My name is Dr Moses Paul. I am a Nigerian,” was how I began a conversation with a friend about the protest by the coalition of civil society groups that I lead. He sat with quiverish ease staring at protest pictures holding a copy of a popular national daily where a report of our protest sat in one of the early pages.
For a moment, I wondered what kind of feelings burned between the lies he brought to my house and the truth that now seized his hands stealing his gaze from the international news he jealously enjoyed. Apparently, he had read fabricated stories of our alleged instigation of the military to activate the subversion of Nigeria’s democracy.
My friend from our UniAbuja days could not wait to hear my side of the story before embarking on a circus of phone calls to any and every one on whose table we have dined in the past and whom he believed could muster enough personality to command my ears to bow in respect urging them to, “Call Mo to order”.
When I got wind of his adventure a few days later, the ship of falsehood had sailed. So, I invited him to dinner at my home. I think the most memorable part of our meeting was the moment when the scales of lies began to fall from his eyes. They hit hard and deep on the ground of his doubt crushing it around his feet. He left happy and free; relieved, as I believe most Nigerians felt after the press conference that clarified our call for an interim government. This is just one of a barrage of lies and threats launched at our protest by a conscienceless lot whose perception of Nigeria is akin to a client assessing pledges at a pawn shop.
They have no sense of patriotism and their participation in ‘nation building’ is utterly transactional. These spin doctors seek out their perceived holder of the higher ground in every political contest and lurk in their behind scooping farts. I am often amused when I hear some describe themselves as patriots, a self – serving tag only relevant within their circle of doom. However, sampled within the context of national interest, these fellows are enemies of state.
They maim, kill, weave all kinds of lies and propaganda to intimidate and crush dissident voices. But doesn’t democracy allow for rational disagreements on issues? Isn’t it from these conversations that policies, causes and courses are charted by nations? Or have we gone so senile that it has become illegal to demand accountability from public officials?
The 2023 general elections were symbolic for Nigeria on many fronts. First, they marked the centenary of elections in the country. The first election in Nigeria is reported to have been held on 20th September, 1923. Second, political apathy was broken on a national scale with many Nigerians expressing interest in participating and engaging with the leadership recruitment process. Third, it recorded a legal milestone for elections in Nigeria, and held the promise of credible polls with the signing of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill of 2022 into law by President Mohammadu Buhari. Fourth, it witnessed the birth of a novel political consciousness that wove Nigerians across ethnic, religious, social and political divides into a single cell of ideology.
The presidential campaigns were mainly issues – based except for a few candidates who chose to stay on the old style of campaign denominated by personal attacks and divisive rhetoric. The character of the campaigns gave Nigerians a lot of hope. One remarkable personal experience was how keenly my mother – in – law followed the campaigns and how often she would call to inquire about next steps and how INEC must never betray public trust. It seemed for a minute, in those six months of campaigns, that Nigeria has returned to the people.
The INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, in his usual empathic tone, pledged the commission’s unbridled loyalty to the will of the Nigerian people. He made submissions locally and internationally assuring the world of the commission’s readiness, pledging personal commitment to deliver credible polls. Delivering a lecture at The Royal Institute of International
Affairs, also known as Chatham House, London, on 17th January, 2023, the Professor of political history and international studies, made the following submissions to justify the commission’s huge spending on the deployment of technology:
“We know that political actors often try to undermine the process by attacking the technology, casting doubts on its suitability, bypassing its use or indeed seeking to undermine its security. This informed the early choice of a new voter accreditation technology using an electronic device we call the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS).”
“We have tested it in several bye-elections and off-cycle governorship elections.”
“. . . the decision to make polling units election results available for public viewing, which has always been a major demand by citizens and election observers falls into this early choice of election technology. The INEC Results Viewing (IReV) portal is a dedicated web portal for the public to view polling unit results as soon as they are finalized on Election Day.”
“Our commitment remains only to Nigerians and not to any political party or candidate.”
Surely, it was a different Nigeria that went into the elections of 25th February, 2023, to elect a new President and members of the National Assembly. I say so because the Nigeria I know and used to cannot just take his word for it. He erected a tall tower of hope with bells of trust tolling for every pang of public doubt. So, when it was time to strike, when credibility meant only the will of his masters, he forgot that, “Our commitment remains only to Nigerians and not to any political party or candidate.”
