If Obi Wins: Looking Beyond the Hope Bubble and The Challenges Ahead for The Working People

By RSM Secretariat 

Nigerians will face some tough electoral decisions on February 25th and March 11th, 2023, when the Nigerian presidential election is to be held, as well as Senate, House of Representatives and State elections. Evidently, Peter Obi’s candidature and campaign for the presidential seat has become a national and global focal point.

It is not only because of his ethnic and religious background (he is a Catholic of Igbo descent) that Obi appeals to millions across the Nigeria. It is mainly because his claim to give hope resonates in the minds of Nigerians who are seeking a change from the 8 year-long economic deprivation wrought by the neo-liberal policies of the Buhari All Progressive Congress (APC) government. Insecurity and hyperinflation are the order of the day under the current regime. 

In the whole of Nigeria, millions hope an Obi victory would signify a change in Nigeria’s economic policy but also an end to the attacks in the ethnic rights of people in the South East. The South East has been the den of separatist agitators and this also affected the economy of the region with significantly less investment from the federal government. For years now, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) have been in forefront of the struggle for self-determination. Their leader, Nnamdi Kanu, is in detention since June 2021, after an arrest by Interpol and an extradition to Nigeria, from which he fled in 2017. The South East continues to face constant political and economic crises. Obi is the first candidate coming out of the South East tradition to receive wider support amongst Nigerians home and abroad. 

Obi left the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) just some months ago, not because of political differences, but because he couldn’t contest in the primaries with his running mates there and he was not ready to spend millions of dollars to buy delegate votes like the other candidates did. During the same week that he left the PDP, he joined the Labour Party and became its presidential candidate! 

Obi-dient

Peter Obi supporters are called Obi-dient. This is supposed to mean that they’re completely in agreement with Obi. His campaign support grew in millions within a few weeks of getting the Labour Party ticket, especially among young people. They organised marches with hundreds of young people participating. It is not at all accidental that angry young people took the streets. Most Nigerians are tired with the failure of the present and previous governments that have created so many divisions among the people. Many of them want to put an end to the Buhari /APC government and think that the only solution now is to install a more lesser evil candidate like Peter Obi. 

Obi-dient are growing in numbers both on social media and in the streets, although they don’t have any clear cut ideology or proposals on how to resolve the political and economic crises in the country. 

Obi-dient have spread to such an extent that tricycles, cars, motorcycles, barbers’ salons and pepper soup joints are now adorned with Labour Party flags and stickers. This is a testimony to the phenomenal support which Obi enjoys around the country.

But the twist is that though millions of working and middle class people have so much hope in Obi, big corporations are also looking towards him for a way out of the current economic crisis in Nigeria. The ruling class in Nigeria at every election year always regrouped in the two dominant parties, the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It seems now that for the first time since a veneer of democracy was installed in 1999, a space for a third party has opened up, and sections of the ruling class are ready to jump on the bandwagon.

The fact that the Obi-dient movement has no clear ideology or even political trajectory, helps facilitate this double character: working people support Obi with the expectation to provoke change, while sectors of the ruling class support him with the expectation to stop change from happening.

The Obi-dient movement has no official debates, there is no political discussion in the rank-and-file and actually anyone that questions its policies and tactics is either bullied or insulted. Today, it’s basically a mere campaign slogan. Just like the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) used “Change” in 2015 and “Next Level” in 2019 to campaign for their continuity in power, a slogan does not mean anything by itself. Obi supporters are using the “Take Naija Back” slogan. This is just to express that they are taking Nigeria back from those who have hijacked it in the past. But the crucial questions, who will do this, when and how are still unanswered. 

Obi and the challenges ahead

With the present deep political financial crises in Nigeria, the consequences of a president coming to power and being unable to resolve the burning issues will be deep, drawn-out and devastating. Thus, Peter Obi can be said to be in the eye of the storm. If we are allowed a comparison, he is like the Biblical Jesus whom average Nigerians look to for salvation from increasing debts, foreclosures, job losses, unemployment and poverty. But whom the greedy capitalist fat cats also look to, to save the capitalist system. Presently Obi is receiving some donations from average workers and youths, but data shows that lots of businessmen and big corporations, some in the Nigerian diaspora, donated the most in his campaign, thus making it reliant on these donors. 

In the countdown to the February/March polls, some local media outlets and journalists, celebrities and trade union leaders have all endorsed Peter Obi’s candidature, presenting the elections as a mere ritual, as if his victory is already assured.

So, can the conflicting hopes of rich and poor vested in Obi be genuinely fulfilled? A careful look at the policies of Peter Obi and Datti Baba-Ahmed is therefore necessary in order to answer this question. 

Peter Obi is presenting a “new” and “progressive” face. What’s his track record though?

  • Unlike most Nigerians who live in poverty, Obi is a millionaire. According to Forbes, his net worth is 20 million dollars.
  • Unlike most Nigerians, he lives in a luxury house and owns luxurious cars.
  • He was involved in the Pandora Papers, as having offshore operations in order to avoid taxation.
  • He implemented neoliberal policies while governing Anambra state.

With the anti-worker record of APC and PDP, it’s not very difficult for a third candidate to present himself as someone “better”. But are Obi’s policies truly different from Bola Hammed Tinubu’s of the All Progressive Congress and  Abubakar Atiku’s of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)? 

