Even with his rising poll numbers, the core North, precisely North West and North East, has long been tipped as the Achilles’ heel of the presidency aspiration of Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi. His well-predicted and widely-expected poor showing in these two geopolitical zones in the February 25 poll is projected by pollsters, of all shades, to deny him the constitutional spread to win at first ballot, despite many projections putting him atop the top four of himself, Atiku Abubakar of PDP, Bola Tinubu of APC and Rabiu Kwankwaso of NNPP.
Many reasons have been advanced for this calculation. One, until Obi emerged the presidential candidate of Labour Party on May 30, 2022, the party wasn’t in the big league, whether in the North or South, though it had always been a verifiable go-to vehicle for grudge and disgruntled aspirations, like the Accord and the rest. If the liberal South would not total disdain the platform, North simply had no love for it. Then, Obi himself, wasn’t a national political name of such, despite partnering Atiku Abubakar in 2019. In that race, Atiku was in the shadow of North’s god and sitting president, Muhammadu Buhari. Well, in recent time, the god is suffering an unbelievable meltdown among his hitherto fanatical adherents. Guess, the worshippers are frustrated their sustained libations and sacrifices, which include their blood and lives, to the god, aren’t adding much value to them and decided to replace their affection with disaffection. But instead of resorting to stoning their deity as if he is the devil himself and turning themselves into public nuisance, the aggrieved Northern youth can still borrow a leaf from Yoruba’s way of showing discontent to a deity who isn’t delivering. Deploying the wisdom of “orisa bo le gbemi”, Yoruba usually drop such unfruitful deities like hot potato.
Last week, former number four citizen, Yakubu Dogara, a chieftain of PDP, disclosed that North is uncharacteristically, opening its arms for a warm embrace of Obi. The minority Christian Northerner from Bauchi conceded the burgeoning romance between Obi and core North, may effectively seal the presidency for the former Anambra governor. He was bemused North was taking the unusual step, but blamed the widely-held disappointing performance of Buhari and APC for the unexpected rise in Obi’s stock in the North. Dogara called the election which is 20 days away from today a two-horse race, between his man, Atiku Abubakar and Obi. But he has his worries; Obi is unknown to him.
If the obvious meteoric rise of Obi, contrary to narratives that his lack of political structures nationwide would do him in, and his widening visibility in the North, should eventually transform to winning votes for him, that would make him the biggest political revelation of this election cycle and perhaps, this republic. An outstanding performance by him in the election is also going to energise the ubiquitous but largely inorganic Third Force, whose never-ending aspiration as a respected voice in the Nigeria political sphere, is now invested in the LP candidate. A win for Obi will equally mean massive disruption in the camps of the big two: APC and PDP. The we-can-rule-the-world imagination of the youths will be unquenchably fired. The campaigners for independent candidacy will go full throttle, considering that Obi could as well pass as an independent candidate, who just needed a political platform to fulfil constitutional qualification to participate. In reality, he is evidently bigger than the party. Nothing proves this more than the Bauchi campaign scenario when he still pulled a huge crowd, despite the entire party structure in the state, including the governorship candidate, boycotting. In fact, the campaign council for the entire North East zone, ported to PDP, citing irreconcilable differences with certain elements around the candidate. Yes, Obi had what could pass for a successful outing in his campaign in the zone, but he would need every hand that he can get in an environment just welcoming him and can’t just allow defections of any quantum. For whatever value placed on their worth, Muhammad Pantani, the spokesperson of the aggrieved, and their supporters, whether four million as claimed or just four, should have been managed one way or the other, though some people are simply implacable.
Obi’s supporters may even want to argue that he is still the best in human management among the big three, pointing to his campaign being the least rancorous, despite the Bauchi hitch. That is true, considering that the crisis in APC is eclipsing its campaign. But Obi has more to prove to North than others.
Just like Dogara is worried, he is the proverbial unknown angel. If the political establishment had its way, its front-row members would stick the proverbial known devils. But devils seemed to have failed the North so much that the younger elements are opting for a trial romance with someone the other part of the country, is tipping as a messiah. It would be too early for allegations of bias, on whatever grounds, against the candidate’s honchos.
Of course, the political class in the North, which would be worse off by Obi’s penetration of its backyard, won’t give up without a fight. Already the tag of a religious partisan, just like Northern political leaders in APC wore for Vee-Pee Yemi Osinbajo, is being hung on Obi. Katsina governor and a North’s political royal, Aminu Bello Masari, had knocked the Labour candidate for being pro-minority Northern Christians to the exclusion of Muslim North. In an interview with TVC, he said, “Who are the people in the North who are driving the Labour Party. I am aware that political rallies are sometimes organised in places of worship, the fact of the matter is that whoever wins the election will be expected to rule in accordance with the constitution. My curiosity is piqued regarding the religion’s expectations in the event that the victorious candidate chooses to govern according to the constitution.”
Combustible ex-presidential aspirant of YPP and now a chieftain of APC, Adamu Garba was without gloves, unlike Masari. In a social media post, he pointedly accused Obi of dividing the North on religion basis, allegedly turning Christians against Muslims. He also, falsely, accused him of disregarding first class traditional rulers in Northern states the candidate had gone for campaign activities. Visuals from Obi’s campaigns have shown him in palaces of Emirs, paying homage. In Sokoto, the Sultan even confirmed his 40-year acquaintance with Obi. But Garba is promising hell, assuring Christian North, will overwhelmingly punish Obi at the poll.
In the last seven years and nine months of the Buhari administration, the ever-present ethnic and religious fissures, in different topographies and geographies of the country, have unprecedentedly widened, due to the reckless pursuit of narrow agenda by the President and his acolytes. Now, things have turned full circle. There is no denying that religion and region have influenced the ongoing process and will, till the end. In the major parties in the race, religion and region have largely determined who got on the ballot and who should be, but, didn’t. Therefore, it amounts to sheer hypocrisy for Adamu and Masari to point fingers when “to your tent o Israel” has long been declared, either verbally or through poorly-veiled actions by leading political actors, across the spectrum.
However, despite the excitement around the Obi incursion into the Hausa/Fulani North; the mid-North had since settled for him as the preferred candidate, Kaduna gadfly, Nasir el-Rufai insisted days back that Sokoto, Kano and other big-voting Northern states will write Obi’s obituary.
But the fact that the core North is engaging the Obi conversation at the apex level, is an indication that those big rallies may not just be a funfest for Northern youth.