Prof. Mahmoud remains the number one villain of the 2023 presidential election and the chief usurper of public will. It is regrettable that INEC under his watch has lost public trust. Its desperate attempt to discredit petitions before the Presidential Election Petitions Court (PEPC) is most disgraceful. Had Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu heeded calls for review of the collation procedure which was a total departure from his fervent assurances of strict electronic transmission and collation of election results; had he tendered an unreserved apology to Nigerians for the reports of BVAS failures, late arrival of materials and officials and other irregularities that amounted to the disenfranchisement of eligible voters, maybe our scars won’t run this deep. Various attempts have been made to foist a narrative of hate on the cold reception of the declaration of a winner on 1st March, 2023. But the truth remains that for this election, a vast majority of Nigerian voters were more concerned with the credibility of the process than who emerged as winner. This is why many Nigerians remained at polling units after casting their votes, including Lagos, Rivers and other states of the country with high rate of voter suppression and violence, to protect their right to choose their next president. Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu had a rare opportunity of becoming a champion of the people, to be remembered throughout history as the INEC chair who delivered credible polls at a time when it mattered to many Nigerians that their will was respected however unpopular it may swing. Because democracy also allows people to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes.
But Prof. Mahmoud by his insistence on prosecuting a fraudulent collation and declaration has undermined the will of the Nigerian people who according to Abraham Lincoln’s famous statement that, “Democracy is a government of the people, by the people and for the people,” hold the highest stake in the governance of every democratic society. So, when we call him a thief demanding for his sack, arrest and prosecution, on the streets of Abuja, it is not out of any personal beef. It is because he, a public servant, has by his conduct
betrayed the trust of over 200 million Nigerians that he will keep his promise of delivering credible and inclusive polls. It is also on the strength of this illegality that we have called for the cancellation of the presidential election and ordering of a new election. We have also in the interest of national healing and reconciliation, called for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Committee to address issues of violence, prosecute perpetrators and provide compensation for victims of electoral violence and their families. We may not be able to fully rationalize the extent of damage that this fraud has wrought on our public trust architecture until we begin to consider it in ideological and generational terms. Of course, one of the output from the International Conference Center, venue of the collation, was the challenge by an APC agent for aggrieved political parties to seek legal redress in lieu of insisting that the collation was illegal and requesting the INEC chairman to revert to the procedure he had promised in several pledges to Nigerians. It has since become a popular joke on the streets of Nigeria to tell someone to ‘Go to court’ if they felt cheated in a deal. This is how a society loses its moral compass. Think of the effect on our children. Think of the disaster it can birth for our tomorrow.
The 2023 general elections held a personal significance. First, they lent credence to the entire work I have done in over two decades. From days of organizing Nigeria – themed concerts at the University of Abuja to my activism days with Area Fada, Deji Adeyanju, and other comrades in Our Mumu Don Do struggle. Second, it provided a clearer picture of what the New Nigeria would be. Prior to my appointment to the ObiDatti Presidential Campaign Council, I led the coalition of civil society and support groups that organized the first pre – campaign Mega Rally in Abuja. I still remember our first press conference and how much energy it fed into mobilization efforts and the massive turnout and support by Nigerians. My subsequent trip to Lagos and media tour with Area Fada to mobilize Nigerians for the Lagos Mega Rally was a period of reflection for me as it cemented what my role in the campaign would be.
My role in the 2023 election was more of ideation, strategy and organizing, than partisan. Though I am a card carrying member of the Labour Party, my allegiance was not to the party or its presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Gregory Obi. My allegiance, even at this moment, is completely to Nigeria, a position I vehemently stated throughout the creative events I initiated. I worked with other like-minded Nigerians across party, ethnic, and religious lines to birth programme ideas with nationalistic leaning. Over 15 of such programmes, one of which was attended by Mr. Peter Obi, had successful sails at the main auditorium of Merit House, Abuja, during the campaign. A central theme throughout all the programmes was a candid call for national cohesion.
I don’t want to live in a country homogenous in tribe or religion. I want to live in a country where people are free to decide who they are in lieu of accepting whatever identity society throws at them. Hence, the rich diversity of Nigeria suits me. It marries the entirety of who I am, and has been the compass for all I have achieved both at subnational, national and international levels. I do not subscribe to the warehousing of identities in any particular ethnic group, religion or social class. I believe that as products of society we carry common markers in our cultural DNAs, favourable mutations that facilitate our gravitation towards common ideals. Evidently, most of our milestone national achievements were recorded only when we co – created strategies outside of our ethnic or religious banners. The example of COVID – 19 stands out. Another example is in sports, especially when we play football. Or when we protest against unsavory labelling or discrimination of our diaspora community by host countries such as the xenophobic attacks in
South Africa. The consistency of these ethno – religious collaborations further reinforce the argument that Nigeria’s disunity is unnatural. A review of conflicts in Nigeria since 1960 shows elements of instigation by political and religious elites in each ethno – religious collective suggesting a hijack of thought metres. There is also the sublime ideology of ethnic supremacy which has coloured election outcomes for a large portion of our election history. What Nigeria needs is leadership that has the will and capacity to collate all these ethno – religious energies into a common power house based on interests that are purely nationalistic. Fortunately, we have no scarcity of minds to forge a realistic framework for this. This is what must be done for Nigeria to make any meaningful progress and impact in Africa and the world.
