As the race for Nigeria’s 2023 presidential election hots up, the leading candidates have ramped up their engagement with critical stakeholders.
Various polls have come out with different outcomes, but a theme runs through; it will be close and there are more than two horses in the race.
Labour Party candidate Peter Obi has – in under eight months – pushed himself from the periphery of the race to centre stage as a serious contender giving the two major political parties (the PDP and the APC) a run for their money.
The former Anambra governor, who was a VP candidate to the PDP’s Atiku Abubakar four years ago, gets a lot of his support from a youthful, well-informed, upwardly-mobile urban demographic disenchanted with the old order.
Many of them were in the room this particular evening at an upscale hotel in highbrow Ikoyi.
It was an event tagged “Peter Obi Engages with Top Entertainers” and the banquet-style setting was about 80% occupied at 8pm, the time the event was scheduled to start.
It was impressive timekeeping considering Lagosians’ penchant for getting to events late, the city’s snarling traffic a ready excuse.
Soothing jazz welcomed guests eager to get up close and personal with the man who has inspired hope in a growing number of previously disillusioned youths.
It was a roll call of mostly movie stars, with the exception of Peter and Paul Okoye, the pop twin act that have been very vocal in their support for Obi.
They were very involved in the organisation of the event, as was Funke Kuti who buzzed around ths room getting things sorted.
Others in attendance were Kanayo O. Kanayo, Kate Henshaw, Hanks Anuku, Zubby Michael, Kaffy and many more.
The flambouyance on show was a photographer’s delight.
Chidi Mokeme walked in to cheers of “Scar, Scar!” Heartwarming feedback from his peers, following his impressive portrayal of a villanous character in the Neflix series ‘Shanty Town.’
Okey Bakassi was a very visible presence as he grabbed the mic to crack a few jokes before stating emphatically:
“The energy in this room can light up Lagos. And it’s all for a good cause.
“I’m a card carrying member of a political party, not this party. But today, I’m fully obedient.
“I will speak my mind, I will make my stand,” he said to loud applause.
Radio personality Olisa Adibua was in the audience too, as were Labour Party chieftain Pat Utomi and its Lagos State gubernatorial candidate, Gbadebo Vivour Rhodes.
Also playing a prominent role was business executive cum politician Valentine Ozigbo, whose current position is Special Adviser to Peter Obi.
“I’m one of you,” he told the entertainers in the room, revealing that he was an executive producer on the movie ‘Merry Men.’
“…And by virtue of El-Rufai, Peter Obi is one of you too,” he joked in reference to the Kaduna State governor’s reference to Obi as a Nollywood actor.
It was notable though that while Nollywood was well represented, Afrobeats wasn’t (apart ffom P-Square), even though the same invitation was extended to both actors and artistes.
The night officially kicked off when the emcees – Frank Edoho and Kachi Offiah – suggested the event start with dinner because Peter Obi wouldn’t make it on time.
His hectic schedule on the day included a rally in Abuja, trips to Delta and Bayelsa states, and an earlier commitment in Lagos with the British High Commission.
Despite his best efforts, flight schedules and Lagos traffic had put a spanner in the works.
Not to worry though, the room was filled with laughter, and a few dramatics, as you would expect from actors.
While dinner was served, T Classic serenaded the audience with a surprisingly rich baritone voice, and range that kept the audience asking for more.
Most of those in the room are used to being the centre of attraction, as famous faces that have graced our screens for years and for some, decades.
But this evening they all stood up in unison to welcome the man who has become a sensation, a phenomenon even, an embodiment of hope for a large percentage of Nigerians dissatisfied with the country’s current state of affairs.
The applause continued for minutes as Peter Obi urged his audience to take their seats.
He apologised profusely for coming late. He revealed the hectic schedule he’d been through and the fact that his flight crew had reached its limit of hours for the day. He had to get another crew to meet his commitments.
It elicited questions of how he was keeping up. Apparently, he draws strength and energy from his support base.
“I tell people that it’s the youths running the election through me,” he said.
Peter Obi narrated his antecedents as a successful business man from a young age up until he became governor. He is seeking the presidency to serve and not for personal gain, he insists.
“I have enough money. I have no reason to steal money. I have enough for me and my family.”
The election is not a do-or-die affair for him. In his opinion, the country gains the most if he wins.
“For the last 10 years, all this country has done is breed insecurity, poverty, unemployment, sickness, pain…”
He reeled out statistics to show just how bad Nigeria is and how fast it is degenerating.
“This cannot continue. If It does, all of you here will be refugees. You cannot afford to be a refugee,” he warned.
“We want to build a new Nigeria. A new Nigeria is possible.”
Obi believes the February 25 election will bring a generational change to the polity.
“Before now, Nigeria has been ruled by people born before independence,” he said.
But himself, his running mate and the Labour Party Chairman were all born after independence.
“This election won’t be about tribe or religion,” he continued.
For him, the same challenges confront all citizens, regardless of tongue or creed. One of these challenges is corruption.
“Every wealth must come with enterprise. We must know what you’re doing.
“People should know the antecedents of those serving them.”
He explained how he plans to build the new Nigeria.
“We want to move Nigeria from consumption to production,” he said. Well, no surprises there. That has been the anchor on which he has built his campaign.
He continued, “Nigeria is not producing anything, we’re just sharing. We need to feed ourselves for food inflation to drop.”
He made comparisons with India, Vietnam, Banglades and Malaysia.
“Vietnam made more money exporting shoes than Nigeria made from oil.
“There are 50,000 shoemakers in Aba. Aba is closer to the sea than Vietnam is.”
Obi reminisced about the good old days and urged his fans to bring it back.
“They say Peter Obi is stingy. Yes, stinginess is part of capital formation. You have to save to have capital.” This was met with cheers.
“Go out and encourage yourselves that it’s time to elect someone with competence.
“I intend to build a Nigeria that will be a member of the G20, not as an observer.
“I want to unlock the poverty in the north. We can make more money from agriculture that we make from oil.”
Peter Obi spoke for the better part of an hour, holding his audience spellbound.
He realises that many see in him the hope of a better Nigeria. He won”t fail them, he promised.
“I would rather die for this country than disappoint the youth who have placed their hope in me,” he vowed.
When he was done, it was another round of applause and a standing ovation.
A pertinent question during the Q&A came from Okey Bakassi.
“Nigerians are galvanised to vote for you. But do you have the capacity to defend our votes?”
The response may not have been what the audience was itching to hear but it gave an insight into Obi’s mindset; that he is a conduit for the disenchanted to channel their fustration with the old order, and a symbol of a new Nigeria where the citizens take responsibility.
“You have to defend your votes yourselves,” he replied.