Nigeria: 2023 – Optimism As ‘Obidients’ Sell Peter Obi to Northern Voters

While the former governor of Anambra State is enjoying an upswing in popularity among young voters in Southern Nigeria, his acceptance in the conservative northern region has been slow.

Jamilu Abubakar, like many young enthusiasts of the Labour Party Presidential candidate, Peter Obi, was determined to prove a point.

After weeks of enduring jeers from supporters of rival political parties that Obidients – as supporters Mr Obi call themselves – practically reside on social media and have no “structure” to garner the votes the Labour Party candidate requires to be competitive in the election.

“We know how important it’s to go beyond social media, though it (social media) is also good,” Mr Abubakar, who is the Coordinator of the pro-Obi group, the Northern Coalition for Peter Obi, told PREMIUM TIMES.

“We decided to meet and chart out ways to take the campaign to the people that matter during the election and I as the coordinator of the coalition, I’m convinced that we’re making a statement,” he added.

Mr Abubakar and members of his coalition have taken on a difficult task.

Until a few months ago, many voters in Nigeria’s northern region may have a problem recognising any party outside the two main political parties – the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Even The New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP), which is enjoying an upsurge of support in the region due its charismatic leader and a former governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso, was not a household name.

But in May 2022, Mr Obi defected to the Labour Party after complaining of being shabbily treated by the leadership of the PDP.

Since his defection, Mr Obi has seen his popularity balloon in the south of the country. Mr Obi needs more than an upswing in a section of country if he hopes to become Nigeria’s next president.

To win the Nigerian presidency, the country’s constitution stipulates that a candidate must win at least 25 per cent of the votes in at least two-third of Nigeria’s 36 states.

While Mr Obi growing political credit in the south of the country continues to grow, his acceptance among the largely conservative electorate in the 19 states in the north has been largely tempered.

Northern foot soldiers

Mr Abubakar and other pro-Obi volunteer group in the north are confident they can change that.

Mr Abubakar, who is based in Zamfara State, said his coalition members across northern Nigeria and are relentlessly selling Mr Obi to voters.

He said his coalition has held several campaign events in Zamfara, Kano, Katsina, Sokoto and Kebbi states. He said the efforts of his group is being complemented by other pro-groups like Equip Naija for Peter Obi, which is active in the country’s central states.

He said he realised the impact of the Obidient movement in the north has made from the overwhelmingly positive feedback he got from listeners when he was a guest of a radio show on Freedom Radio in Kano,

“It was all because of the persistent campaigns,” he said.

Sani Baba, a member of the Equip Naija for Peter Obi said their campaign is funded from donations from members.

“The only reason I’m voting for Peter Obi is I want to see his style of leadership because we’ve tried APC and PDP but they all failed. For us Northerners, what has our fellow brother done for us?” Mr Bala asked during a telephone interview.

In Katsina, President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state, the APC is firmly in control.

But thanks to the tenacity of young Obidient foot soldiers, the Labour party now has a governorship candidate and has entered candidates for other elective offices in the state.

The Coordinator of Peter Obi House to House Campaign Organisation in Katsina State, Faisal Jay, said their sensitisation efforts are yielding results.

“We’ve gone beyond social media and we’re only waiting for campaign to officially take off to show how effective we’ve been,” he said.

Mr Jay said he is not encumbered by the presumed political animosity between Igbos and people of Hausa-Fulani origin.

Mr Obi is ethnically Igbo. Inhabitants of Katsina are predominantly of Hausa and Fulani origin.

“As a northerner from Katsina State, I’m voting for Peter Obi because of not one, but two reasons which are all very personal to me. First, because he’s credible and competent. Second, because I want this election to change the narrative that Northerners don’t have an independent mindset,” he said.

Labour Party is also gaining ground in states across the North-east and North-central regions.

On 6 August, the Obidient movement in Nasarawa organised a One-million-man march to drum support for Mr Obi in Lafia. Though those that showed up for the march were far from the one million mark the organiser boasted would attend, the procession was still relatively well-attended.

The state coordinator of Grassroot Movement for Peter Obi, Sardauna Alhasan, told PREMIUM TIMES during a telephone interview that he was confident the Labour Party candidate will win the presidential election in the state.

The pharmacist, who now spends the bulk of this time canvassing votes for Mr Obi, said his group was not fazed by the fact that the National Chairman of the APC, Abdullahi Adamu, is from the state.

“APC and PDP know they can’t win Nasarawa State for their presidential candidates. Write it down because with the support we’re getting, Peter Obi will win in Nasarawa State,” he said.

“Our candidate is young at heart and had performed wonderfully as governor of Anambra State. So, we believe he can reflect that nationally,” he said.

Mr Alhasan said the one-million-man march was organised to show the country that Mr Obi’s popularity transcended social media.

In Benue, the member of the House of Representatives for Vandeikya/Konshisha Federal Constituency, Herman Hembe, is Labour Party’s leading evangelist.

Mr Hembe is the party’s gubernatorial candidate. Another prominent politician in the party is the Minority Whip of the Benue House of Assembly, Cephas Dyako. Mr Cephas is seeking to be re-elected into the state assembly next year.

Labour Party contestants

While the focus of the Obidient groups in the north is primarily to sell the candidacy of Mr Obi, his party, the Labour Party, has also benefited from his relative upswing in the region.

Unlike previous elections, the Labour Party has governorship candidates in the seven states of the North-west region.

