Thursday, July 21, 2022 11:45 am
By Babajide Ololajulo
If Mr Peter Obi fails to realise his presidential ambition in 2023, it will not be because of his qualification and leadership acumen. A two-term governor and a successful businessman is more than a real deal in a clime where evidence of enrolment in high school is all that is required to vie for the top job in the land. But I have spent years researching identity politics and other dynamics of electoral competitions in Nigeria. I have reviewed the results of at least seven presidential elections. For me, the path to Obi’s presidency is at best imaginary, except a miracle happens. The electoral math doesn’t seem to add up for him! Mind you, I am not “disObidient”; I am only being realistic.
Many political observers, except Obi’s ardent supporters, will agree that there is yet nothing national about the “Obidient Movement”. However, rather than toe the line of commentators who fail to accord the “movement” its well-deserved respect, I believe that Obi’s candidacy currently thrives well in Southeast and South-South states. In the Southwest and some North-central states, his candidacy is also receiving sympathy from people who cannot make up their minds to vote Bola Tinubu of the APC and Atiku Abubakar of the PDP. Moreover, more Christians appear to be looking his direction.
I will cut Peter Obi some slack by conceding that he can win all the eleven states of the Southeast and South-South (including Okowa’s Delta) and North-central states such as Benue and Plateau. That will be a pretty good outing. Unfortunately, the constitutional requirement to be elected Nigerian president envisages a winner that is widely accepted across ethno-religious boundaries. Thus, to be elected president, a candidate must in addition to winning majority votes score 25% of the votes in at least two-thirds of the states.
We are talking about Obi winning 25% of the votes in at least 24 states! Let us get to work with the assumption that he even gets the job done in the entire 17 Southern states. Obi will yet need to post a modest performance in at least seven Northern states. If kept afloat by the force of identity politics, a fact his supporters are downplaying anyway, Candidate Obi can look in the direction of Benue, Plateau, Kaduna, Taraba and Nasarawa states for salvation. But that will only leave him 22 states, still two states short of the requirement!
Will Obi achieve 25% in any Northern state other than the ones listed above, I seriously doubt it. Moreover, with the way the APC and the PDP run neck to neck in the Southwest states, Obi securing 25% of the votes in the six states of that region is next to a mirage. Where this leaves the Labour Party candidate in the 25% in two-third calculation is anything but fantastic.
In 2011, Buhari’s Mai Gaskiya movement rode roughshod the political space of the Northwest and the Northeast. His supporters tipped him to coast to victory based on the massive voting population of the northern states. Truly, Buhari garnered a whopping 12.2 million votes but ended up meeting the 25% constitutional requirement only in 15 states. Can Obi surpass Buhari of 2011 by extending his influence well beyond his comfort zone? The presidential election is still some seven months away though, but there is little on ground to indicate the soft-spoken politician-businessman can break the barrier of identity politics so fast.
I will cut Peter Obi some slack by conceding that he can win all the eleven states of the Southeast and South-South (including Okowa’s Delta) and North-central states such as Benue and Plateau. That will be a pretty good outing. Unfortunately, the constitutional requirement to be elected Nigerian president envisages a winner that is widely accepted across ethno-religious boundaries.
In an election, there is nothing as disturbing as knowing where the votes are and yet finding them out of reach. The Nigerian electoral map indicates that any candidate that aspires to win a presidential election must post good results in the following eight states: Delta, Rivers, Lagos, Bauchi, Borno, Kaduna, Kano, and Katsina. Mind you, we are not talking of a 25% show here. Winning with 60% victory margin in at least three of the states puts a candidate in a position to be elected president. Goodluck Jonathan won in three of these states! How many can Mr. Peter Obi win? Can he also win in Adamawa and Taraba like Jonathan did in 2011, especially with Atiku Abubakar on the ballot?
Then, we just must realise that no third force wins a national election anywhere, except where one of the major political parties has sufficiently been weakened. Presently, none of APC or PDP is showing sign of weariness or distress. Both recorded victories at two recently conducted state elections. Where then is the confidence of the Labour Party coming from? Obi’s promoters should make no mistake seeking parallel in the party’s cameo appearance in Ondo State. That happened because AD, by then, was no longer a viable opposition to the ruling PDP. We may also not lose sight of the fact that ACN and ANPP/CPC were unsuccessful in their serial bids to unseat the PDP not until they fused into a united opposition?
The final factor unsettling the electoral math for Obi is the culture of political party, which is waxing stronger, especially among ordinary voters who surprisingly are demonstrating uncommon party loyalty, quite unlike the political leaders. Presently, a whole lot of voters identify as APC or PDP! Despite the abysmal performance of the two parties in governance, more people see them as the most viable platforms on which political ambitions can be realised. It won’t be any surprise if voters in states that ought to be the traditional stronghold of Obi stick with their long-established party preferences. The slogan, “my party is my party”, is gaining tract. This stark reality does not bode well for the Labour Party candidate!
Am I then suggesting that Peter Obi and his supporters accept defeat even before the first ballot is cast? Not at all. Candidate Obi has thrown down the gauntlet and must run this race to the finishing line. Winning is another thing. As a man with courage of his conviction, I believe he would find a path going forward by addressing his major weak link, which presently is the inadequate ties he and his ethnicity maintain with the political elites in the northern part of the country.
Believe it or not, any presidential candidate from the South that does not have a strong identity relationship with the ordinary voters in the northern states or the right network to access them is not in the race to win no matter the qualifications paraded, or the rhetoric deployed.
*Dr Jide Ololajulo, a public affairs analyst, writes from the University of Ibadan