral body’s chairman, Mahmoud Yakubu who rather than first of all explore other dispute resolution options, shunned the complaints of party agents and instead charged them to seek redress in court which is a rather insensitive and cold attitude of an umpire who is supposed to be unbiased.

In any case, crisis after political office contestations is not uncommon in Nigeria and the chief electoral umpires have always been flayed.

When the chairman of Federal Electoral Commission, FEDECO as it was then known, Justice Victor Ovie-Whiskey was accused of receiving a bribe of one million naira (as Prof Yakubu has been alleged to have received N50b) to swing victory in favor of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, he responded by stating emphatically that if he sets his eyes on N1m, he would faint. Justice Ovie-whiskey had led the electoral body between 1980 to 1983 which is some 40 years ago.

That humorous, cryptic and at the same time candid response elicited comical reactions from members of the public, but it dowsed the tension. Not so for the current INEC chairman Prof Yakubu who appears to be treating Nigerians that are dying to know what happened to their votes with askance and even disdain by remaining mute.

As Nigeria is once again fast degenerating into an atmosphere of “fair is fowl and fowl is fair”, it is cold comfort to the electorate that the choice of who would lead them from 29 May this year for another four (4) years would be decided by the courts, not the masses that voted on 25 February which ideally should have been the case in a thriving democracy.

The phrase “Fair is Foul, Foul is Fair” (Act 1, Scene 1) in the play- Macbeth is chanted by the three witches at the beginning of the play. According to a google research on the book Macbeth, it acts as a summary of what is to come in the tale.

The author Shakespeare, uses the phrase to show that what is considered good is in fact bad and what is considered bad is actually good.

While the INEC declared winners of the 25th February polls APC and its candidate believe it is excellent, the parties that believe they won the contest but were robbed of victory by INEC also consider the election process to be bad.

Hence the result of a public office election exercise that is supposed to be infallible and unimpeachable because technology was leveraged, has ended up becoming a major thorn in the flesh of Nigerians.

So, the twenty trillion Naira (value of Nigeria’s 2023 national budget) question now is: has our beloved country descended into such a lugubrious level?

I hope not!