By Femi Mimiko
It’s certainly not the case that the piece, “The Peter Obi Tsunami…”, by Farooq Kperogi is a mere stuff for entertainment, as it has been suggested. Far from it! Indeed, the writer has done very well to interrogate the context within which Obi emerged, the forces driving the Obi ‘tsunami’, the limitations thereto, and the upset the candidate may cause in 2023. I associate very well with this broad outline. We should recall that a few days ago, I actually gave vent to my hunch recently that Obi may come off in the 2023 election as a very strong first runner-up, if he does not win. I guess it’s a similar conclusion Farooq has reached in his piece.
I also fancy the writer’s sensitivity to the fact that Obi tends to embellish his presentations, I add, almost to the point of dancing on the sharp edges separating truth and untruths. Yet, it is absolutely correct that the Labour Party candidate looks far ahead of both Atiku Abubakar and Bola Tinubu in the promise of a better governed Nigeria, which he represents. My four major concerns with, and about his candidature are these: first, Peter Obi doesn’t seem to appreciate that Nigeria of today needs much more than a relatively more efficient, less wasteful, and less corrupt government.
The primacy of a structural recasting of the country cannot be overemphasised! Obi doesn’t seem to share this concern; or if he does, hasn’t demonstrated any evidence that he knows how to go about addressing it. If extant governance structures are not recast, in the direction of a more functional federal system that would deepen the possibilities for autochthonous development, no matter how much efficiency an Obi brings to governance, the fundamentals of Nigeria’s crises would still be firmly in place.
Secondly, Obi doesn’t come across as tough enough to confront all of the evil forces, and human and institutional principalities that have held Nigeria down for so long. He doesn’t come with a touch of ‘rascality’ that is needful for sorting out this ‘congregation of evil’ that is Nigeria’s rapacious and unconscionable political class. Thirdly, while Obi is quite adept as highlighting the challenges of bad governance that Nigeria epitomises, he is not really quite profound in terms of the practicalities of addressing the same. Recounting the difficulties of the country in such an eloquent manner as Obi does it, is good to the ears. The task, however, is what, in precise terms, you need to deliver a qualitative alternative. Obi can still do much better on this.
Fourthly, I have this uncomfortable feeling that an Obi presidency could mean greater tension over Lagos, vis-a-vis the thinly veiled ownership claims – or in the least, a sense of entitlement – of his own ethnic nation, on the former federal capital. It would require all the dexterity of an Obi presidency in ensuring this lingering tension does not snowball into a major inter-ethnic inferno. If and when Obi and his handlers are able to persuasively address these issues, so many stakeholders, who are genuinely concerned about the direction in which Nigeria seems again to be headed, may not hesitate to move into his corner.
Talks about a political structure, or shortage thereof, which the anti-Obi forces are drumming up, are valid, but not insurmountable. As a political scientist, I am conversant enough with how a momentum similar to the one that is building up behind Peter Obi today propelled hitherto unknown political qualities into high office. A recent example was Tunisia in 1999, where such a momentum swept Kais Saied, a professor, into the presidential palace. The fundamental condition for this type of seismic movement is mass anger and public trust deficit, which are aplenty in Nigeria today. The Nigerian state is in the throes of what elsewhere I characterised as a ‘creeping failure,’ the evidence of which is out there for any patriotic mind to track. So, let no one underestimate the unfolding Obi phenomenon. Putting him away with a wave of the hand isn’t in any way scientific.
*Femi Mimiko is a professor of Political Science at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and a member of the National Institute (MNI). E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @FemiMimiko