Why Nigerians Should Thank Peter Obi


Professor Abdussamad Umar Jibia



The 2023 general elections have come and gone and like every set of elections there have emerged winners and losers. Typical of Africans, those who lost allege rigging and those who won hail the process.


In addition to winners and losers, there are other people we should cheer for their roles in the elections. First, we should give credit to President Buhari for being true to his promise of organizing free, fair and credible elections. The President himself has observed that Nigerian voters have become more sophisticated. One manifestation of this sophistication is that voters no longer vote along party lines. It doesnít matter if he is a card-carrying member of a political party, once a Nigerian voter sees a better candidate in another party they go for them. That is the new normal if you like and it is a good lesson for our politicians.


We must also hail the INEC Chairman. Just like his colleague Attahiru Jega, Mahmoud Yakubu has shown an uncommon tolerance in dealing with politicians even in extreme cases in which an ordinary person would lose control. 


My man of the day is His Excellency Peter Obi, a former Governor of Anambra state. I have never met Peter Obi and he did not attract my attention until he began to claim that he wanted to become Nigeriaís president. From the way he started up to the time he crashed, I knew that Obi didnít have a good understanding of the country he wanted to govern.  First, he wanted it under PDP. Despite being a failed party, a PDP ticket would have earned Peter Obi a distant second regardless of the part of the country he is coming from. When he could not clinch its ticket he jumped to the Labour party. Then he started his campaign the method of which we all saw. 


The part of his political activity that we should thank Peter Obi for is his ability to solve one of the greatest puzzles of the Nigerian census. I mean the question of religion.


Nigeria is a big country with a Muslim majority and a minority that includes a good number of Christians and some pagans. The last Nigeriaís census that collected data on religious affiliations was the 1963 census. According to the 1963 census results, there were 47.2 % Muslims, 34.3% Christians and 18.5% others. In the North, the ratio was 71.7% Muslims, 9.7% Christians and 18.6% others. 


Talking about South West, the 1963 census figures identified the present day Oyo, Lagos, Ogun and Osun as Muslim majority states with only Ondo and Ekiti as Christian majority states.


Subsequent censuses either did not capture religion like the case of 1991 and 2006 censuses or were cancelled due to controversies surrounding its conduct which was the case with the 1973 census.


Demographic experts make projections based on past trends, fertility and mortality rates and in the case of religion proselytization, migration, etc. The Babangida administration decided to remove religion in the 1991 census due to bogus claims of being majority especially made by the church and since then, the Nigerian Population Commission has avoided conducting standard projections involving religious affiliations.


Without a head count and/or an unbiased, professionally made projections, Nigerians are continuously bombarded with unrealistic population figures. At a point in time, Christians claimed that they constitute more than 45% of Northern Nigerian population, a claim ignored by Muslims for being ridiculous.


While ordinary Nigerians can be misled by propaganda, politicians looking for votes have always been calculative in their determination of who constitutes the majority and should attract their campaign and who is a liar. 


And it is not difficult to figure out. Political affiliation in Nigeria is a good pointer to religious affiliation. For example, it is well known that Northern Christians do not vote for Muslims where the former are in majority. The examples are many and well known. Thus, the number of Christian elected politicians in a particular state would approximately tell you the percentage of Christians in that state. In addition, the number of predominantly Muslim states with large population like Kano and Katsina makes the population of the two Christian majority states of Plateau and Benue a joke.


As a politician who needs votes of the majority to win a National election, Peter Obi should have known all these and use it to gauge his level of preparedness. Unfortunately he lost it and was going from one Church to another vividly falling into the propaganda trap of the Church. He was carried away by the belief that Middle belt is Christian. But where is the middle belt? Is it the North Central? Who, among the Governors of Niger, Kwara, Nasarawa and Kogi is a Christian? Peter Obi was simply too naÔve. 


However, it is not bad at all. The clergy campaigned for him. Christians were mobilized nationwide. The outcome is what the NPC could not achieve in its censuses. Christians overwhelmingly voted for Obi. The number of Muslims who voted for him was simply insignificant just like the number of Christians who voted for the Muslim-Muslim ticket of Tinubu-Shettima. The few Christians who did not vote for Obi were seen campaigning for PDP. Overall, more than 14 million voted for either Tinubu or Atiku both of whom are Muslims. Even if we take 10% of that and add to Obi, Christians are still a small minority.


As Muslims, we have avoided these arguments as we consider them unhealthy, since after all, our eternal prosperity in Islam is not dependant on whether or not Muslims are in majority at a particular time or location. But we have been boxed into it and it is helpful.