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ANALYSIS: Last-minute defections in Labour Party and Obi’s chances at polls



Peter Obi

Ahead of the climactic 2023 elections which many have described as the most important to the continued survival or otherwise of Nigeria as a developing country, a lot of drama has taken place within the different political parties. But, as it relates to the chances of presidential candidates at polls, the defections of key members of Labour Party might be too serious an issue to ignore especially given the level of resounding support the opposition party has gathered from the Nigerian youth.

There is no denying the fact that huge swaths of Nigerian youths have aligned with the candidacy of the former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi, for the presidential election. This seemingly spectacular wave didn’t start because Obi was/is a political saint; it’s because this demography seems to have had enough of the blows from Nigeria’s established political parties, which many thought had failed to change the fortunes of the country over time.

Put more lucidly, the events in the past few years, starting from the events that culminated in the #EndSARS protest, to the ongoing fuel and naira crisis which has rendered vulnerable Nigerians devastated, have shown that most Nigerian youths, however unprepared, desire a change of government. This development ultimately propelled Obi to his current stardom, unarguably due to his seemingly frugal politics and identification with the everyday realities of common Nigerians.

This and more could explain the reason he gained so much popularity, arguably more online than offline, within the space of a few months after leaving his former base, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Obi’s name on the ballot has also changed the atmosphere of this election season, different from the boring dominance of the APC and PDP.

Despite all the popularity bestowed upon the Labour Party because a man purportedly different from others is running under it, a number of politicians with their seemingly never-ending opposition to the new order have discountenanced Obi as a show boy who is only wasting the time of angry Nigerians. Presidential spokesmen of both APC and PDP, Festus Keyamo and Daniel Bwala, on different occasions had particularly berated Obi’s chances. Though many have written off such utterances as usual from one political gladiator to another.

But recent defections of prominent candidates in the Labour Party in some states to the ruling party and how the worrisome development might ultimately affect Obi’s chances at polls have become a subject of discussion. For instance, the party’s governorship candidate in Adamawa State, Umar Mustapha Muqaddas, just adopted the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in Saturday’s election. Muqaddas, who addressed journalists at a media briefing in Yola, accused the LP of sidelining him and other party candidates in the state. He lamented that the LP leaders are not distinguishable from the current political leaders they planned to replace.

Muqaddas said: “We have been deliberately disrespected by the party structure at the national and state levels.

“It is in light of this that we entered into discussions with the APC and after exhaustive negotiations, we have resolved to collapse our entire structure for the APC and particularly, for the presidential election.

“I, therefore, call on all my supporters to go to the polls on Saturday and overwhelmingly vote senator Bola Tinubu as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

Similarly, the Kano State governorship candidate of the party, Bashir Bashir, had last week dumped his party for the ruling APC. Bashir, alongside LP chieftains, on January 21 shunned the party’s presidential rally held in the state. The other LP members who shunned the rally were Mohammed Zarewa; the state coordinator for Peter Obi’s campaign, Balarabe Wakili; and a member of the presidential campaign council, Idris Dambazau. They all complained about the lack of relationship with the national leadership of the party.

Read also:The Economist picks Peter Obi as Nigeria’s ‘hope of change’ after decades of leadership failures

Addressing supporters in the state, Bashir said: “You will recall that on the 27th of January 2023, we made a press release in which we expressed our concern that neither I as the Kano State Gubernatorial Candidate nor any of my colleagues and associates were consulted on important decisions in the Labour Party. Our views were not sought out, our opinions not taken, and our voices not heard. There was a complete absence of a collaborative relationship.

“That as a coalition of Labour Party (LP) Gubernatorial, Senatorial and House of Representatives, House of Assembly Candidates, Chairman and Members of the Presidential Campaign Council, Members of the Gubernatorial Campaign Council, and Zonal and State Coordinators, we have decided to endorse the candidature of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

“We have also resolved to leverage on our existing political structures to work on the mass mobilisation of voters and swinging of votes to ensure his emergence as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the 2023 Presidential Election.”

Similar development had happened in the Jigawa chapter of the party where the governorship candidate, Comrade Abdullahi Tsoho, had abandoned his aspiration and joined the APC. Eight state assembly candidates in the state had followed suit. They are from Auyo, Kirikasamma, Bulangu, Malammadori, Kafin Hausa, Birniwa, Guri and Kaugama constituencies. One of the defecting members, Muhammad Makinta, from Guri Local Government Area of the state, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues, said they joined the APC after they realized that the party in the state had more prospects at the polls.

Just recently, Labour Party leaders in the South West dismissed claims of collapse of structure for the APC as fake news. They reiterated their support for the opposition party and vowed never to align with the ruling party or PDP which they described as failures.

The statement issued as regards this read in part: “To set the records straight, the Labour Party structure in the South-West remains unshaken and fully prepared to deliver all Labour Party candidates at both the February 25th and March 11th, 2023 elections.

“All six (6) states in the South-West are for Labour Party, Labour Party in Oyo State for instance has enjoyed more popularity, love, and support from the masses enough to force the opposition to settle for cheap blackmails and propaganda to misinform the massive supporters rooting for the Labour Party.

“Once again, we are sure to win massively in the South-West and no amount of propaganda or intimidation can stop Labour Party from winning the South-West”, the statement added.

Despite all of this, it remains surprising that the national leadership of the party as well as its presidential candidate had never reacted to any of the defections. This might be because the party didn’t want to disappoint Nigerians yearning for a new political order as well as a new country where the rule of law is deeply entrenched and, dignity of human lives is sacrosanct, and most importantly, Nigerians, regardless of status, will be recognized in matters of governance.

Meanwhile, to some Nigerians, defections at this time, in a party serially accused of lack of political structures, call for worry, given the fact that elections in our amateurish democracy are mostly determined by structures of political parties. On the contrary, Peter Obi has continued to argue that the political structures bandied about by the ruling party and PDP are criminal. He insisted that poor Nigerians whose future has been serially denigrated by incompetent and selfish leaders are the real structures.

In all of this, one can only hope that this twist of events in the Labour Party will not take its toll on Obi’s chances at the polls. Of course, a number of young Nigerians rallying behind the former Anambra governor are angry about the present political system and might be planning to leverage the election to make change happen. The fact however, is that anger alone doesn’t win elections or change a bad government in Nigeria. It’s voting for the candidate voters believe can identify with their plight and lead them alright.

The next few hours will determine what the defections in places like Kano, the highest voting state in the northern region of the country, mean for a party committed to taking Nigerians away from the status quo of servitude. It will also be clear whether the voting Nigerian youth are actually ready for any sort of change or entrenchment of a political system where the masses, not some political structures, determine electoral outcomes.

By Ambali Abdulkabeer

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