LP, NLC, Catholic bishops now official opposition
Despite having about 13 governors, 36 senators and 118 House of Representatives members in the National Assembly, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is playing second fiddle as the main opposition party after the 2023 general election. Increasingly, the Labour Party (LP), with one governor, eight senators and 35 House of Representatives members, assisted by others, is talking, acting and behaving as the official opposition. The trend will worsen in the months ahead if the PDP does not shake off its lethargy and incompetent politicking. However, the game is not yet over for the PDP. It has a far bigger and better structure than the LP, more active and experienced politicians and vote herders, and far more pugnacious governors and local government administrators. While it is indeed hard imagining the party dead anytime soon, at least not in the next four years, its morbidity has become unsettlingly obvious, particularly in the face of the aggressive and anarchic politics of the LP.
Last April, when Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka crossed swords with LP presidential running mate Datti Baba-Ahmed over the latter’s unbridled vituperations against the judiciary, and again last Wednesday as he snorted at LP presidential candidate Peter Obi’s insistence that he won the February 25 election, many analysts accused the laureate and other commentators of been obsessed with the LP. There is, however, little to suggest any obsession. Mr Obi may speak and gesture more often and more wildly than the PDP presidential candidate in that election, Atiku Abubakar, and continues to weave many far-fetched conspiracies around his purported victory, but whatever fixations are noticeable around him have little to do with him as a person or his politics. He may appeal to a cross-section of Nigerians, some of them young and too angry to rationalise their pains and goals, but he remains essentially insular and his politics annoyingly predictable. For the perceptive, both Mr Obi and the LP have become objects of derision much more than they have become objects of fascination or obsession.
The reason is not far to seek. By some incredible conjunction of events and personalities, a different kind of opposition appears to be budding through a coalition of angry ethnic and sectarian diehards. It may not last, for the coalition energising that unusual opposition is incapable of enduring for long, but while it lasts it will shake the leadership rafters, upset the political applecart, and attempt to dismantle the cultural and bureaucratic ramparts upon which Nigeria rested. On its own, and regardless of the ferocity and population of the politically alienated in the country, the LP could not achieve the heights it has reached in the past one year. Mr Obi lacks the unifying and ideological depth required to vivify even his own indeterminate brand of politics. And for someone so parsimonious as to be offensive, he needed funds and a certain gregariousness to concretise and amplify his amorphous message. It is true he had been a two-term governor, an unprincipled party defector, and a one-time running mate to former vice president Atiku. But he needed much more than himself and his political peregrinations to win national recognition visible enough to upset the regnant power structure that has held the country in thrall for decades. By no special and gifted deeds of his making, and certainly not by dint of education or extraordinary grasp of the fundamentals of development, he achieved that renown through a coalition that thrust him awkwardly and apocalyptically upon Nigeria beginning from 2022. Yes, just one dizzying and incredible year.
Mr Obi did not deliberately put that coalition together. Nor did any other arm of that coalition consciously worm its way into the group. The Book of Proverbs talks about time and chance happening to people and predisposing them to the vagaries of human existence. Something closely resembling that happenstance foisted the Obi-led coalition upon Nigeria. The All Progressives Congress (APC), which eventually won the February poll, had presented a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket to a country driven to insane rage by religious divisions. The Christians were, therefore, not going to have such insult, and were determined to put down the Muslim dervishes. They needed a champion, and they found one in the unconscionable Mr Obi who in any other circumstance could be taken for an atheist despite his fulsome show of religiosity. The Pentecostal bishops lined up behind Mr Obi, and backed him with thunderous and unremitting prophecies. The Catholic bishops also breathed undiluted anger against the APC same-faith ticket. Onward into battle they all marched with Mr Obi, unperturbed by his follies and foibles. Indeed they couldn’t care less if he were the very devil himself, or Lucifer’s lieutenant.
But the dissembling Mr Obi and the presumptuous bishops were not sufficient to form the Axis powers against the APC. They easily found a second leg in the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), which claimed the LP as its baby. Maternal instincts, the NLC claims, not the ethnic instincts alleged against the NLC president Joe Ajaero from Abia State, explained the filial bond with Mr Obi. The coalition, however, needed one more leg to form a tripod. They found one in the Igbo ethnic group of the Southeast pained by the audacity of the Southwest to want to take the presidency soon after ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo occupied the throne for eight years and his Ogun State kinsman Yemi Osinbajo assumed the vice presidency a little later for another eight years. The Southeast would have none of that provocation. Irate and full of righteous ethnic rage and pride, they saw Mr Obi as their infallible and immutable champion. If the former Anambra State governor had remained in the PDP, they might have won the 2023 poll, but they would not have the untrammelled joy of having one of their own in Aso Villa. Had Mr Obi stayed put in the PDP, he could not of course attract as many votes as he did in the LP, not to say across many states as he managed, but the contest would have been settled before the first ballot was cast. To the Southeast, therefore, Mr Obi became a folk hero, and his native region was determined to swim or sink with him, through crocodile infested waters and through a Niagara of lies and utter fabrications.
With that troika of support, the Obi coalition became ironclad and was ready to steamroll the enemy. They would still have achieved the same results that have today warmed the cockles of their hearts, but nature gifted them an extra brigade by adding a section of disaffected southern youths riled by incompetent policing. The EndSARS generation, indulgent, entitled, hyperactive and immoderate also saw in Mr Obi a champion, not an ethnic or religious champion, but an authentic leader forever and delectably cooing about Asian Tigers and utopias. The youths were themselves not questioning or discriminating, and the facile logic of the LP candidate could not be subjected to any validity tests, so it was easy for Mr Obi to pull wool over their faces and bamboozle them with highfalutin economic jargons and dainty phrases. With this icing on the cake, but with no substantial grounding whatsoever or coherent logic of any kind, Mr Obi took the political arena by storm and has since then waved his sorcery under the noses of his supporters, helped no doubt by a few Southwest dissenters and political titans.
But after repeatedly coming to grief on their prophetic Golgotha, the Pentecostal bishops have seen the light and have largely and shamefacedly retreated into their cocoons, sometimes giving the Tinubu administration grudging respect, support and admiration. A few hardy bishops are still in the trenches or in the mountains calling down fire, but on the whole the Pentecostals appeared convinced that the arms of God were not shortened that they could not save last February. Had the Almighty wanted a different outcome, it would not have taken him a second to throw the Tinubu candidacy out of kilter. If the Pentecostals are chastened by inaccurate prophecies and mortified by defeat, the same is not true of the Catholic bishops, one leg of the Obi-led formidable opposition. Staid, less given to prophecy, and Catholic like Mr Obi himself, these other bishops seem determined to perish with their champion who has gone down in defeat. Dissatisfied with the results they got from opposing the APC before and immediately after the elections, they have happily joined the LP candidate in opposing the administrations’ economic, social and political policies at every whim. All they need is to sense which way Mr Obi is turning or which direction the APC is going in order to adjust their compass.
Sadly, the Catholic Church in Nigeria is now fully a political machine, no longer an instrument for peace, righteousness and salvation. At every turn, and together with the NLC and the Southeast, they have belittled the APC, refused to acknowledge the victory of President Tinubu, and have sneered at the courts and inveighed against their juridical competence. Mr Obi could not have asked for better comrades-in-arms. For the foreseeable future, the APC will have to come to grips with the new and unorthodox opposition. They will require far more exquisite skills and technology to battle an opposition that is inconversant with logic and contemptuous of ideas, for an opposition propelled by sentiments and self-righteous zeal is not easy to persuade and is far more difficult to defeat.