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New poll shows, Peter Obi, Labour Party’s candidate, likely to win Osun

In a poll conducted in late August by London-based survey company, Emani for U.K Strategic Advisory firm, Sofala Partners, Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi is projected to win Osun state.

Given the historical nature of his candidacy, and potential implications for Nigerian politics going forward, Sofala said it teamed up with survey specialist Emani, to contribute to filling the gap. “What we found is that while the path to victory may not be easy, there does seem to be a very real groundswell of support amongst youth that stretches far beyond a narrow slice of the urban elite”.

Osun state in South-west Nigeria has always been a swing state and unlike most states in the region that tend to align with the dominant political tendencies of the period, Osun state has voted for the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP twice; in 2003 and recently in the 2022 governorship elections.

The APP/AD alliance won the presidential election in the state in 1999 by a very wide margin. By 2003, the ruling PDP won both the presidential and governorship elections. The state swung back to the then Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN in 2007 and since then the ACN and its predecessor party, the APC have always won the presidential elections.

It expected that the presidential elections in the state in 2023 would be decisive in determining who becomes the next president of the country.

The choice of Osun, Sofala Partners thus notedin a report released on Wednesday, 29th September, was predicated on the fact that the state is not a political stronghold of any political party. Osun, it said,“provides a particularly interesting lens through which to explore Obi’s appeal. In the July 2022 election for Osun governor, a PDP candidate ousted the APC incumbent, while the candidate for Obi’s LP secured less than 0.5% of the vote. This suggests that Osun is neither a political stronghold for the major parties nor a very promising playing field for the LP. The LP’s very limited influence and popularity in the state would also allow us to gain clarity on Obi’s personal appeal and the impact of this on ground-level support for his candidacy.

“Additionally, we selected Osun for its religious diversity. The state has significant populations of both Muslims and Christians – groups that are often at the heart of identity politics in Nigeria. We also opted for a majority ethnic Yoruba state in the South region as we felt that Obi’s route to a strong showing necessarily runs through South, especially in the politically powerful majority Yoruba states and in zones beyond his own Igbo ethnic group. Finally, we wanted to avoid Nigeria’s largest, and most developed urban areas (e.g. Lagos, Ibadan, etc.) as these are the areas where Obi’s support is presumed to be strongest. Osogbo, the largest city in Osun, is a relatively small city by Nigerian standards”.

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“While there is a lot of nuance worth exploring,” Sofala Partners reported, “our headline takeaway is that Obi’s online popularity is translating into significant support on the ground. Roughly a third of our youth respondents told us that they intend to vote for Obi on Election Day, almost exactly equal to the number of respondents who said they intend to vote for Tinubu and Abubakar respectively”.

It further noted, “Our view is that while victory for Obi may be an uphill battle, his rapid ascendance – and the way it has been accomplished – will have implications well beyond the outcome of this election. Leveraging many of the networks and strategies that grew up around the #EndSARS movement, Obi’s candidacy is demonstrating the potential impact and pathway to harnessing the support of young people, who are pushing against the status quo. Even if Obi loses, a strong showing will signal a significant departure from how national politics have operated in Nigeria for the last 23 years it will demonstrate: the rise of a consolidated and powerful youth bloc as a political factor; a rejection of the status quo; the weakening of the traditional party duopoly; and, a viable pathway to national office that does not rely on insider politicking and local party infrastructure”.

The firm reported that 110 young people (aged 18-35) in Osun State who were eligible to vote and self-identified as likely to do so were surveyed.

The sample included 58 young people in Oshogbo (the largest urban centre in the state) and 52 people in the rural area of Egdebore, with a minimum of 20 Muslim and 20 Christian respondents in each location, to capture any key demographic differences in voting preference. Diversity in the sample was ensured by drawing multiple nodal points in Emani’s national network (a variation of respondent-driven sampling).

“We focused on young people for two key reasons. Firstly, Obi’s candidacy is generally seen as being propelled by youth support and we wanted to test if this was true. Secondly, the youth makes up the majority of the electorate (51% according to the UNDP), as well as the vast majority of those who actually voted in the last elections (68% according to our calculations).

