Since Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999, the presidential poll has always been a contest between the two dominant parties in the country.
This is despite the fact that Nigeria operates a multi-party system, where in most occasions the smaller parties’ present candidates during the presidential elections.
After dislodging the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which ruled for 16 years in 2015, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) government headed by President Muhammadu Buhari is expected to be succeeded by another president, after the expiration of his tenure in May 2023.
Unlike in the past when the presidential poll was a straight fight between the candidates of the nation’s two major parties, the APC and PDP, the reverse appears to be the case this time around, with the entrance to the race of the Labour Party its presidential candidate, Peter Obi, a former governor of Anambra State.
Across the country, the candidacy of Peter Obi has continued to gain wide popularity, among ordinary Nigerians and political elite alike.
Obi’s growing popularity and acceptance has also brought the Labour Party into national reckoning, turning it into a beautiful bride where aspirants now line up to contest on the platform.
Until now, the Labour Party, linked to the nation’s main trade union, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), was largely an obscure party, with little or no presence in several states of the federation.
However, Obi’s entrance into the presidential race on the platform of the LP changed the narrative, bringing the party to national consciousness ahead of the 2023 general elections.
Perhaps, the birth of the ‘Obidient’ movement, named after him, has brought a different dimension to the presidential race.
Largely driven by youths, the movement leverages on youths present on social media to mobilise and garner support for Obi’s presidential bid.
The movement was determined to leverage the good image of Obi to create a third force, giving Nigerians an alternative away from the candidates of the two dominant parties.
Obi is perceived as the candidate that can take the country out of its woes, amid the widening poverty and economic crisis in the country.
This year marks 20 years of the Labour Party in the Nigerian political scene.
The party, which started as Party for Social Democracy in 2002, keeps struggling since then to make an impact, especially to woo the electorate on its side.
Though Olusegun Mimiko broke the jinx in 2009 to become the first Nigerian governor to be elected on the Labour Party platform, the party had no stake at the National Assembly until the recent defection of a senator out of the 109 senators and two out of the 360 House of Representatives members.
The figures represent a very poor performance of the party.
However, the once obscured Labour Party, which is often missing in the ballot paper for lack of a presidential candidate, is now becoming influential, and even giving the two major parties a strong headache for the 2023 presidential election.
Of course, credit goes to Peter Obi, the former governor of Anambra State, and running mate to Atiku Abubakar in the 2019 presidential election.
Since joining the Labour Party in May and emerging as its presidential flag bearer, the party has been growing in influence, especially popularity among the youths, who believe in the change Obi is promising.
The #Obidient has been among the highest trending on social media and youths are catching fire, supporting it and insisting that a true change is possible with Obi’s presidency.
Again, it is now fashionable to run under the party as many are defecting from the two major parties to join Labour, while some political bigwigs are secretly #Obidient.
But what is this thing about Peter Obi?
According to Ezenwa Francis Onyewuchi, a senator representing Imo East, who dumped PDP for Labour Party recently, Peter Obi has proven himself as a business man with high integrity, as a governor, who impacted his state, ensured stability in the once-hot political scene of Anambra and as a Nigerian who has capacity to enforce true change for all Nigerians.
Toeing the same line, Oseloka Obaze, Obi’s top aide, noted that Obi has all it takes to renew, transform and to free the country from the current security and social economic challenges.
Considering all that is going for Obi, the Labour Party is now reaping bountifully from the calibre of Obi’s person, his integrity, practical solutions to Nigeria’s problems and love for the masses.
Abidemi Olosa, a former staff of Fidelity Bank, described Obi as Mr. Integrity and that the politicians are courting him because they know he can deliver and will not go out of his cool personality to give them trouble.
Emem Itoro, a big follower of Obi and his #Obidient movement, noted that the Anambra-born politician has offered Nigerians a good option for the 2023 election.