Obis has openly said that he isn’t going to probe past administrations who looted public money. His tax policy will pamper the rich because these are the people that are funding his campaign, while offering peanuts to small businesses. 

Of course, millions of Nigerians facing hardship, homelessness and job losses would welcome any betterments promised by Obi. But is he going to deliver them? A lot of left-wing parties around the globe have promised similar things, but have failed go through with them. The reason is because they face fierce opposition by “the markets” and vested capitalist interests. Will Obi be willing to bite the hand that feeds him? He hasn’t given any sign he will be willing to do this.

Therefore, in essence, Obi, Tinubu and Atiku are advocating the same policies. The difference is that Obi plays to the gallery by inflating a bubble of hope. But since he is not willing to clash with capitalism, this bubble will soon burst in a flurry of disillusionment. Obi is in quest to win support from old politicians who have destroyed Nigeria when in power. He has visited self-appointed kingmakers from different palaces that should have never existed, from Minna in Niger state to Ota in Ogun state and others in many parts of Nigeria. 

On the other side, the Peoples Democratic Party is divided on the outcome of the primary that brought Atiku in as their candidate, while the APC swims in an ocean of cash because they’re in power. This is a ‘subprime’ bubble which is bound to burst soon. Unfortunately, it is on the heads of the Nigerian working and middle classes that this bubble will burst, especially when an Obi presidency defends the greed of the capitalists against working people.

In this election, youth, students, farmers, artisans, average working class and middle-class people in Nigeria lack a real choice, precisely because there is as yet no genuine political alternative party which could offer a credible alternative to the establishment. Thus, the task facing poor and working people in Nigeria and in fact all over the world is to build a mass working class party with socialist policies of public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under democratic management and control of the working people. The trade unions and mass organisations of the working class have to be in the forefront of this struggle. If such a working class party were to be present in the upcoming Nigerian elections, the current hope which millions of average people have misplaced on Obi would have been correctly placed to a party democratically controlled by the rank-and-file.

Poor Nigerians need a party that will truly guarantee a decent and improved standard of living. They need a government that will boldly announce immediate withdrawal of troops from South East, in order to allow the South East people to democratically determine their destiny. They need a sovereign national popular conference to determine a new way forward for Nigeria. They need a government that can guarantee employment with decent pay, free and quality education and healthcare, quality and affordable housing, care for the environment, gay and lesbian rights, the right to abortion and genuine peace by ending banditry and kidnapping.  

But how can they possibly get these under an Obi presidency which merely wants to turn Nigeria to a “producing country”? The current political and economic crises can only be addressed if we have a class conscious workers’ government and elected political representatives of the workers and the poor, ready to clash with the rich. Without a revolutionary movement of working people to take over the reins of society, the greed of the capitalists will, for as long as capitalism lasts, continue to drag humanity through a giddy cycle of boom and burst.

Socialism is the only alternative

Who is afraid of socialism, we ask? Surely not the poor working class people seeking a way out of the economic crisis wrought by neo-liberalism and capitalism. Only the capitalists are afraid, because socialism means that the wealth they have accumulated in the backs of society will be taken back by those who created it in the first place. A socialist society will be one in which everyone will work according to their ability, and will be compensated according to their needs. A socialist society will take care of the young, the old, the sick or disabled through a system of collective social security comprising of free, functional and quality education at all levels, free and functional health services, an extensive transportation system, social housing etc. Socialism to us in the Revolutionary Socialist Movement (RSM) also means the guaranteeing of democratic rights of all, including the right of people to self-determination, rights to practice the religion of your choice, right to free speech and assembly, no discrimination against women etc. The land and natural resources will be collectively owned and used for benefits of all, as against how it’s been used by the rich 1% today. 

Since the emergence of the Obi candidature, despite contesting in a party that supposedly belongs to workers and gets support from trade union leaders with sizeable numbers of workers behind them, he hasn’t mentioned anything close to social-democratic, let alone socialist, demands.  

It’s important to stress that the majority of the capitalist class in Nigeria are divided over how to handle Obi. Some sections of the ruling elites understand that the fact that Obi is getting support from the rank-and-file can be used in their favor. They see him as the only man who can direct the anger of millions of poor Nigerians at the economic situation into a huge bubble of illusion and ensure that this anger does not lead to social convulsions. Capitalists have throughout history distinguished themselves as capable of jumping on any life boat in order to preserve their rule and they have no shame now in abandoning their old friends. This feature of the capitalists is prominent in Nigeria, where politicians move from one party to another within the space of an election circle. Obi is no different in this respect also, as he was in the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), then he left to the join the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and now he is in the Labour Party. 

If Obi does not win, in a few years from now, the myth will have it that he had the best policy to preside over Nigeria at a most trying time but was not given a chance because he was an Igbo man from the South East and because his party didn’t have structures. If Obi wins, eventually events and experience will show that the “high expectations” he has sown will not be met. This will create disillusionment in wide layers of society. But a section of the people that voted for him will be more open about the need to build an alternative party that stands for the real interests of working people. That’s what we in the Revolutionary Socialist Movement stand for. We believe that a true Labour Party should be a party of ordinary people. Unfortunately, today the Labor Party is not such a party, but is a vehicle for capitalist politicians like Obi in their quest for power. 

Let us all work together to build a real party of the working people in the future. 

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