How Peter Obi Accidentally Built an Obidient Force

October 11, 2022

On January 15th, 2022, a former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, praised the Super Eagles of Nigeria on his Twitter account. He got hundreds of responses but most of them weren’t talking about his original message about the national football team. 

How Peter Obi Accidentally Built an Obidient Force

Many of the Nigerians in his comment section were begging him to run for president. One of the replies under that tweet was so threatening that Obi had to respond directly. The Twitter user threatened legal action against the former Anambra State governor if he failed to throw his hat into the ring for the 2023 presidential election. In response, Obi said, “Give me some time.”

How Peter Obi Accidentally Built an Obidient Force

10 months later, Obi dumped one party for another, dodged a tricky crisis that could have sunk his ambition and powered his status from underdog to frontrunner candidate fueled by the passion of Nigerian youths. But his story didn’t start 10 months ago.

In the beginning…

In 2003, four years after Nigeria returned to the loving arms of democracy, billionaire businessman, Peter Obi, contested for the seat of Anambra State governor. The Independent Electoral National Commission (INEC) declared Chris Ngige the winner of that election but Obi disagreed with the result and started a legal battle that lasted three years. 

In 2006, the court ruled that Obi was the winner of the election. It was the first time a court decided the winner of a governorship election in Nigeria. Obi assumed office in March 2006 but in less than a year, Anambra State lawmakers impeached him (in November 2006) over alleged corruption. Obi claimed it was a witch-hunt because he refused to inflate the state’s annual budget. He went back to court again and won; the impeachment was overturned and he made a triumphant return in February 2007.

When it was time for another governorship election in 2007, Obi wasn’t on the ballot because he believed he was entitled to four full years in office as governor. Andy Uba won the 2007 election, and Obi had to vacate the Government House in May 2007. But he ran straight to his babalawo, the Supreme Court. 

How Peter Obi Accidentally Built an Obidient Force

The court agreed that Obi deserved his four-year term and nullified Anambra’s 2007 governorship election to return him to office to complete his first term. This victory became the precedent for other governors who would go on to win their mandates in court and is the reason why a total of eight states now have off-cycle elections. Obi won a second term in office in 2010 and remained the governor of Anambra State till 2014.

How Peter Obi Accidentally Built an Obidient Force

Transmission

In 2014, Obi did what all Nigerian politicians do in their lifetime: he switched parties. He had spent his eight years as Anambra State governor as a member of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). But just months after he left the Government House, he dumped the party for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which was in control of the Federal Government at the time.

Five years later, Obi found himself on the PDP’s presidential ticket as the running mate to former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, for the 2019 general elections. 

How Peter Obi Accidentally Built an Obidient Force

Even though they lost the election, Obi was one of the stand-out characters from the campaign trail. His vibrant spirit, track record as governor and obsession with statistics imported from China were some of the 2019 election campaign highlights. It was his first true introduction to the national spotlight — the moment he unwittingly sowed the seeds of the Obidient movement.

The rise of Obidience

How Peter Obi Accidentally Built an Obidient Force

By the beginning of 2022, the 2023 presidential election was already shaping up as the usual two-horse race between the PDP and the All Progressives Congress (APC). And in those two parties, Bola Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar were already being primed to lead their tickets. But both men, veteran politicians from all the way back in the 90s, had an image problem that made them hard to swallow, especially for young voters. 

As an alternative, the Nigerian youth looked across the landscape for who had more palatable appeal. Their eyes fell on Obi. That’s why hundreds of young Nigerians hounded him to run for president in response to that January tweet where he was talking about football.

Two weeks later, Obi tweeted that he would “step into the field” if the PDP zoned the presidential ticket to the south. But when it was clear the party would renege on the gentleman zoning agreement, and Atiku remained the favourite to win the party’s ticket, Obi’s growing supporter base started prompting him to leave the party and join another one that would put him on the ballot. 

This move would be tricky because only the APC and the PDP command political “structures” strong enough to win national elections. But as his chances of clinching the PDP ticket dwindled, Obi took the plunge and joined the Labour Party (LP).

Obi’s move enjoyed widespread support among the demographic of young Nigerians disillusioned with the establishment, and they vowed to carry his campaign on their heads. And as the support base swelled, they needed a name. They became Obidients.

What’s the appeal of Peter Obi?

Every Nigerian election has a candidate billed as the “messiah” to lead Nigerians out of the wilderness to the Promised Land. Even though Obidients have stopped short of using that tag, Peter Obi represents the wealth of option Nigerians don’t usually get in presidential elections. He’s distinguished himself, with his much-talked-about humility, financial prudence, and a certain kind of sophistication that’s become a rarity in Nigerian elections.

Since winning LP’s presidential ticket, Obi’s campaign has been fueled chiefly by supporters with a deep sense of commitment to his ministry and the hope that he represents. In response to criticism that he has no political structure to win a national election, Obidients have rolled up their sleeves and got down to work. They’ve moved what was once derided as a social media campaign to the grassroots to win more voters to the Obidient movement.

The result of the work is starting to show in opinion polls that have boosted confidence about Peter Obi’s chances. According to three prominent polls, including one by Bloomberg, Obi is ahead of his two main rivals and is primed to win the election next year.

One of Peter Obi’s most prominent narratives is that he’s a political “outsider” even though he’s an establishment politician who’s broken bread with the same political class Nigerian youths are desperate to retire. But the candidate has had to fight for a political career that his supporters feel makes him different.

To end up inside Aso Rock Villa, he’ll need his Obidient force to pull off the impossible and spit in the face of an unyielding status quo.

How Peter Obi Accidentally Built an Obidient Force

ALSO READ: One of These 18 Candidates Is Nigeria’s Next President

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