The meteoric rise of Peter Obi’s popularity amongst the Nigerian youth can be attributed to a number of factors, despite the vociferous criticism of his antecedents which cannot withstand ironclad scrutiny, according to some political analysts.
Nonetheless, his predilection for demagoguery and reeling of facts in the course of his campaign trail as the presidential candidate of the Labour Party in the upcoming 2023 elections, has enraptured the minds of a major segment of the voting populace — the Nigerian youth.
Months waiting in uncertainty and limbo due to the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has coincided with the commencement of the political season, which has witnessed an upsurge in the number of hitherto-indifferent youths angling to exercise their franchise.
While not everyone of this vibrant segment support Peter Obi, a major percentage of the youth with the tag “OBIdients” are in vociferous support of the Labour Party’s presidential candidate, as evidenced by a rise in his popularity on social media, especially Twitter.
Ripplemetrics published a detailed analysis enumerating the causative nuances between social media and its impacts on the electoral process, and while Peter Obi is not the most-followed Nigerian politician on social media, his supporters rank amongst the most vociferous.
If the presidential elections is to be counted based on social media followers, Peter Obi would not be in the top three.
When it comes to social media presence, especially on Twitter, considered the fastest and reliable news source that every political figure or brand tries to exploit and increase its reach, Atiku Abubakar dominates.
StatiSense reports that as at the end of June, Atiku had 4.29 million followers on social media ahead of President Buhari’s 4.14 million followers.
Nonetheless, Peter Obi’s media presence is growing rapidly and it added 357k new followers in June, which is why he has inherited an army of critics who seek to fact-check his ‘Chinese’ statistics.
Criticism against ambition, alleged false claims
Critics question whether he truly represents a break from the corruption he routinely lambasts, pointing out that his name popped up in the leaked Pandora Papers which exposed the hidden wealth of the rich and powerful in 2021.
While he was not accused of stealing money, he failed to declare offshore accounts and assets held by family members, citing ignorance.
He was also accused of investing state funds, as governor, into a company he had interests in. He denied any wrongdoing and points out that the value of the investment has since grown.
Ironically, for a man who has switched parties three times since 2002, Obi frequently asserts that he is not driven by a desire to become president.
He left the PDP just days before the party’s May presidential primary, and Atiku Abubakar, a 75-year-old former vice president, was selected as the party’s nominee.
His supporters also believe that he was chased from the PDP as a result of his refusal to pay off party primary delegates, and they created the catchphrase “We don’t give shishi” to describe his renowned frugal nature and his prudent use of public funds in a nation where public officials have a history of wasting money.
They perceive him as a political outsider willing to take on the PDP and APC titans, whom they see as two sides of the same coin and whom they accuse of dipping their hands into the public coffers.
Furthermore, critics reiterate that Peter Obi relies on his ability to win a crowd by reeling our arcane statistics about the state of the economy. A comprehensive fact-check by International Centre for Investigative Reporting during his run in 2019 as the Vice-Presidential candidate of the PDP put a dent in his arsenal, considering the complexities of the Nigerian situation.
Despite these flaws, the young population has been drawn to him due to his reputation for thrift and good administration with accusations of cyberbullying for saying that everyone who does not support him in the election next year is an enemy of the state.
His tweet in response, urging his followers to “imbibe the spirit of sportsmanship,” did little to calm them down.
They are eager to point out the large turnouts at the offices of the electoral umpire in Nigeria, where they have been pouring in to register as first-time voters, to anyone who claims that elections are not won on Twitter.
This seeming outpouring of support only means one thing… the youths are tired and angry at the status quo and any politician can exploit such malcontent with ruthlessness, which is what Obi employs — however, the onus is now on him to uphold the goodwill for the betterment of our democracy.