Political parties use political rallies as a combination of crowd psychology and propaganda to provide supposed empirical evidence of their public acceptance or popularity. Political parties use them as important tools to overwhelm their rivals wherever government is instituted through the ballot box.
Political parties go to great lengths to hold mega-rallys because the larger the crowds at campaign rallies, the harder it is to deny their relative popularity and acceptance. They pay and transport dozens of men and women to rallying points to swell the crowd. We only get to know rented mobs when parties don’t pay them the agreed-upon fee for using them 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 Labor Party presidential candidate. He is younger than Atiku Abubakar (PDP) and Ahmed Bola Tinubu (APC). He was Governor of Anambra State. He has also been in the system and cannot claim innocence in what has gone wrong in our national politics. He is not, to borrow from former President Goodluck Jonathan, a breath of fresh air after all.
Still, that the young rally for him suggests there is something for him. His party is both the smallest of the three largest. His war chest may be light in a war waged with money. People snort at Obidient rallies and dismiss crowds as irritating young noisemakers unable to dislodge the APC or PDP from power when, to borrow from KO Mbadiwe, “the coming comes to be”. After all, they say, rather dismissively, that young Obidients don’t even have voter cards and can’t vote. They only stir up feelings that will do no harm to the entrenched nature of our national politics. It is the natural reaction to the possibility of radical change in any society.
I see Obidient as a political movement, the likes of which we have never seen before in our country. It captured our imagination. It is run by young people and benefits from the psychology of crowds. It attracts rally goers by the sight of every crowd in every city. It presents itself as a political movement by young people and for young people. 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 mega Obidient marches and rallies as a surprise phenomenon in a country held by conservative views of politics and allergic to sweeping change. It is important to question this phenomenon and to understand where young people come from and what their political objectives are in our national politics. So far, the movement has not defined its mission.
Those who despise the Obidients forget that the political industry is prone to accidents. Good people lose elections and bad people win them. In the rare accidents of politics, the dark horse suddenly passes before the favorite horses. He becomes the game changer and proves that political fortunes are fickle and depend on the fickle spirit of the electorate. Politics is too uncertain to be treated as a certainty.
At least two things are worth asking to start with. The first is how the Obidient mob started, took shape and became, in the context of the current internal APC and PDP sabotage, the most positive event in town right now. Political campaigns and rallies are the main activities of political parties. They organize and fund them to promote and market themselves to the electorate.
In the normal scheme of politics, this means that the Labor Party should be responsible for the mega marches. But this is not the case. This is where it gets interesting. Had the party done so, it would have broken the law as the marches began long before the INEC whistled the official start of the 2023 political race on September 28. Most Obidient marchers aren’t even members of the Labor Party. What then is their motivation to spend their financial and other resources to organize or participate in the mega marches in support of his presidential ambition?
This is an important question. This brings us to the second thing worth questioning: what do young people see in Obi that inspires them to organize and participate in gatherings, not as paid-for mobs, but as men and women engaged in a political cause still undefined? Are they positively promoting the change we need and crave, or are they reacting to the sense that unless something radical is done about the nature of our politics by young people, the tedious circle of recycling will remain our political lot?
More questions. Do they see in Obi the new face of our national policy? Do they see him as a politician of integrity, capable of leading as opposed to directing? Do they see Labor as the vehicle for change and the rallying point to do what some young people have done elsewhere – effect sweeping changes in the nature of their national politics and leadership?
We don’t yet know exactly what Obidients mean. We can only speculate what they say from what they don’t say at this point. They don’t talk about traditional political fare, as in our major fault lines such as religion and ethnicity; they don’t talk about fighting corruption; they do not talk about which tribe or section of the country should produce the next president; they don’t talk about political parties. They talk about Peter Obi. They haven’t elevated him to our savior yet, but they seem ready to invest their hope in him as the kind of political leader they want, need, and must have. It’s rather heavy.
We are witnessing a radical break with the leadership recruitment process, a very flawed system that has imposed incompetent and people-indifferent leaders at all levels of government. Some people are starting to see the Obidient phenomenon as a revolution. This assessment may be tempting, but it is rather easy and flippant at this point. But it is still possible to see it in a more liberal sense of revolution, namely, a movement toward fundamental changes in the way a country does its political business and recruits its leaders. This is often called a silent, non-violent revolution. It achieves the same goals as a violent revolution.
Every society fears a revolution because entrenched interests have much to lose in a revolution, peaceful or violent. Radical journalist and political activist, Omowunmi Sowore frightened the operators of the system about a few years ago when he spoke of revolution today. If the objective of the young people is to graze the recycled men, they have a fight to fight. The current order will resist a radical new order that is emerging.
An important point must be made here. By nature, politics is a game tolerant of recycling and of recycled men and women. It closes the old and closes the new. An occasional mishap causes the brief emergence of young men like Barack Obama of the United States and Emmanuel Macron of France, but the system quickly recovers and settles on the existing system and ensures that a young president is not followed by another young president.
In a society not inclined towards mediocrity, a phenomenon like the Obidient gatherings challenges collective societal reflections on the changes it needs from time to time to get out of the rut it is stuck in. Obidient gatherings open up possibilities for radical or revolutionized thinking in the realm of politics, the process of recruiting leaders unencumbered by religious and ethnic interests. The Obidient movement is moving 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 threat of personal deprivation, recognize and share their lot with someone they believe will best serve the national interests with effective management of their diversities.
My view is that whatever the end of Obidient’s rallies and marches will eventually succeed in effecting a tectonic shift, however slight or imperceptible, in the affairs of our national politics. If the dark horse doesn’t beat the tape, it will still leave its mark on the race as a whole. It will be something worth celebrating.
Agbese can be reached by e-mail: [email protected]