The Obidient political phenomenon, By Dan Agbese



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Political parties use political rallies as a combination of mob psychology and propaganda to provide supposed empirical evidence of their public acceptance or popularity. Political parties use them as important tools to swamp their rivals wherever government is instituted through the instrumentality of the ballot box. 

Political parties go to great lengths to organise mega rallies because the larger the crowd at campaign rallies the more difficult it is to deny their relative popularity and acceptance. They pay and transport tens of men and women to rally venues to swell the crowd. We get to know about the hired crowds only when the parties fail to pay them the agreed fees for their being used to sell a lie. 

            The current million-man marches and rallies sweeping through our towns and cities by the Obidient crowds in support of the presidential ambition of Peter Obi, basically follow the same principle of mob psychology and propaganda. The Labour Party is a small party taking on the giant parties, APC and PDP, to possibly prevent our national politics from becoming permanent swings from one party to the other. Each of them has done much better than tasted power. PDP was in power for 16 years. APC has been in power since 2015. They are rich, have the reach and they are powerful, and impregnable. This is perhaps part of the attraction for the young people. They see the audacity of a small party taking on the party behemoths as a challenge to join in the rescue of our national politics from the grips of recycled men and women. 

Peter Obi is the presidential candidate of Labour Party. He is younger than Atiku Abubakar (PDP) and Ahmed Bola Tinubu (APC). He was governor of Anambra State. He has been in the system too and cannot claim innocence in what has gone wrong in our national politics. He is not, to borrow from former President Goodluck Jonathan, such a fresh breath of air after all.

Still, that the young rally for him suggests there is something going for him. His party is both the smallest of the three biggest ones. Its war chest may be light in a war waged with money. People snort at the Obidient rallies and dismiss the crowds as irritating youthful noise-makers incapable of dislodging either APC or PDP from power when, to borrow from K.O. Mbadiwe, “the come comes to become.” After all, they say, rather dismissively, that the Obidient youths do not even have voters’ cards and cannot vote. They are only whipping up sentiments that will do no harm to the entrenched nature of our national politics. It is the natural reaction to the possibility of a radical change in every society. 

I see Obidient as a political movement, the likes of which we had not seen before in our country. It has seized our imagination. It is driven by young people and benefits from crowd psychology. It attracts the rally goers by the sight of each crowd in each town. It markets itself as a political movement by the young and for the young. Young people who do not participate in the mega rallies feel guilty because by their absence, they betray their fellow young people and the country itself. 

It should be possible for the discerning to see these Obidient mega marches and rallies as a surprise phenomenon in a country held down by conservative views of politics and is allergic to radical changes. It is important to interrogate this phenomenon and understand where the young people are coming from and what their political objectives are in our national politics. So far, the movement has not defined its mission.

Those who are dismissive of the Obidients forget that the political industry is prone to accidents. Good people lose elections and bad people win them. In the infrequent accidents of politics, the dark horse suddenly zooms ahead of the favourite horses. He becomes the game changer and proves that political fortunes are fickle and ride on the fickle mindedness of the electorate. Politics is too uncertain to be treated as a certainty.

At least two things are worth interrogating to begin with. The first is how the Obidient crowd began, took shape, and has become, against the background of the current internal sabotage in APC and PDP, the most positive happening in town right now. Political campaigns and rallies are the primary businesses of political parties. They organise and fund them to promote and market themselves to the electorate. 

In the normal scheme of politics, this means that the Labour Party must be responsible for the mega marches. But it is not the case. This is where it gets interesting. If the party did it would have breached the law because the marches began long before INEC blew the whistle for the official start of the 2023 political race on September 28. Most of the Obidient marchers are not even members of the Labour Party. What then is their motivation in spending their financial and other resources to organise or participate in the mega marches in support of his presidential ambition? 

It is an important question. This brings us to the second thing worth interrogating: What do the young people see in Obi that fires them to organise and participate in the rallies, not as hired crowds but as committed men and women to a yet undefined political cause? Are they positively promoting the change we need and crave or are they reacting to the feeling that if nothing radical is done about the nature of our politics by the youths, the tiresome circle of recycling will remain our political lot? 

More questions. Do they see Obi as the new face of our national politics? Do they see in him a clean politician capable of leadership as distinct from rulership? Do they see the Labour Party as the vehicle for change and the rallying point for them to do what some young people have done elsewhere – effect radical changes in the nature of their national politics and leadership?

We do not quite know yet what the Obidients stand for. We can only speculate what they are saying from what they are not saying at this point. They are not talking about the traditional political fare, as in our major fault lines such as religion and ethnicity; they are not talking about fighting corruption; they are not talking about which tribe or section of the country must produce the next president; they are not talking about political parties. They are talking about Peter Obi. They have not yet elevated him to our saviour, but they seem prepared to invest their hope in him as the kind of political leader they want, need, and must have. This is rather heavy. 

We are witnessing a radical departure from the leadership recruitment process, a badly flawed system that has imposed incompetent and indifferent leaders on the people at all levels of government. Some people are beginning to see the Obidient phenomenon as a revolution. This may be a tempting assessment, but it is rather easy and glib at this point. But it is still possible to see it in a more liberal sense of revolution, to wit, a movement towards fundamental changes in how a country does its political business and recruits its leaders. This is often referred to as a silent, non-violent revolution. It achieves the same purposes as a violent revolution.

Every society fears a revolution because the entrenched interests have much to lose in a revolution, peaceful or violent. Radical journalist/political activist, Omowunmi Sowore, frightened the system operators a couple of years or so ago when he talked of revolution now. If the objective of the young people is to put the recycled men out to pasture, they do have a fight on their hands. The current order will resist an emerging new, radical order. 

An important point needs to be made here. By its nature, politics is a game tolerant of recycling and of recycled men and women. It fences in the old and fences out the new. An occasional accident causes the brief emergence of young men like Barack Obama of the US and Macron of France, but the system soon recovers and settles back on the existing system and ensures that a young president is not followed by another young president. 

In a society not given to mediocrity, a phenomenon such as the Obidient rallies challenge collective societal thoughts on changes it needs from time to time to pull itself up from the rut in which it is stuck. The Obidient rallies open up possibilities towards radical or revolutionised thinking in the business of politics, the leadership recruitment process unencumbered by religious and ethnic interests. The Obidient movement is towards a political system that does not owe its relevance to the shenanigans of godfathers and godmothers; a political system in which the people, without inducement or threats of personal deprivation, recognise and throw their lot with someone they believe will best serve the national interests with the efficient management of their diversities. My take is that however the Obidient rallies and marches end, it will, in the end succeed in making a tectonic shift, no matter how slight or imperceptible, in the business of our national politics. If the dark horse does not breast the tape, it will still leave its mark on the race as a whole. It will be something worth celebrating.