“In 2015, Nigerians were faced with two wrong options, the PDP that ran the country down and the APC fielded a candidate most people opposed. In 2023, Labour Party is offering Nigerians respite from the enslavement of die-hard old politicians and looters of the country,” Itoro said.
From the party angle, Clement Ojukwu, National Organisation Secretary, Labour Party, said that the move by Obi to the party was a huge blessing because the party is becoming more active now, with members growing and party activities increasing daily.
Currently, the party, according to him, has been carrying out membership unveilings nationwide, a move aimed at informing Nigerians that the Labour Party is fully prepared for the 2023 election in all ramifications.
Aside from Peter Obi of Labour Party, Bola Tinubu of the APC and Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, there are many other presidential flag bearers for the 2023 election, but little is heard of them.
While Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) makes headlines because of his large followership in Kano, the rest seem only interested in having the appendage of a former presidential flag bearer. They include: Prince Malik Ado-Ibrahim of Young Progressive Party (YPP), Omoyele Sowore of Africa Action Congress (AAC), Prince Adewole Adebayo of Social Democratic Party (SDP), Kola Abiola of Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Hamza Al- Mustapha of Action Alliance, Peter Umeadi of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and Dumebi Kachikwu, of African Democratic Congress (ADC).
Speaking on why the flag bearers and their parties are not being heard of, Chijioke Umelahi, a former Abia lawmaker, noted that there is no need to stand for an election, which you know you cannot win, but that the flag bearers are not just trying their luck but see their emergence as status symbol.
“There was a time Tunde Bakare, Chris Okotie and lately Kingsley Moghalu were all vying at any presidential election. They knew they would not win, but it was just to be there. I think INEC should checkmate this mess and prune the numbers of parties. They are too many,” he said.
Observers say, unlike in the past his entrance, has dramatically changed the tempo from the usual grandstanding campaign promises by the usual politicians.
They say that he has changed the narrative of the campaign to issue-based, problem-solving solutions, and ideas being discussed in the forefront.
“What he has brought to the table is issue-based discussion and campaign unlike in the past. Telling us what the problems are and providing solutions. If he is sincere or his facts are true, sometimes I can’t say.
“It is a clear departure from the abuse, name calling we have seen by our politicians. I hope the tempo can be sustained when the main campaign begins,” Tope Musowo, a public affair analyst, said.
Pundits say Obi and the LP’s wide acceptance across the country is an indication that Nigerians are disillusioned with the existing two major parties.
Some say the youths are tired of the present crop of leaders and want someone with capacity that they can engage with.
“The popularity of Peter Obi and Labour Party is to show you that Nigerians don’t have interest in the PDP and APC again, who have failed them over the years.
“People are tired. Is it not the same APC ruling us for seven years now, what has changed? Look at how the country is; Nigerians are looking for a third force and they see him as someone who is different,” Adewale Bolaji, a member of the Action Democratic Party (ADP) National Executive Committee and Lagos State chairman, said.
“I think with good strategy Obi will do well. LP is popular, what do you expect, they gave him that opportunity when the PDP did not value him. People moved with him to the Labour Party when he moved because of his charisma. I pray there is no crisis in the party; Peter obi would make the needed changes,” he said.
Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, the LP gubernatorial candidate for the 2023 election in Lagos State, said that Nigerians were tired of the status quo, stressing that the candidates of the two major parties had failed the nation in the past.
According to him, “The APC has thrown up Bola Tinubu that has been linked to all sorts of things and corruption. On the other hand, we have Atiku that has allegations trailing him as well.
“Then you have a Peter Obi, that everything about him is about transparency, managing resources and accountability and this is what the people want.
“Is time for Nigeria to do what the people want? The reality is that we have so much crude oil and yet we are importing crude oil. We have so many resources constantly borrowing to pay debt.
“There is public acceptance, because Nigerians are tired, that is why the party is popular.”
The governorship candidate stressed that the other candidates lacked capacity to challenge Obi.
“I don’t think any of the candidates can compete with him, it is time for leaders that can change the way things are done,” he added.