Can the Labour Party Become a National Party?
For the first time since the second republic, Nigeria has a powerful third force, Labour Party. Today’s Labor Party is driven by a movement birthed out of the 2020 EndSARS protest. The movement is identified by the moniker “Obidients” in solidarity with Mr. Peter Obi. Mr. Peter Obi, who represents the face of the movement, is familiar with Nigerian politics. He was a former governor of Anambra State and PDP’s running mate in the 2019 Presidential Elections.
After a shock resignation from PDP, he joined the Labour Party, one of the veteran but relatively unknown political parties, in May 2022 and was ceremoniously granted the party’s presidential ticket. In a shockingly daring move, he ran against the top dogs and came third in the 2023 elections with 25% of the total valid votes cast.
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However, Peter Obi cried foul about the state of the elections and is looking to challenge the case in court. He said, “I won this election, and I’m going to prove it to Nigerians.” As he ramps up his legal team of “20 SANs” to go to court alongside Atiku Abubakar, let us explore the reality of Mr. Obi’s claims.
Per the Nigerian constitution, to win the presidential election, a candidate must obtain the highest number of votes and achieve a minimum of 25% in at least 24 of the 36 states plus the FCT (i.e., 2/3 of the states). Reviewing the votes from the 2023 elections, only Bola Tinubu could fulfil all the conditions for being declared the election winner. He garnered 25% of votes in 29 states and scored the highest number of votes.
Despite an impressive performance, Peter Obi was only to nab 25% of the votes from 15 states and the FCT, a far cry from the 24 states required to win the election. Of the 16 states Peter Obi got 25% from, he won in 11 and the FCT. Apart from these 16 states, Peter Obi was close to 25% in Kaduna State and Akwa Ibom State.
He recorded abysmally low numbers in the core Muslim North, indicating a shallow presence. However, he was able to put a strong showing in Northern states with a relatively high Christian population. He recorded victories in Nasarawa and Plateau and fell short in Taraba and Benue States. In Kaduna, Labour Party won two national assembly seats, indicative of Peter Obi’s strong performance in Southern Kaduna. These numbers are outstanding. However, they suggest that Peter Obi was focusing only on getting votes from Christians, a sentiment enforced by his campaign tour across different churches in Nigeria.
Apart from appealing to Christians in the North, Labour Party’s performance was also strong in states with a substantial Igbo population. He won with more than 90% across the five South East states and pulled victories in 3 South-South states, suggesting that Obi’s campaign targeted the Igbos. As per its strong performance on the 25th of February, LP won 34 House of Reps seats and 6 Senate seats. Of the 34 House of Reps members elected on LP’s platform, 29 were from the South East and South-South.
On the 18th of March, the state elections will take place, and the Labour Party will have candidates in 27 out of 28 states. After the party’s good showing on the 25th of February, it’s yet to be determined how much the movement can influence the state elections when Peter Obi is not on the ballot.
Now, let’s discuss. Can the Labour Party become a National Party?
While naysayers are quick to downplay the achievements of Mr. Obi and the “Obidient” movement at the Presidential elections, I must assert that it was nothing short of impressive. However, LP is not a national party. At best, the party’s spread is similar to what CPC and ACN had before merging to form the APC in 2013. However, this spread is impressive considering what Labour Party was before Peter Obi.
Also Read: Rational Amateurism: The Atiku and Peter Obi Campaigns Compared
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a step”– Lao Tzu.
Despite its short fame, calls are already being made for the Labour Party to be absolved into the structure of the PDP “from whence it was birthed.” The presidential candidate of the PDP echoed these claims, and the president-elect extended a hand of fellowship to the presidential candidates of the PDP and LP. It makes sense for the LP to collaborate with one of the two major parties to gain national notoriety; however, that would lead to the quick and painless end of the Obidient movement.
Before the transformation of the movement into either the Labour Party or the “Obidients,” it originated from the EndSARS protest. And the ability for LP to defeat APC “at home” is primarily down to this. And this is a reality that the political elite are unwilling to conform to, and it’s a reality that could cause a generation of powerful politicians to become obsolete. After the EndSARS saga in 2020, there was a clarion call for young people to become involved in the political process of nominating aspirants, voting in party primaries, and contesting for positions. With huge nomination fees and a political system built on the back of godfatherism and oligarchy, there needed to be more space for the young ones in the major political parties. And the Obidient movement stepped in.
No Structure: A Blessing in Disguise
The first drawback of the party was the need for a solid party structure. Before Peter Obi, the Labour Party had no elected office holder, as little as a ward councilor in Nigeria. Previously, the party had produced a state governor named Olusegun Mimiko, who governed Ondo State from 2010 to 2018. As a result, there were remnants of a decayed party structure throughout the country. However, this structure couldn’t pull any significant upset until Peter Obi came on board.
The absence of a well-established party structure posed a challenge for Peter Obi and his movement. The party needed to field candidates for nationwide elective positions to be taken seriously. However, the lack of structure was a clean slate for Obi to create a political ideology that could rattle the political establishment in Nigeria. During the campaigns, we saw the party ride on the slogan “we no dey give shi-shi” to portray itself as fundamentally different from APC or PDP.
Peter Obi’s acquisition of an insignificant political party has allowed him to emerge as a thought leader in Nigeria’s political arena. Something that has been lacking in Nigeria’s political scene since the restoration of democracy in 1999. Even though there was a lot of cross-carpeting in the East, as some of the political titans in that region jumped on Obi’s bandwagon, it is still his bandwagon.
Building a party structure is no mean feat. It requires time, resources, ideology, and, most of all, partnerships. Can LP steer its way into alliances to make it nationally acceptable? For the 2023 election, the party enjoyed the endorsement of almost every major socio-cultural organization in Nigeria, from the Afenifere to Ohanaeze Ndigbo to the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum and PANDEF (Pan-Niger Delta Forum). However, in the context of Nigeria’s politics, endorsements are nothing more than paperweight titles, more like participation trophies.
Way Forward for Labour Party
In this article, Abimbola Agboluaje noted: “Peter Obi finds himself at a historical junction in Nigeria’s political history where a transition from politics based on personalities and religious and ethnic identities to a political system in which citizens’ political affiliations and votes are based on economic self-interest seems possible.”
He adds, “Labour must, as soon as tomorrow morning, start playing the role of the official opposition party. More than appearing as the official opposition party, Labour needs to make Nigerians, including the opposition, accept it as the obvious next government.”
If Peter Obi is to build a national movement with Labour Party, he has to work on getting LP voters into its rank. According to Mr. Abimbola, “Peter Obi has to get the young people, professionals, and middle classes that voted for the Labour Party into the Labour Party and let them define the values and build the organisational capacity of the party.”
Also Read: 2023 Elections: 40% of Rural Nigerians Will Vote for Peter Obi, Nextier Polls
While the North may seem the most challenging ground to break, the Northerners are now at a breaking point. From perennial infighting between farmers and herders to the banditry to the generally harsh economic conditions up North, they are unfazed by political rhetoric. Throughout the campaign, Obi stood out as the sole politician who acknowledged the North’s potential to steer Nigeria’s economic growth away from oil, an avenue Northern politicians have yet to explore.
If the LP seeks to attain national spread, the party must move away from the cantankerous method of politics in Nigeria that aims to drive a wedge between Nigerians based on ethnicity and religion. The party must remain a think-tank, constantly selling the best ideas to improve Nigeria’s economy. And the party must remain the only option for ordinary Nigerians.