In Katsina for instance, Mr Musawa said the party fielded candidates for the 34 House of Assembly seats, 17 House of Representatives seats and three Senators.

In Kaduna State, the party has candidates for all elective positions while in Zamfara State, the party has candidates for two senatorial seats and four House of Representatives positions.

In Kano and Jigawa states, Labour Party has candidates in all elective positions.

PREMIUM TIMES gathered that the party fielded candidates in all elective positions in Benue, Taraba, Adamawa and Plateau states

In Adamawa, the home state of the presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, the defection of Mustapha Umar-Madawaki (popularly known as Otumba) from the APC to the LP has helped boost the confidence of the Obidient Movement in the state.

Abubakar Santuraki , a top pro-Obi supporter in Adamawa said said Mr Umar-Madawaki, who is the Labour Party’s governorship candidate in the state, joined the party with more than 20,000 supporters.

The Fintiri Ambassadors, a group of young, disgruntled supporters of the incumbent governor of the state, Adamu Fintiri, defected to the Labour Party and are now avowed supporters of Mr Obi.

In a statement the group said over 23,000 supporters joined the LP from the Peoples Democratic Party.

“The governorship flag bearer of the party, Otumba, is the most qualified to be the next governor of Adamawa state in 2023,” the statement read.

“We decided to join the Labour Party because of its candidate, he is an intellectual that Adamawa will be glad to have. He is knowledge-based and vast in leadership skills that can liberate our state. We’ve lost confidence in the Fintiri administration. God knows we diligently supported him and he promised us heaven and earth when we formed the government, but nothing good has happened,” the statement by the group’s spokesman, Bello Yarima, claimed.

The story is not different in Bauchi State according to Musa Abel, coordinator of the Coalition for Obi – Datti Support Groups.

He said the party fielded candidates for “governor, three Senators, 11 out of 12 House of Representatives and in most of the 31 House of Assembly seats in Bauchi State.”

Mr Abel said all the Obideint groups in the state are pursuing a common cause of changing the current crop of leaders in the state.

“We’ve for now carried out a number of activities to sensitise the people on the need to stand and vote for the right candidates. We’re making them know that their votes count because we know that leadership is our problem in this country,” he said.

Speaking on how Mr Obi would be accepted in Nigeria’s north, Mr Abel said: “It’s simple. Obi is generally acceptable because of the situation we’ve found ourselves in. The north is not insulated from the insecurity that is going on. The North is not insulated from poverty. The north is not protected from economic hardship. We know that leadership in Nigeria is not the place you’re from.

“Everybody wants this country to be better. Obi’s popularity is now beyond social media because people are yearning for change and this has even made our work as support groups easier,” Mr Abel added.

He said in Bauchi State alone, there are 23 support groups with structures at the ward, local government and state levels.

Campaign strategies

A Labour Party House of Assembly contestant in Katsina state, Umar Saulawa, said Mr Obi supporters in the state came up with a different strategy of campaigning for Mr Obi, which was different from the traditional style of political campaign in the north.

“You know the style of campaign in the North must be different from the South. In Katsina, we sat and discussed the strategies and one of the decisions was to adopt the title of Obi Nakowa Ne, an Hausa phrase which means “Obi is for everyone” which helped and would continue to help us reach out to the local communities,” Mr Saulawa said.

He said the Pro-Obi groups in the state also made sure their campaign was issue-based. He said chief about the issues they put forward were solution to the insecurity and widespread economic hardship in the region.

Also, as part of the strategies to reach out to the public to sell the Obi’s candidate, Tanko Yunusa, a former Vice Presidential candidate and National Chairman of the National Conscience Party, said Labour Party was doing a sensitisation tour of the 19 Northern states

He said the rallies has been successful in Katsina, Kano, Kaduna and Jigawa states.

“Those who are saying that we don’t have structure will be shocked because our supporters are not hired crowds. Other parties when they hold rallies rent a crowd but people are spending their money to come and meet us. What does it show you?,” he said.

Mr Abubakar said Obidients are not just on social media to banter with supporters of rival parties. He said social media has been useful in winning more people into their ranks.

“Aside from our style, we bring to the fore the many issues bedeviling the country on social media and when issues are discussed, people will now understand how poor the government has been so far,” he said.

“I was in APC and I knew that we recorded huge success in 2015 through the social media. We’ve been using that to sell our candidate and it has been rewarding.”

Welcome development – Analysts

Meanwhile, a Kano-based political analyst, Muhsin Ibrahim, said Twitter has been instrumental in helping to spread the message to young voters in the north.

“Frankly, none of the duo Messrs Obi and Rabiu Kwankwaso of NNPP) will likely win the 2023 presidential election. Nevertheless, for a politician, popularity means a lot. Thus, on the one hand, I consider PO’s (Mr Obi) fame a win in its own right. Although elections don’t hold on social media, Peter Obi’s thrilling popularity on these platforms, especially Twitter, is fantastic,” the university lecturer said.

“It’s a welcome development,” a political analyst in Katsina, Saifullahi Kuraye, told PREMIUM TIMES. “It says a lot about the good efforts put in by the young guys selling him. First, this shows that the Northerners are becoming politically active and matured to see young guys in their numbers campaigning for an Igbo candidate when there are two other Northerners in the race.

“It also shows that the issue of ethnicity and religion would not be that strong in the 2023 elections. I know some people will still be doubting Mr Obi being an Igbo Christian but this is a welcome development and he will get votes in the North unlike in the past elections where Southerners were completely shunned by Northerner voters,” Mr Kuraye said.

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