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Obi Vs Atiku: Ndigbo’s Conundrum In February’s Presidential Poll

By Olu Fasan

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Obi Atiku

IF I had a vote in next month’s presidential election, I would cast it for Peter Obi, the Labour Party’s presidential candidate. Sadly, I don’t, as I live overseas. 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 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 Igbos and Nigeria. Therefore, we need a hard-nosed analysis of the situation, and the Igbos need a strategic response.

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 inclusivity that unites Nigeria. But can it, and would it happen? And if not, what will become of Ndigbo?

Ebonyi state governement lodge Abuja

Let’s start with the first question: Can an Obi victory happen? 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 before has a presidential candidate outside of the two major parties received prominent Nigerian endorsements and led in multiple polls as Obi has.

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”. Some talk about “structure”,  but history is replete with outsiders who caused major upsets by defeating well-established candidates.

What worked for neophytes like Emmanuel Macron, who defeated candidates of France’s established parties, and Barack Obama, who beat veterans like Hillary 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, this apparent mood for change, translates into votes, and if the rigging of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, and the INEC Result Viewing, IRev, stops, the theoretical proposition must be that Obi can win. But I said “theoretical” advisedly. Obi’s path to the presidency is littered with challenges. Even if his supporters vote on February 25, and vote-buying and rigging are drastically curtailed, does Obi have enough votes to win the election?

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! But can Obi garner enough votes across Nigeria—North and South—to win the election on the first ballot? That would be truly seismic and epochal, but most hard-headed analysts would say it’s improbable. More likely, Obi would cause an upset and force a rerun. But, if so, would he be one of the two candidates for the rerun?

For me, the next president should be of South-East extraction. But what if Obi’s victory is unlikely? What’s the Igbos’ second-best outcome? Surely, it must be the shortest route to the presidency. Well, in that case, victory for Bola Tinubu, the APC’s presidential candidate, must be Ndigbo’s worst nightmare!

I have many things against Tinubu—his drug-related past, his unexplained wealth, his dubious 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 chance 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, an albeit second-best, victory for Atiku Abubakar, the PDP’s presidential candidate, would shorten the Igbos’ route to the presidency. After eight years in power – what would stop him?—it’s almost certain that a President Atiku would support an Igbo to succeed him. Thus, if not Obi, an Atiku presidency is the surest, shortest route to an Igbo presidency.

So, what should be Ndigbo’s strategic response? They should vote massively for Obi if they believe he can win in the first ballot or be a candidate for a rerun. However, if their analysis and intelligence show that Obi can’t win in the first ballot or 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, Igbos, think dispassionately, act strategically!

Congratulations to Chief Anyaoku at 90

ONE of my favourite Nigerian elder statesmen is Chief Emeka Anyaoku, who turned 90 yesterday. A proud Igbo and 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. Not a politician, but a classic diplomat and great thinker; 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!

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