Letter from Nigeria

Prior to 2023, the electoral process in Nigeria followed a predictable pattern. Typically, aspiring candidates would declare their intention to run for a specific office through various political parties; subsequently, candidates compete against themselves to become the party’s nominee, and finally, embark on campaigns leading up to the elections. Notably, voters often displayed limited engagement in the process. However, the present year witnessed a departure from this norm.

The process began to take shape in 2022, as the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, conducted its keenly contested primaries in June to select its flag-bearer for the presidential elections. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu became the candidate. Concurrently, the People’s Democratic Party, the previous ruling party until 2015, held its party primaries in May 2022, resulting in the emergence of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as their candidate. While there were other political parties and their respective flag-bearers, their influence paled in comparison to the APC and PDP candidates.

As Nigerians, we had resigned ourselves to the belief that we were faced with two undesirable options—the devil or the deep blue sea. Consequently, apathy, disinterest, and helplessness had become prevalent, particularly among the youth, as we had long accepted our fate. Few demonstrated any interest in politics or elections. Actually, election days were primarily associated with mundane activities such as doing laundry, sleeping in, or socializing with family and friends.

In May 2022, a prominent politician declared his candidacy for the presidency under the banner of the Labor Party (LP). This individual, Peter Gregory Obi, was a former governor of Anambra state and a first-time contender in the presidential race. Initially, many Nigerians were skeptical of his candidacy, viewing him as a representative of the same outdated political ideologies. However, Obi’s unique attributes, including his eloquent rhetoric, composed demeanor, nuanced approach to sensitive subjects, adeptness in addressing the concerns of the common citizenry, expert knowledge of pertinent issues and contemporary trends, and demonstrable educational background, set him apart as a noteworthy candidate.

Obi, the youngest major contender, garnered rapid attention and favor from the public, prompting speculation about the authenticity of his rising popularity. The elders were intrigued by his eloquence and empathy, while onlookers marveled at his ubiquitous presence—in the streets, universities, churches, media outlets, international conferences, and social media platforms. Despite attempts by his rivals to unearth negative information about his prior government service, they discovered that Obi possessed the qualities of an exemplary leader. The resulting Obi movement, also known as the “Obedient movement,” quickly gained massive traction. His mantra was “A new Nigeria is possible.”

Young people, celebrities, Nigerians in the diaspora and politicians who yearned for a better Nigeria encouraged fellow citizens of voting age to get their permanent voter’s card (PVC) so as to effectively enthrone this change that was coming.

When campaigns officially kicked off, Obi, alongside his equally visionary running mate Yusuf Datti Baba Ahmed, went round Nigeria, telling the people what they planned to do if elected into office and how they planned to go about it. They were not spiteful, rather they were polite and refused to give bribes for people to attend campaigns and rallies. Nigerians trooped to campaign grounds from state to state to hear this “Messiah” of our time speak. They did not mind the elements nor did they mind the inconveniences: Obi was loved and he was worth hearing. In fact, I was on ground to see things for myself on January 12, when Obi visited the prestigious University of Nigeria Nsukka. The university community was agog; everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of this man who has renewed hope in the people. Peter Obi was undoubtedly the people’s choice.

Election day—February 25—was finally upon us, Nigerians turned up early and ready at their various polling units. Armed with their PVCs, the young, old, disabled, and pregnant cast their votes while a good number stayed back to secure their votes. They were willing to spend the entire day at the polling units to ensure the votes were counted and uploaded electronically. Violence was recorded in some polling units and states; others voted peacefully in their units, while the rest did not get the chance to vote because the electoral officials did not show up or showed up inadequately prepared. Young Nigerians uploaded pictures and videos online from their polling units. They also uploaded results as they were being counted. We went home happy and hopeful, sitting close to our television sets tuned in to the electoral headquarters where the results were being collated and announced. The hopes of the majority began to dwindle when the announced results began to differ from what really happened at the polling units. Huge numbers were being apportioned to the ruling party’s candidate even in locations where it was clear that Obi won by a landslide. I was devastated, I lost my appetite for food, and the old hopelessness came back. This feeling was not mine alone. Eventually, the final results were announced and the APC candidate was declared winner of the 2023 presidential elections.

The aftermath of the election is that of uncertainty, especially considering that the incumbent president, who is of the same political party as the president-elect, has performed abysmally since his almost eight years in office. Obi believes the election was manipulated and has taken to court to seek redress with the evidence at his disposal. Mass departure from the country to better climes has commenced while those who cannot afford to leave the country have resolved to work twice as hard to get by. It seems the pessimists have been proven right again. On the other hand, although the election was clearly rigged, Nigerians have been able to pass a strong message to the ruling party that power belongs to the people. The projection is that the next election will not be favorable to any politician who feels he can rig his/her way to the top.

Vivian Onwujiogu