Mr. Peter Obi provided an excellent option of this possibility for Nigeria. His emergence as the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, a hitherto unpopular political party, was also symbolic to most Nigerians. His public conduct was consistent with the principles of egalitarian democracy earlier promoted by Sir Herbert Macaulay, the highly acclaimed father of Nigeria’s nationalism and founder of the first political party in Nigeria, the Nigerian National Democratic Party.
He soon became a champion of the masses, of all frustrated Nigerians and patron of a youth – led 21st century nationalistic movement known as the Obidient Movement which has since birthed a new political order in Nigeria. He represented the voice of reason which had been in perpetual truancy as far as elections are concerned.
So, yes, he brought an ample measure of sanity to the process. Wherever and however Nigerians believed in the possibility of good governance, it was due to Mr. Peter Obi’s example. He initiated and prosecuted an issues – based campaign with a deep resolve for national unity, integration and prosperity, unbroken in practice and conduct. He remains the champion of the 2023 general election and the hand of stability on a deeply incised nation since the end of the presidential election. I had a few close contacts with him during the campaign and each time, I was amazed by the purity of his conviction and the accuracy of his sense of direction. He knew where Nigeria was headed, where it could be and what it would take to get there. He haboured integrity in his core and encouraged Nigerians to view the repossession of their country as a prerequisite for demanding accountability from public officials. None of the other candidates had these qualities. It was these qualities that drew the crowd to him. Today, he is the face of participatory democracy and sustainable civic engagement. It is important to note beyond literary texture, that Nigerians successfully effected a revolution on 25th February, 2023. Never has the rotten old political order been so profusely challenged for the ownership of Nigeria. Never has Nigeria been this united for the cause of reclaiming the nation.
However, there are steps I wish Mr. Peter Obi could have taken. Some prior to the election. Some in the course of that unholy collation. Others after the fraudulent declaration. For instance, he could have prioritized the engagement of party agents in all the 176, 974 polling units without any exception or reliance on ‘organic power’. This is due to the access to electoral materials for inspection and endorsement which such agency conferred. He could have also instituted a very rigorous selection process based on integrity and consistency with the ideals of the campaign to avert sabotage by party agents which were reported in some places. While I commend his consistent call on Obidients to eschew all forms of violence, and his stack reliance on the judiciary, I still wish he had allowed things to take their natural course. I say this because of the level of endangerment which that call portended for myself and other young Nigerians who stood outside of the International Conference Center, as Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu cooked his abomination, for two days of that collation. I understand how difficult taking such position must have been for him
as there was a high possibility of forcing the collation to a halt. Evidently, a national outcry by Obidients would have forced Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu to suspend the fraudulent collation of results, review the proceedings, possibly revert to the INEC – proposed pre – election option of transmission and collation, or cancel the presidential election since there were ample grounds to do so. Though the possibility of hijack and havoc by violent elements was highly imminent, the enormity of the Obidient population with non – violence as the core of its engagement would have broken every attempt to corrupt the protests.
