When the storm of this general election is over, we shall be left with a few lessons. One is, never underestimate the will of a determined people. The other is, when the shepherd is ready, the flock will appear.
Indeed, people, who study politics and societies in transition, will find a fascinating new model in Peter Obi, the Labour Party presidential candidate. In a continent wracked sore by leadership challenges, Obi’s emergence represents a rupture in the dynamics of power and the socio-cultural alignments of the Nigerian society. Never has an outsider from the power calculus staged such a storm-trooping stunt in Nigeria’s political history. This is a watershed in our political memory.
Mr Obi was smart enough to espy the mood-swing of Nigerian politics and swiftly embed himself in its massive bowls. He grew in stature to fill the void of a unifying figure in Nigerian politics and swiftly took over its long abandoned totems of influence; a cultured language, respect for our diversity, dignity in the face of extreme provocation, a deep knowledge of what is wrong with Nigeria and a good idea of what it will take to fix her. He appropriated the dreams of young Nigerians for a better country. He extracted their emotions and framed them in the right idioms. He demonstrated a rare kind of vigour, presence of mind and humility that are not typically Nigerian. He deployed buzzwords that resonated with the people. He became the dream; the Nigerian dream, in just about eight months.
Indeed, Obi’s impact on the landscape has been transcendental. It has awakened dead bones, unchained the soul of his Igbo people and made them question the long-held view that they do not easily surrender to the leadership of one man. Obi’s transcendental impact has uprooted the axiom, “Igbo enwe eze” (The Igbo are not attached to one king) and replaced it with “Isi tolu ugo na etu ugo” (Perfect head fits the crown). Igbo leadership is earned. The Igbo will submit to you if you earn their trust, confidence, admiration and awe. The Igbo submits to exceptionality and excellence. They submitted to the Great Zik, Ojukwu and Okpara –inspirational leaders whose capacity survived the test of fire. Obi’s iconography falls within this margin of reality. It has confirmed, once again, that when a true leader emerges, the people will be inspired enough to follow him. It is akin to the appearance of a fluorescent light in the darkness around which moths and a variety of other insects will usually gather. The Igbo will follow you, if your path is bright and your hands clean. They will do what you say if your story is strewn with excellence and exceptionality.
But Obi’s influence goes beyond Igboland. It created a clear change of attitude among Nigerian voters in the last presidential election. No Nigerian adult, who owns an Internet-enabled cellphone, could have missed the viral video clips of vote-buyers and election-riggers being beaten to an inch of their lives by angry citizens, who wanted an end to that horrible culture. Is it the loud insistence by crowds of determined voters that unscrupulous Independent National electoral Commission officials should not tactically disenfranchise them? Best still, who could have missed the large turnout of voters, half of them first-timers? All these were direct reactions to Obi’s rhetoric urging Nigerians to take back their country. Obi’s campaign mantra worked like magic. If it didn’t work at all, it made the noxious culture of buying votes at polling booths a risky undertaking to election riggers. At the moment, such moral victories may appear insignificant; but they constitute the building blocks for a comprehensive moral rearmament and rebirth of the society. They represent light at the end of the tunnel!
Again, could there ever be anything more symbolic than the sight of former President Olusegun Obasanjo moving round and mobilising supporters for Obi? Or more historic than Pa Ayo Adebanjo, the leader of pan Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, campaigning with so much vigour for an Igbo man? Or even more telling; the boldness of Aisha Yesufu pumping her fist and speaking fearlessly to Nigerians on the imperatives of electing Obi as president. Such acts of courage give hope for the Nigeria of our dream. It is a faint reminder of the pre-Independence days when Zik won election in Yorubaland and when Umaru Altine, a Fulani, was elected Mayor of Enugu. That was when Nigeria was a nation; when our differences were our strength and not our weakness. Obi’s candidacy evoked such great nostalgia and hope. It spoke to the promise of Nigeria. All things considered, Obi is the undisputed turning point for a new Nigeria.
Closer home, he has midwifed the emergence of a new generation of leaders across Nigeria. Some of these people are plain folks, who have no money to bribe anyone to be voted into offices, but people whose stories inspire their respective communities. We have read stories of Donatus Matthew, a motorcyclist, who won the Kaura House of Representatives seat in Kaduna State, and a bus driver, Chimaobi Atu, who won the same seat for Enugu North/Enugu South in Enugu State. The story of Okey Ezea, who defeated Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to clinch the senatorial seat for Enugu North, is even more humbling. Ezea had stood election repeatedly in the past with nothing to show for it. But this time around, he became the young David that slew the giant, Goliath, with a sling. These are Nigerians, who, in all probability, would never have smelt political offices, but who have been voted to represent their people in the National Assembly through the LP. These leaders emerged from the atmosphere of possibilities created by Obi. They have moved swiftly from unbelief to hope. That is the story of renascent Nigeria.
On the whole, it is in the best interest of Nigeria that Obi happened to our politics. Never in our wildest dreams would it have been possible to think that Bola Tinubu would lose an election in Lagos State, that Nyesom Wike would resort to every-means-possible to retain his hold on Rivers State, or that a sitting governor would lose a senatorial election. The superstructure of Nigerian politics has changed for good. We have finally realised that structure in politics is actually the people and that the ruling party does not enjoy any special advantages in Nigerian politics anymore. That may well be the ultimate victory for Obi and LP! It does not matter what the court eventually decides.
*Chioke, the Group Managing Director of Afrinvest, writes from Lagos.