OBI-BATism is a movement by Nigerian voters and non-voters for the actualisation of return of political power to the Southern part of the country after the North would have finished their eight-year hold on power under the outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari.
OBI-BATism animated this concern before political parties elected their flag bearers in the interest of peace, justice, equity and national development. While the All Progressives Congress (APC) settled for Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT), the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) refused to vote for a Southern flagbearer. PDP dared to put forward a perpetual contestant, Atiku Abubakar. This balkanised the party, forcing the pull-out of five governors code-named G5. These governors were against the emergence of another Northerner as President of Nigeria. All entreaties to them failed; they became a political cult group ready to negotiate with interests that aligned with their convictions. Not ready to be commandeered, Peter Obi, the new face which changed the dynamics of the 2023 presidential election, defected from the PDP to the Labour Party (LP) and secured the presidential ticket. In the same way, Rabiu Kwakwanso, a former PDP member, also clinched the ticket of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP). A four-horse race contest then began between the forces that want political power at the centre to remain in the North and the forces that desire political power to move down South. These formations set the tone for a new political dynamic which rocked the 2023 elections.
While the results might have been announced, with BAT as winner, some feel the process was not entirely credible. They are unhappy about the manner the polls were conducted by INEC such as delayed uploading of results, delayed arrival of INEC staff, voter suppression and intimidation, collaborative electoral fraud, violence and disenfranchisement of Nigerians. This perception has generated a cold war and hate speeches on many social media platforms.
Although he finished third, many don’t believe that Peter Obi did not win. They believe that there were underhand dealings or electoral malpractices. Friends, associates and families attacked one another based on political differences.
The sociology of voters’ behaviours and preferences as exemplified in the 2023 presidential election tells me that Nigerians desire a country where peace, progress and prosperity are assured but differ on the right pilot to take the country to that destination. The main contention was and is still between the supporters of the president-elect, Bola Tinubu, and those of Peter Obi. Old men fought themselves dirty, the youths felt disappointed with the outcome. They reasoned that the process was compromised. The Asiwaju people would not tolerate anyone to talk down on the man they think holds the magic wand to their future.
The presidential results, however, tell me a lot of stories. One, a total of 14,896,259 people (Tinubu+Obi) voted for a Southern presidency while a total of 8,481,207 people (Atiku+Kwakwanso) voted for a Northern presidency. The difference of 6,415,052 voted for equity, justice, inclusive governance, peace and unification of the country which might have been threatened if the opposite happened. Two, the total number of people who voted against the president-elect are 14,582,740, indicating that there is possibility that the president-elect’s chances might have been threatened were it not for the Obi phenomenon and the G5’s disruptive political move in the PDP. What this says is that the president-elect will need to understand the dynamic needs of these people and incorporate their aspirations in his blueprint of governance.
People think it is backward to vote along tribal lines even when you believe your ethnic group has the best candidate. Such thoughts, as good as they may seem, downplay the social reality embedded in the sociology of electoral victory in Nigeria. The law stipulates winning majority votes and getting 25 per cent in two-thirds of all the states and the FCT. This implies that you must have a strong base, secure it and reach out to political allies in zones with higher voting populations for partnership. This is where the constitution lays foundation for voting along ethnic lines. Bola Tinubu edged others out in these areas because all three top candidates won 12 states each, while the fourth won one. What separated them was the highest votes he secured and the 25 per cent spread. Tinubu secured his South West, and where he lost, it was with a narrow margin or not without getting 25 per cent votes. Obi secured his base, but his gains outside his base were not with high margins. Tinubu reached out to the G5 who added to his gains. This should tell Nigerians that politicians, unlike fighting themselves, don’t have permanent enemies. They go after those who can guarantee their interests and futures. Nyesom Wike’s posture aptly captures this point.
INEC, with all the logistic support ought not to have allowed suspicion at all. A maxim in Yoruba says, “Ti olorun ba ri e, je ki eniyan naa ri e (If God sees you, let humans see you too).”
Transparency has tracking variables. An electoral umpire should be transparent and follow due process as laid out. When people perceive injustice in the electoral process, they will protest and it may cause a legitimacy crisis. Peace is possible when people experience justice.
We need to do better in the coming gubernatorial and state assembly elections. It is sad that those who turned out to cast their votes during the presidential and National Assembly polls were less than that of the 2019 general elections where 28,614,190 voted. Apathy is growing and the way the election process and outcomes are perceived may contribute to this. It is a loss of scarce resources to plan for at least 50 million voters only for less than 25 million to show up on election day. We must appeal to people and act for people to believe in our election management system.
Moving forward, the 2023 presidential election teaches the establishment some lessons about over-hyping and overrating themselves. Peter Obi who was said to have no structures won 12 states just like the PDP and APC who boasted of structures. The 6.1 million Nigerians who voted Peter Obi showed that the people are the pillars of support and structures needed once your plan captures their needs and aspirations and represents the future they desire. Obi and his supporters have proven that they exist in real life and not only on social media. Leaders should begin to tap into the unmet needs of their people so as to be able to develop policies that will be impactful.
OBI-BATism is a lesson in democracy and a beneficial springboard for the kingmaker to become the king.
Dr Tade, a sociologist, wrote via [email protected]