AS THE Supreme Court appeal verdict throws out the cases against Tinubu’s stolen victory at the February 25, 2023 presidential election, Nigerians became angry enough to take that as a cue to throw out Tinubu and the ruling class. But despite the many campaigns online that ‘TINUBU IS NOT MY PRESIDENT’ (which I agree with), nothing is yet to be seen on the streets to show that we are seriously going to back our anger with action. The reason for this cannot be known unless we take a closer look at a political phenomenon in Nigeria – ‘Obidience’.
Since the run-up to the 2023 general elections, Nigerians have witnessed a new phenomenon that we have struggled to understand. The level of dogmatism of the supporters of Peter Obi, who nicknamed themselves Obidients, in the last election was astounding for a reason. The other two establishment candidates in the presidential race (Bola Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar) built their electoral base on the parochial personal interests of their followers, but it was more than surprising that some poor and working class Obidients contributed their hard-earned money to the campaign of a billionaire who claimed to be richer than the President of the United States of America.
The ideology of Obidience can be traced to October 20, 2020 when Lekki Massacre, that could have inspired a revolution against the Buhari government who despised the #EndSARS movement, was used as a basis to end all protests and focus on electoral change by 2023. The effort first started with organising a youth party based on identity politics but when that youth identity politics started to demonstrate its contradictory limitations, the effort ended there. The effort then went back to the two major parties, PDP and APC, with change-seeking minds believing that people like Osinbajo in APC and Peter Obi in PDP could be lesser evils for their envisioned electoral change. Again, that effort surrendered to its inherent contradictions, as Osinbajo lost woefully in a heavily rigged APC primaries and Obi quitted the PDP three days to the primaries when it became clear that it was impossible for him to win with Atiku’s financial war-chest.
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The ideology of Obidience that started in 2019, when a seemingly upright billionaire like Obi was used as VP candidate to balance an allegedly corrupt billionaire and politician like Atiku who was running for president, then re-emerged stronger in 2022. Obi who had just left PDP and joined the Labour Party few days to the primaries was selected as the party’s flagbearer. Since that time until this week, it has been practically impossible to have the ears of the Obidients who hoped that he was going to become president.
They have gone from bullying the supporters of every anti-establishment candidate that threatened their electoral interests, like Sowore, to manipulating the presidential elections in the South East so much so that it was the only region of the country where one party had ninety-something percent of the votes. They have gone from praising the military and asking the military to take over before Tinubu was inaugurated, and then to Chimamanda Adichi, an Obidient and inaugural lecturer of the Africa World Lecture Series at Princeton University in the United States, introducing Peter Obi as “the man who won the presidential election.”
Reading all of these things might make you want to hate or lament about the Obidients as unreasonable and desperate people. But ours is not to lament, but to understand. What we need to do is to take out the bad from whatever is good about the Obidients and their ideology for the sake of social change in Nigeria.
At this point I must confess that, despite my critical support for Sowore’s welfarist manifesto in the last general elections (who I knew could shift consciousness with his laudable campaign but could not win because of the present limitations of Nigeria’s electoral system), I secretly wished Peter Obi would win so that the dangerous sides of the Obidient philosophy could be magnified for everyone to see. I really wished that we would all witness what his far-right manifesto meant in practical terms, free from the manipulations and bullying of Obidients on social media. I know I’m not alone in this thinking.
But we’ve seen a glimpse of some practical effects of the policies that Obi campaigned with through Tinubu’s execution of policies like subsidy removal, student loan, and naira floating, which were part of the major policies of Obi. We’ve seen the hardship it has brought. But we’ve not learnt our lesson because a lot of those who bought into the Obidience ideology, consciously or unconsciously, are yet to be self-aware and free. Three things are notable about the Obidient movement and their ideology of Obidience: 1) aversion for facts, evidences, information and political education; 2) hyper-individualism in opinions and organising; and 3) passive political participation focused on elections only.
I’ll take them one by one, starting with the aversion to facts, evidence, information and political education. A lot of us would think these characteristics started with the many lies of Peter Obi on the campaign trail that sent many fact-checkers scampering in their newsroom trying to dodge the bullet of fake figures for the masses. But no, it didn’t. It started before and during #EndSARS when a lot of protesters were organised in a way to make them just follow celebrities and influencers sheepishly with chants of “Focus” without leaving any room for intellectual engagement and critical debate on issues.
These were the limitations of #EndSARS that the government capitalised on. It took lots of effort to get the protesters at Olaiya Junction in Osogbo where I joined the protests to settle for political exchange and education as they were too (understandably) angry because of the level of suffering and frustration we had endured in the hands of SARS. It was this consciousness that flowed into the support for Osinbajo despite cautionary warnings that Osinbajo who was Buhari’s vice president for eight years cannot be different and the same flowed into the Obidience ideology. Efforts to confront Obidients (who were hyped up about Obi’s personality) with facts about Obi’s character and policies in his tenure as governor fell on deaf ears. From authoritarianism towards MASSOB protests that made them evolve into a violent IPOB to Awkuzu Massacre under his watch to owing lecturers to shutting down of universities and hospitals in his tenure because of unpaid wages to ‘investing’ state money in his personal business, everything fell on deaf ears.