It would be uncharitable, for the sake of history, if I omit attitudes and conducts of certain persons in the ObiDatti Campaign Council which sabotaged campaign efforts ultimately fracturing Mr. Peter Obi’s chances in the election. But there is a level of this that he enabled, albeit innocently. I was one of those who profusely opposed the below minimum involvement of young people in the campaign council. It can be said with utmost certainty that a vast majority of Nigerians expected a campaign whose motivation is wholly wired by the energy of the young people of Nigeria to have a high proportion of youths in key positions. There was no scarcity of talents, capacity, competence or motivation as the young people in the campaign were some of the best minds in the country. But most were either sidelined, denied access to funding or out rightly frustrated. There was also a systematic curfew imposed on interface with Mr. Peter Obi. Most young people were denied access to him in the guise of protection. This was strictly enforced on rally grounds, campaign office and all possible official contact points. The few times I had close calls with him were only possible because of my role as the official emcee of the rallies and sundry other events during the campaign. I recall once raising the issue with him. But he was visibly tired and sounded more dismissive than his usual self. I let it lie. However, it was a major take whenever I interfaced with the campaign leadership. I would explain the importance of the campaign leadership having a face of the present and not the old political order. I think Mr. Peter Obi had no intention to force the youthful energy in the campaign council into a tiny quanta eliminated from the decision table. I believe the weight of engagement during the campaign may have blurred his sight so poorly that he could not notice the absence of 18 – 35 year olds who are majority members of his cheer team despite being in perpetual meetings with old people. Most young people in the PCC covered travel, accommodation and feeding expenses from personal funds and were hardly reimbursed or considered during disbursements. I did this for over 95% of my trips despite being the official emcee of the campaign. The old people however, took ‘good care of themselves’. So, while we seethed with passion and conviction, delivering all the results, the old people were busy, like we say in Nigeria, cashing out. For most of them, it was more about what they gained than delivering the candidate. Suggestions of key strategic moves by the campaign were hastily rebuffed. I know this will seem as a surprise to most people, especially the young Obidients whose dedication to the cause is pure. But the truth remains that while the movement was reported to the world as youth – led, the major strategists were old people lacking the requisite energy and vigor central to its idealistic thrust. But however my thoughts may swing on this matter, it is undeniable that the world owes Mr. Peter Obi a lifetime of gratitude for the present calm in Nigeria.
One major achievement of the Obidient Movement is the quality and volume of political participation and engagement that it gave to the electoral process. As earlier stated, campaigns were more issues – based and Nigerians were more open about choices outside of their ethnic groups, religion or political parties. The challenge now is to find ways to sustain it beyond the 2023 general elections even in the face of attempts to silence the spirit of the movement and drain
its energy. There must be in place a concerted effort to reroute the focus of the movement from mere discontent for the rotten old political order to a problem – solving system powered by youthful energy. This can be done through education and capacity building with further and wider conscientization of citizens. This is equally beneficial to new 18 year olds who will become future new voters as well as the current ones. The insistent description of the movement as organic should be modified to a narrative fit to inspire more effective action. The movement must always look ahead. Whether we accept it or not, the 2023 general elections are behind us, and while we wait and hope that the PEPC will heed the call by the Free Nigeria Movement and that of other well- meaning Nigerians for the cancellation of the presidential poll, the focus must shift to 2027. The Obidient Movement must grow some adult teeth if it has any hope of influencing public opinion in 2027. It must resist warehousing in any individual, group or political party.
Finally, I believe my involvement in the ObiDatti campaign was a portion of destiny carved out of over two decades of consistent advocacy for the emergence of leaders who are truly Nigerian. I have built creative events around it. I have preached whole sermons on it. I have written about it. I have sang about it. I am currently the production manager of a theatre production based on it. As a leadership coach, I see leadership in terms of influence and direction. The influence to inspire positive outcomes and a keen sense of direction that finds opportunities, and their appropriation for the good of all. Mr. Peter Obi was the picture – perfect image of this thinking. However, I wish we had an equally excellent candidate in the contest. I can’t imagine what the political climate would have looked like if we had a Prof. Yemi Osibanjo as the other leg of the triune of frontline candidates. One good thing is that it would have given the young people of Nigeria two strong alternatives. Either of the duo would have done well for the country. But given the manner of conduct of primaries by political parties and the heavy financial involvement/inducement, it appears that Nigerians will continue to have their choices for the highest office in the land selected by party delegates. Except advocacy is focused on this and other limiting aspects of party politics, the situation will remain unchanged or worse in 2027. A constitutional amendment to allow independent candidates to run for President and other offices will also help reduce the dependence on party politics which is mostly transactional. Considering the daylight heist of 1st March, 2023, and the absence of a major national outcry, it is safe to say that Nigerians are not ready to take back their country for obvious reasons. The genius deployment of what I call the Technology of Fear by the rotten old political order has crushed the courage and will of many Nigerians turning most into closet activists. But the undeniable reality is that every Nigerian is a protest. So, it was important for certain things to happen in the last general elections so that Nigerians can see that waking up in defence of their country is no longer a choice but a certainty. It is only a matter of time.
Moses O. Paul, also known as Dr. Mo or MadMo, is a serial entrepreneur, social activist, creativity manager, performer, scholar, and community organizer. He writes from Abuja. He can be reached by email HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.