Will the Igbos be Peter Obi’s undoing?

Peter Obi, Labour Party Presidential candidate

At the beginning of this dispensation, Igbo politicians made a spectacle of themselves in the Nigerian senate. Within the span of 4 years, the senate had four senate presidents including Evans Enwerem, Chuba Okadigbo, Pius Anyim. You could argue that whoever wanted to oust any Igbo Senate President had more than willing hands among the Igbo to take him down.

A generous view is to blame the republican nature of the Igbos as the major factor. They would call up history especially the fact that the Igbos were largely republican and did not create large kingdoms with chiefs ruling over very large territories. Despite the fact that the colonial authorities created warrant chiefs, majority of Igbos are still under small autonomous communities with no strong authority over Individuals and households. Any person could, arguably,  be king. No blue bloods.

This may have been extended to the governmental structures and they scored the first, in Nigeria’s Anambra State, where a sitting governor was actually kidnapped, forced to write a resignation letter. This was carried out by individuals in cahoots with police and other security agencies. At the moment there is the reign of terror in the south east where marauding gunmen kill at will, successfully incapacitating security agencies and imposing their will and rule. Markets are shut down and there are days citizens are forced to stay indoors.

The 2022 primary elections of the main political parties demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt the lack of love for fellow brother that Igbo politicians have for themselves. In PDP, apart from Senator Pius Anyim no serious candidate emerged and Anyim did not gather more than a paltry number of votes. All the other candidates who sought for the nomination of the ruling APC did not even get the votes of their local government delegates. Governor Okowa, himself an Igbo man, who hosted the meeting of southern governors and read the communique in which all southern governors had vowed to support power shift to the south pitched his tent with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, and not with Senator Anyim or fellow Ikwere brother, Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike.

That this may be the historical moment for the Igbo to take their place in Nigeria’s politics and governance is underscored by a little walk back in history. Zik of Africa, Owelle of Onitsha Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was a front runner in Nigeria with his base in Lagos before, according to Igbo historians, he was hounded out. He made an unsuccessful attempt to become the Prime Minister of Nigeria. He failed but became the ceremonial President of Nigeria. Then came Aguiyi Ironsi, who became Nigeria’s Military Head of State and was murdered by ambitious northern officers and soldiers. In the ensuing confusion and Civil War, Chukwuemeka Odumegu Ojukwu did not seek to lead Nigeria but sought to split up the country and carve a small territory where the Igbos would lead. That was not to be.

At the return to civilian rule in 1979, Zik made another attempt to rule but came third place in the presidential elections. Ojukwu also made a feeble attempt to contest presidential elections. Yes, of course, Governor Rochas Okorocha made repeated attempts to run for the Presidency. He, however, was seen more as a joke candidate and obviously did not receive any serious support of his fellow Igbo politicians.

Now Governor Peter Obi who first came into the national scene in 2019 as Atiku’s running mate, has emerged as a major mainstream Presidential Candidate. His nomination in 2019 caused a lot of unease among many Igbo politicians who saw him as an outsider reaping where he did not sow. This time around he wisely left the PDP and has since become a major front runner believed by many to have a chance of winning. Without any fear of contradiction, since Nnamdi Azikiwe before independence, and Azikiwe in 1979, no Igbo politician has been able to garner the type of national following that Peter obi has. Arguably, Obi today has higher chances of becoming president than Dr Azikiwe had in 1978/79 campaign.

In this election Obi has many factors going for him. He is the youngest of the major candidates and is evidently the one with the least blemish.

Besides the fanatical support among young people, especially new voters, who see him as the hero/saviour they have been waiting for, he is regarded as more competent and is a person of character (In other words, he is honest and can be trusted). The efforts of some Anambra people to rubbish his record have not succeeded.

At least since 1999 no politician of Igbo extraction has the name and face recognition, across the nation that Obi has. Some have argued that no Igbo person has been closer to Nigeria’s presidency than Peter Obi. No Igbo aspirant to the presidency of Nigeria has gathered as many prominent supporters across the county than Obi: President Olusegun Obasanjo, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, the Middle Belt Forum. Most of the major churches in Nigeria appear more comfortable with him. His challenge in the Muslim north is his ethnicity and religion.

When he entered the race, he was laughed at and analysts who were kind to him then said he would come a poor fourth position. He was dismissed as being a Facebook and Twitter candidate without structure. Today, all polls assess him to be a front runner and with the possibility of coming first or second.

However, Peter Obi’s greatest undoing could be some among his Igbo brethren, who in this season when elections and electioneering are centered mainly on ethnic and religious factors have retreated into their republicanism and are hiding under the strange logic that they would not support him because, according to them, time is not ripe for Igbo Presidency! Strangely they argue that an Igbo person cannot win now.

Strangely enough, though not surprising, former Central Bank Governor, Charles Soludo who was installed by Governor Willie Obiano, who himself was imposed on Anambra by Peter Obi has argued several times that Peter Obi would not win and so, Igbo people should not support him!  This at least is a valid interpretation of his comments and explanations. The silliness of the argument is too easy to see: Soludo himself contested against Obiano and lost! Elections are a contest: a winner will emerge and a loser will also emerge. The factors that do not favour Peter Obi now will not necessarily favour Soludo in the future. In fact the situation may be worse. If election results were known before the contests take place, then there would have been no need for elections.

In any case, as we draw closer to February 25 Presidential and National Assembly elections, it is becoming clear that no one can certainly presume to know who will win the elections


Igbos and Future Presidential Elections

It is very unlikely that the competitive advantage Peter Obi has over his main rivals would exist for another Igbo person in the near future. Presently Peter Obi has become popular on the Streets of the North Central, North East and even parts of the North West. In any case he does not need to get majority votes in those areas to win the Presidential elections. He needs to get only 25% from 24 states with majority votes to become President. President Goodluck Johnathan in 2011 did not get 25% of the votes  of Borno, Yobe, Kano, Niger and Bauchi. He did excellently well in Taraba, Adamawa, Plateau, Benue, South East, South South and Lagos and coasted to victory.

Those ambitious Igbos running down Peter Obi now, should Know that there may be no second chance in the near future for an Igbo politician to get the acceptance that Peter Obi has nationally. They need to be reminded also that should Peter Obi fail in his bid as a result of Delta, Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi, Abia and Enugu States giving him a lukewarm average victory or even loss to PDP or APC in those states, the day of reckoning would keep a date with them. Peter Obi’s failure would be used as a valid reason in the future for rejecting prospective Igbo presidential candidates. The argument would be: Igbo people don’t vote Igbos. They would prefer an Okowa as Vice President, rather than his kinsman become President.

The place of the Igbo in the scheme of things is at this moment in their hands to make or mar.


Hassan, a political scientist, works in Abuja


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