Facts were ignored, evidences were rebuffed with allegations of “Agbado“, information was manipulated and all efforts at gaining some political education through debates were extinguished desperately. There was nothing like respectful or informed dialogue, it was insults, disinformation, propaganda, and tribal polarisation accusing any opposition to Obi (who is not from the South East) of tribalism. The Obi awareness relied on Twitter trends and online polls than on new information, critical thinking or research-based policies.
The next major feature was hyper-individualism in opinions and organising. If it’s not about Obi’s soft-spoken voice, then it’s about how Datti is handsome or how Obi’s son does not have a car or how one Obidient celebrity is an intellectual or about how Obidients should follow each other back on Twitter so that they can become influencers. While I don’t have a problem with individual voices, the Obidience ideology hyped up individuals too much instead of policies as if individuals exist in a vacuum. If it’s not Dele Farotimi’s poetic speeches, it is Aisha Yesufu’s ‘VanDamme’ pose during #EndSARS. There was hardly any effort to give a coherent collective voice to the movement. If Apampa is not fighting Aburi over undemocratic ownership, Kiki Mordi is fighting David Hundeyin over gender identity politics. This is the cacophony created by hyper-individualism in opinions and organising.
While individual opinions are very important in organising, there is a need to bring all of those individual opinions together to creatively maximise collective intelligence. This hyper-individualism also infected the approach of the Obidients as most of their influencers (like Peter Okoye of P-Square) would repeatedly voice the same disconnected campaign line that they are successful people and that they don’t need the change they are fighting for and it is the poor people that are in need of that change. They took every chance to show off their condescending middle-class false wealth by calling every other supporter of Tinubu a poor person and further disconnecting themselves and their campaign from the majority working poor of the country instead of using the opportunity for political education. The goal was to get more popular for a lot of Obidients so the focus was largely on individual ‘shock’ actions to generate attention on social media from ‘Obidient baby’ to who had the largest flag.
Almost every of the Obidients were in a personal struggle to use the campaign to go viral on social media and gain “influenza” status – a status that will further disconnect them from the common people they hope to win. Classism and patriarchy persisted even within the Obidient circles. There was no passion for equality or community. Exclusion by the Obidients replaced social cohesion within the Labour Party.
The third problematic characteristic of the Obidience ideology is the passive political participation focused on elections only – the thinking that elections are the one and only way to make social change. The fact that after efforts for a youth party that started on October 20, 2020 died out before the same year is a testament to this. The fact that they went back to the same old arrangements like Osinbajo and Obi just for the sake of electoral change is another testament to this. The Obidients would go on to support the cash scarcity policy of Buhari that caused so much suffering and death when they thought that the policy was going to favour Obi electorally. In fact, Obi himself came out to praise the policy in that electoral period. These same Obidients started praising Wike when they thought he was about to strike an electoral deal with Obi to secure the bloc vote of Rivers through executive veto. Obi himself went as far as ignoring LP governorship candidates on his campaign visit to Rivers State where he asked Wike to give him Rivers in the Presidential elections and he’ll give Wike Rivers in the governorship elections. It was that bad.
Anything goes for the greater good of winning elections, even if it means beating people who try to vote APC out of polling units or coming on social media to show off guns threatening people to vote nobody but Obi in the region where Obi came from and had electoral strength. Anything goes. Winning the election became the highest good that covered all evil. “Let’s just win the election so that we can go back to our political apathy,” This desperation and support for repression was borne out of their aversion for consistent political participation through advocacy and activism. They do not understand that there will be a need to continue to mobilise and exert political pressure even if and after their candidate wins, and that precedence will matter and posterity will judge.
Sometimes, I tend to think everything bad about the Obidients and the Obidience ideology outweighs the good, but I’m not totally right. The good thing about these minds is that they seek change. As simple as that is, that outweighs all of the preceding paragraphs that I have written and it can resolve those limitations. Obidients seek change but seek to achieve it by obeying the establishment and obeying the prevailing order of things. Right there! That’s the summary of all of their problems. It is a problem because it is against the law of nature. The first law of motion states that “an object at rest remains at rest, and an object in motion remains in motion at constant speed and in a straight line unless acted on by an unbalanced force.” There is no way to change the present order of things without tipping its balance. They genuinely want to have a voice but they are too anxious, impatient and lacking in willpower to engage in the kind of dialogue that can unite the resistance by de-escalating tensions with common grounds and collaborative solutions.
They genuinely feel betrayed by the collective called Nigeria and want to rightly defend their individuality at all costs, but they have become too narrow by that self-defence that they cannot see an opportunity to make that collective more responsible to them even if the opportunity was standing on their nose. They have become too dehumanised by routine and apathy that they mistake continuous activism and consistent advocacy for routine, and therefore express distrust for that. This is why we should not give up on the Obidients and their ideology but rather use this opportunity to encourage them to become disobedient, lest we start losing them to Tinubu’s oppressive regime and the PDP faux-opposition – something that has started already.
Now that the legal remedy to the electoral adventure has failed, this is not the time to sell TINUBU IS NOT MY PRESIDENT t-shirts or abuse Tinubu on social media with the hope that it will get you more followers. This is not the time to hold on to the divisions and grudges that existed before the elections. This is the time to unite in consistent opposition to this government through political education and actions. Through writing and protests! Through thoughts and posts! This is the time to sit up and build a new movement of civil disobedience to revolt against the crony capitalism of the Tinubu regime and the Nigerian ruling class until victory is won, by ballot. Let the civil disobedience begin! Let the revolution begin!
Comrade Ibukun writes from Abuja and can be contacted on 09167636201