• Saturday, June 22, 2024
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2023: How Obasanjo’s support for Peter Obi may shape poll outcome

With the 2023 general election a few weeks away, the dust over the recent endorsement of Peter Obi, the Labour Party (LP) presidential candidate by Olusegun Obasanjo is still generating ripples across Nigeria.

Since the endorsement, there have been diverse reactions across the country from Nigerians, presidential candidates, their campaign council, with many speaking in his favour or against.

Obasanjo, a former Nigerian military leader, was also elected a civilian president in 1999 at the advent of the fourth republic, twenty years after he relinquished power to a new civilian president.

The Ogun State born former president, had declared that after a thorough assessment of all the candidates vying to become Nigeria’s president from May 29 this year, Obi had the best qualities to effectively tackle the current challenges facing the country.

He maintained in the letter, he personally signed and addressed to all Nigerians that his decision to throw his weight behind the former Anambra State governor was arrived at after interactions with the major contenders.

He had urged youths to take back the country, saying that in the last eight years of All Progressives Congress (APC) rule Nigerians had suffered untold hardship.

Obasanjo’s endorsement of Obi came amid moves by other presidential candidates, who had made frantic moves to get his anointing ahead of the general election.

Virtually all the leading presidential candidates had visited to seek Obasanjo’s support in what is fast becoming part of the nation’s political culture.

Atiku Abubakar, Bola Tinubu and Peter Obi, the presidential candidates of the PDP, APC and the LP, respectively, had all gone to seek Obasanjo’s blessing to aid their chances at the poll.

Obi, 61, is regarded as one of the four leading candidates for next February’s presidential poll.

He defected from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), to the LP to clinch the party’s presidential ticket when it became obvious his chance of emerging the PDP’s presidential candidate was slim.

In the last few months his support base has grown significant especially among youths in Southern Nigeria and on social media.

Popularly known as the Obidient movement, the group members are angry with the current state of the country and see Obi as someone who can change the narrative.

But many Nigerians do not see him as a serious contender, they say his lack of formidable presence and structure in Northern Nigeria with millions of votes, especially in North West will affect his chances.

Also, the LP is not seen to have wide national support to win the presidential election, consequently some people have advised him to rather plan toward the 2027 presidential election.

Meanwhile, for many observers Obasanjo’s public backing to Obi did not come as a surprise, because in the last few months both of them have been seen in several public forums where the former president had spoken highly about the leadership qualities of Obi.

In recent weeks, Obasanjo had been lobbying several prominent Nigerians and groups across the country to seek support for Obi’s presidential bid.

However, as the days draw nearer toward the presidential poll, the questions many people are asking is; what value is Obasanjo’s endorsement of Obi?

Does Obasanjo still have the political clout he was once known for as president of the country and leader of the PDP, where he can decide who gets what?

Meanwhile, it is instructive to note that judging from events in the last one decade, one can say that Obasanjo’s support does not guarantee any candidate victory in a presidential election, but he is considered one of the most influential Nigerians alive.

In 2019, he supported his former deputy, Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, against incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. Buhari won that election.

However, before then, the candidates Obasanjo (president from 1999 to 2007) supported in the presidential elections in 2007, 2011 and 2015 all emerged victorious.

While some Nigerians say the former president was experienced enough and had the capacity to endorse any presidential candidate ahead of the poll. Others have dismissed Obasanjo’s support for Obi; they say it does not reflect the position of the overwhelming majority of Nigerians across the country.

Some analysts say the former president’s endorsement of Obi is good in his right as a Nigerian, and as a renowned world leader.

“No doubt, it will attract some attention, support and some donations to the candidates. But winning elections in Nigeria requires conglomeration of several forces and the ability to get support from all zones and states of the country. This is what I have not seen yet with the Labour party’s candidate.

“The fact remains that the 2023 election will be won through equity, fairness, and justice based on the political demand of Nigerians in relation to the power rotation scheme”, Adelaja Adeoye, politician and public affairs analyst said.

Human rights activists and political commentator, Mike Ozekhome, SAN, faulted the criticisms levelled against Obasanjo, arguing that if he had endorsed Tinubu or Atiku, both men would have been in unrestrained excitement today.

He said, “I don’t think Obasanjo should be criticised and crucified for his personal views based on his personal perception of issues and polity. I will see such lampooning as myopic, insincere and duplicitous.

“This is because the same PDP and APC had also approached the same Obasanjo for his endorsement. If he had endorsed them, would they have criticised him? Would they not have lapped it all up?

“Take it or leave it, although Obasanjo is only entitled to one vote like every and any other Nigerian, no one can deny that he has become a moral compass for happenings in Nigeria and Africa. I read his letter very carefully. It is rich, compelling, logical, well-researched, even if judgmental and puritanical.”

Furthermore, public affair analyst, Tope Musowo noted that it would be unwise for any candidate to under estimate Obasanjo’s political influence, otherwise, the presidential candidates would not be going cap in hand to seek his support ahead of the presidential poll.

According to Musowo, “Obasanjo has just one vote, in terms of electoral value, not many see him has someone with much electoral value, especially since he left office, without state apparatus at his command, but it will delusional for anyone to underestimate his political influence, otherwise, the presidential candidates would not be going cap in hand to meet him at his Ota Farm to seek his endorsement.

Read also: Will Obasanjo, other endorsements raise Obi’s chances?

“Whether his endorsement of Peter Obi would translate to victory for Obi at the polls is another kettle of fish altogether.

“He has made his passionate appeal to the youths to take back their country by voting the right person; it is not for the youths who form more than sixty percent of the voting population to make use of the demographic advantage to determine the outcome of the next election”.

Also speaking, Kunle Okunade, political analyst noted that Obasanjo’s endorsement was a huge plus for Obi’s presidential bid, noting that he was the only Southerner who had influence in Northern Nigeria.

“OBJ is the only elderstateman from the Southwest who has established strong ties with the Northern oligarchs who determine and influence voters in that region.

“So, his endorsement of Obi would boost the chances of Obi if well managed by the Obi team. Also, his endorsement has indirectly weakened Tinubu and Atiku’s camp as they were upset, their reactions can evidently explain it”, Okunade said.