BY DANIEL NNAEMEKA
There may have always been names of several political parties on the ballot, but the truth about presidential elections in Nigeria, especially since 1999, is that the contest had always typically been between two major parties. The rest would always end with the unenviable tag of “also-ran”. But in this election cycle, the story was different, thanks to the entry of Mr. Peter Obi, the Labour Party presidential candidate. In roughly eight months, he took the Labour Party from the labyrinths of obscurity, the fringe tail of politics, into national reckoning, helping it secure about 40 National Assembly seats!
Without doubt, Obi’s emergence was the most realistic chance the Igbo have ever had in their quest for the presidency, since the 2nd Republic. The massive votes he got in the South-East (over 90% of total votes in both Anambra and Enugu), where other parties had long held sway was a clear indication of how his candidacy had enthused the entire region. Indeed, in order not to stave off any possibility of errors, most canvassers including the clergy, urged the electorate to simply cast their ballots for the symbol of the Labour Party all through. It needs emphasizing though that the attraction that earned Obi such huge votes across party lines in the South-East was not driven by his ethnicity; it was rather essentially on the strength of his character, probity, and clear-sighted vision.
The revolution that Obi has stirred in Nigeria’s political turf is the stuff of fairytale. He has, almost literally, lifted everyday folks from obscurity into limelight, through the sheer star power he lends to the Labour Party. And the world always loves a tale of underdogs’ triumphs, no less so in politics. But after the euphoria settles, reality soon begins to sink in as people gradually come to terms with the choices they had inadvertently made through their ballots. In such state, it would not require much scrutiny to know that a good number of candidates for whom the electorate had voted, simply on account of being Labour Party candidates, do not share any of those ideals that actually endeared Obi to the masses. For the Igbo race particularly, this has presented a peculiar challenge, a kind of “solution” worse than the problem.
The intention here is not to denigrate any profession, but the truth is that most of the hitherto unknown politicians elected February 25th on the Labour Party platform do not possess the necessary acumen and comportment which the task of lawmaking demands. For a race that suffers organized national obsession to denigrate, the essence of quality representation cannot be over-emphasized. One must mention that what has been of immense upgrade for the Igbo psyche in this dispensation has much to do with the crop of quality representations it has had especially at the National Assembly. In this regard, we have fond memories of the likes of Chuba Okadigbo, Uche Chukwumerije, and Arthur Nzeribe. No less so is the indelible marks of the likes of Anyim Pius Anyim, Ken Nnamani, Ben Obi, Adolphus Nwagbara, Enyinnaya Abaribe and the inimitable Ike Ekweremadus of the Senate. We have also had the likes of Chibudom Nwuche, Austin Opara, Emeka Ihedioha, Ndudi Elumelu, Tobby Okechukwu, etc, in the Green Chamber. Without doubt, these noble souls have proven that given a level playing field, the Igbo race is capable of showcasing credible leadership that the country desires. I am afraid, that the Obi wave might have put a dent on this record going by the number of individuals with unflattering resumes that took advantage of the wave.
Obi’s campaign was essentially driven by the sheer strength of his character and ideas. In many instances, when in their characteristic drivel, the regular politicians went low, he chose to remain high. Thus, rather than the party defining the candidate, it was rather Obi as a brand that defined the Labour party! Inevitably, Obi is unequally yoked with unbelievers as many of the opportunistic politicians who cashed in on his popularity have little in common with him. Thus while Obi is infectiously courtly, these nowhere-men are crudely brash; while Obi believes in the power of his ideas, these undistinguished horde believe in their lowly tantrums; and while Obi is marked out by his disarming equanimity, these renegades are defined by their garrulity! Just few days after he had been declared the Senator-elect for the Enugu North district, Okey Ezea urged the youths in his district to prepare for war because the forthcoming governorship election in his state is going to be a “do-or-die battle!”
The burden Obi carries now is winnowing the wheat from the chaff. Not doing so will be akin to self-harm and may, indeed, dilute the very qualities that earned him such cult following across the country. He should also realize that people did not vote for him because he is a member of the Labour Party. His public service record is rather the defining factor for his many supporters. So, he should not feel beholden to every candidate of the party, particularly those whose past records do not excite his support base.
It is in this regard that his rumored plan to visit Enugu State, presumably for some campaign stump, rankles and is seen as a negation of the values he espouses especially as his votes in the state came from across party boundaries. Indeed, hardly does any of the Labour Party candidates possess any quality one can remotely deem to be consistent with Obi’s worldview. For instance, the governorship candidate of the Labour Party, Chijioke Edeoga, has very probably been in politics for much longer than Obi has been, starting out as a local government chairman even before 1999. He was also a member of the House of Representatives, later appointed a Special Assistant to the former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, and a Senior Special Assistant to former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. He had also served as commissioner for local government affairs in the Governor Ugwuanyi administration, and was moved to the environment ministry from where he resigned to run for the governorship.
Despite these long years in public service, there is not a single stellar record for which he is fondly remembered. Rather, it is an odious record of non-performance that comes to mind whenever his stewardship is recalled, especially with regard to his time as environment commissioner. Unlike Obi who would rather stake his bid for public office on his stellar achievements, strongly denouncing any belittling pitch on account of tribe, Edeoga’s bid is anchored on a sense of entitlement and the divisive rhetoric that the Nsukka cultural zone where he belongs and where the outgoing governor comes from should, willy-nilly, retain the governorship seat! This has become even more evident through a trending video where the Senator-elect, Okey Ezea, was stoking hate and an obscene politics of identity. Any campaign for Edeoga by Obi will be an endorsement of the opportunistic brand of politics, including the tendency to view it as a lifelong career that the latter totally abhors and seeks to dismantle.
Every political observer in Nigeria, including those who are not necessarily Obi’s supporters, can easily cite the highlights of his message to the electorate. With Edeoga, no such message exists. It’s all posturing. There is, in fact, no manifesto or policy document that could be ascribed to him. Given how iconic his reputation has become, Obi should not be seen to be promoting the notion that party affiliation, rather than consideration of a candidate’s capacity, is all that matters.
Daniel Nnaemeka, a lawyer, lives in Enugu.
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