“This makes young people a potentially powerful voting bloc if aligned behind a common candidate. We could find no official data that broke down voting by age group. Our calculations are based on the youth accounting for 51% of registered voters of which 46% turned out in the last election as noted by the UNDP article, and registered voter and turnout figures for the last election as provided by the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA),” the report noted.

The survey findings further showed that levels of support for Peter Obi vary widely between the urban and rural areas polled, as well as between religions. The Labour Party candidate has a sizable advantage in Osogbo, but very thin support in Egbedore. “While at one level this reinforces the idea that Obi is a candidate for urbanites, the opportunities, lifeways and expectations of young voters in Osogbo stand little comparison with those of larger cities like Lagos (which has a population twenty times the size of the Osun state capital). Unsurprisingly, given that both Tinubu (the APC candidate) and Abubakar (the PDP candidate) are Muslims, the Osun state Christians we surveyed appear much more inclined to support Obi,” the report noted.

In its interpretation of the disaggregated data, Sofala Partners noted further that, “our headline findings certainly do not dispel the narrative that Obi’s support has been driven by his popularity online, and that his base is made up largely of young, urban Christians. In fact, internet and social media was far and away the most common means that our Osogbo respondents reported hearing about him. Our respondents in Egdebore – who were much less likely to support him – mostly reported hearing about him on the radio or by word of mouth.

“However, there is some interesting data to suggest that he may fare better amongst other groups than expected. Firstly, the number of respondents who believed the majority of their family would vote for Obi was very close to the number of respondents who reported an intention to vote for Obi, suggesting that there is at least a belief amongst respondents that he has a substantial number of supporters beyond young people. Strong belief that other people will vote for Obi may also be a check on last-minute defections on Election Day.

“Secondly, and perhaps even more interestingly, the majority of respondents – even those that overwhelmingly indicated they would vote for another candidate – reported having a positive view of Obi. This suggests that his message is received at least somewhat favourably across all demographic groups, even when not delivered via social media.

Findings of a high level of overall support for Obi in Osun,” the report projected, suggests that his popularity is more than social media hype. In addition, although there appear to be lower levels of support for him among rural residents and Muslims, our survey suggests that his appeal reaches beyond the most developed urban centres.

“That said, one part of the Obi narrative that few have pushed back against is that as a Christian from the South, he is likely to struggle to get votes in the more populous, majority Muslim north of the country. The low support amongst Muslim respondents that we see in the Osun data appears to confirm that he has had trouble making significant headway among Muslim voters. This will make it hard for him to secure support among voters – young people or otherwise – in the populous and majority Muslim north of the country”.

While the survey was focused largely on understanding the extent, and patterns of support for Obi on the ground, the data also provided some insights into the overall election dynamics, and how his candidacy might impact other candidates.

Perhaps most interesting, as shown in the data, is the relatively poor performance of the APC presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu in the survey given that he is from Osun’s majority ethnic group (Yoruba) and a southerner. Notably, the PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar significantly outperformed Tinubu in rural areas and among Christians, leaving Tinubu with a relatively narrow base in the state. “It is also worth noting,” the data showed, “that many pro-Tinubu comments indicated that their support is linked to wanting to support a Yoruba candidate, opening the possibility that he may have even less support in non-Yoruba states.”

In a final analysis of the report, it was concluded that, “while the data cannot tell us why Tinubu’s levels of support are lower than expected, it is possible that Tinubu’s choice of a Muslim VP candidate (resulting in an all-Muslim ticket) is at least part of the story. In contrast, Abubakar opted for a Christian VP candidate on his ticket. If Christians in the south are indeed unhappy with Tinubu’s Muslim-Muslim ticket, there is a real possibility that this will weaken Tinubu’s showing in the South and significantly hurt his chances at the Presidency overall. Age could also be a factor, particularly among young people. Rumours of Tinubu being significantly older than he claims have followed him (despite a lack of evidence to support them) alongside concerns about his health and resulting ability to effectively govern. However, given that Abubakar is 75, we would anticipate that Obi would likely be the main beneficiary of any concerns.”

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