BusinessDay

Obi or Atiku? Ndigbo’s dilemma in next month’s presidential poll

Let me say categorically. If I had a vote in next month’s presidential election, I would certainly cast it for Peter Obi, the Labour Party’s presidential candidate. Sadly, I don’t have a vote, as I live abroad. However, I have a view, and I have been unequivocal in this column that a victory for Obi would be the best outcome in the presidential poll.

So, nothing that I write here detracts from that endorsement. But allow me to play “devil’s advocate” because the outcome of February’s presidential election would have huge consequences for the Igbos and for Nigeria. Therefore, we need a hard-nosed analysis of the situation, and the Igbos need a strategic response.

To be sure, Obi’s victory, apart from being a breath of fresh air and a seismic shift in the troubling trajectory of this country, would assuage the legitimate agitation for a president of Igbo extraction, and create a sense of belonging and inclusivity that unites Nigeria. But can it and would it happen? And if not, what would that mean for Ndigbo?

Let’s start with the first question: Can an Obi victory happen? The straight answer is: Yes, it can! Never in the history of presidential elections in Nigeria has a third-force candidate captured the imagination of Nigerians like Obi has. Never has a presidential candidate outside the main two parties received high-profile endorsements across Nigeria and led in several polls as Obi has.

More likely, Obi would cause an upset and force a rerun. But would he be one of the two candidates for the rerun? If Obi is a candidate in a rerun, he would probably win!

What’s more, as I read British newspapers, I’m struck by their positive slants on Obi. Recently, the Sunday Times said Obi “has enjoyed a rapid rise from outsider to election frontrunner.” The Financial Times said he “has shaken up the race”.

Of course, few will forget the indubitable verdict of Professor Charles Soludo, governor of Anambra State, in his article titled “History beckons, and I will not be sitent (Part1)”. In that controversial piece, Soludo said: “Let’s be clear. Peter Obi knows that he can’t and won’t win”. He cited Obi’s lack of “structure”. But history is replete with outsiders who caused major upsets by defeating well-established candidates.

What worked for political neophytes like Emmanuel Macron, who defeated candidates of France’s established parties, and Barack Obama, who beat veterans like Hilary Clinton and John McCain, was their popular appeal and seeming embodiment of the zeitgeist of the time.

Obi has them too. And if the popular appeal and the apparent mood for change translate into votes, and the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, and the INEC Result Viewing, IRev, stop rigging, then the theoretical proposition must be that Obi can win next week’s presidential contest. But I said “theoretical” advisedly. For, let’s face it, Obi’s path to the presidency is littered with challenges.

First, he must hope that those who want him to win, and are eligible to vote, do, in fact, vote on February 25. Second, he must hope that vote-buying and rigging are drastically curtailed so that votes cast for him truly count. But even if those hopes are fulfilled, the question is: Does Obi really have enough votes to win the election?

Put differently, would an Obi victory happen? Well, let’s get to the brass tacks. Obi must secure (1) a majority of the votes cast nationally and (2) 25 per cent of the votes cast in at least 24 states and the FCT, Abuja. To meet those constitutional requirements, he must win massively across the country, North and South!

The optimistic assumption is that Obi would secure a majority of the votes cast in most of the states in the South-East, South-South and the Middle-Belt. But can he garner enough votes across the North and the South-West to win the election in the first ballot? If he did, that would be truly seismic and epochal. But most hard-headed analysts would say that an Obi victory in the first ballot is improbable. More likely, Obi would cause an upset and force a rerun. But would he be one of the two candidates for the rerun? If Obi is a candidate in a rerun, he would probably win!

For me, the next president should be of South-East extraction, and I genuinely hope and wish that Obi can pull it off and win next month’s presidential election. But what if Obi’s victory is unlikely? What’s the Igbos’ second-best outcome? Surely, it must be what would give them the shortest route to the presidency. Well, in that case, victory for Bola Tinubu, APC’s presidential candidate, must be Ndigbo’s worst nightmare!

I have many things against Tinubu – his drug-related past, his unexplained wealth and slush fund, his dubious identity and backstory, his divisive Muslim-Muslim ticket, his Emi lokan sense of entitlement. But what also worries me is that a Tinubu presidency would prolong the Igbos’ route to the presidency and deepen disunity and instability in Nigeria.

Think about it. If Tinubu wins and does eight years – what would stop him? – power would return to the North for eight years. The Igbos would have no realistic opportunity to seek the presidency again for another 16 years. By 2039, the presidency would have eluded them for 40 years since 1999. The Igbos would, rightly, question whether they are, de facto, part of Nigeria. That would push this country to the brink of disintegration.

By contrast, albeit a second-best outcome, victory for Atiku Abubakar, PDP’s presidential candidate, would shorten the Igbos’ route to the presidency. After eight years in power – what would stop him? – a President Atiku would certainly support an Igbo to succeed him. Thus, if not Obi, an Atiku presidency is the surest, shortest route to Igbo presidency.

So, what should be Ndigbo’s strategic response? Well, first, they should dispassionately survey the political landscape and electoral map. They should vote massively for Obi if they believe he can win in the first ballot. They should also vote massively for him if they think he can’t win in the first ballot but can be a candidate for a rerun, in the realistic hope that Nigerians would elect him president in a rerun. However, if Ndigbo’s analysis shows that Obi can’t win in the first ballot or be in a rerun, they should vote massively for Atiku.

Make no mistake. A Tinubu presidency would be catastrophic for Ndigbo, keeping them longer in the political wilderness. Therefore, it would be unpardonable if voting for Obi translated into Tinubu’s victory. So, Ndigbo, think dispassionately, act strategically.

Read also: 10 quotes from Obi’s speech at Chatham House

Congratulations to Chief Anyaoku at 90

One of Nigeria’s greatest elder statesmen is Chief Emeka Anyaoku, who turned 90 last week. A proud Igbo, he’s also a detribalised pan-Nigerian. In the mid-1990s, as a magazine publisher in London, I wrote to Chief Anyaoku, then Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, requesting an interview. He welcomed me and my team warmly and gave us his undivided attention for over two hours, fielding questions.

A few years later, after he had left office, I met him at the London School of Economics, where he was a Distinguished Visiting Fellow, and I was studying for a PhD in Law. I told him that if he had run for president in 1999, I would have returned to Nigeria to join his campaign.

He smiled. “You are one of those trying to draft me into politics,” he said. Well, he’s not a politician, but certainly a quintessential diplomat and great thinker; he’s one of Africa’s outstanding figures and a global statesman. A strong advocate of restructuring, Chief Anyaoku cares deeply about Nigeria’s future. I admire him greatly.

Happy birthday, Chief. Many happy returns!