Photo by Emmanuel Ikwuegbu on Unsplash

Obidient: How a ‘Shishiless’ Movement is Transforming Nigeria’s Political Space

The year 2015 was an unsettling, yet critical year in Nigeria’s political history. For the first time, Nigerians overthrew a sitting president, not by a coup but by popular vote, through a youth-led movement that can be referred to as the ‘Broom Revolution’. Not only was the power of the incumbent broken in 2015, but the ruling political party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was also defeated. 

As the 2023 general elections approach, Nigerian youths appear to have revived the Broom Revolution and the EndSARS Protest through a new movement called the ‘Obidient movement’, named after the Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi. Young people’s faith in Nigeria’s electoral system and their capacity to influence election outcomes in Nigeria have grown as a result of the 2015 general election results that installed Mohammadu Buhari as president.

Although we would be tempted to view the Obidient movement as a one-off revolution, it can be argued that it was a prolonged campaign that began in 2015 and tried to address a number of Nigeria’s problems, including the country’s leadership crisis, poverty, young unemployment, and insecurity. But like previous conventional political revolutions, the 2015 movement that overthrew the president did not produce the desired outcomes. 

The anticipated transformation Buhari had pledged during his 2015 campaign has not been achieved. The Obidient movement is thus an offshoot of that movement. This is comparable to the revolution in Egypt that led to the removal of Hosni Mubarak and the installation of Mohammed Morsi, another authoritarian leader. Because Morsi was nothing different from Mubarak, he was overthrown in a counter-revolution. 

The Obidient movement can be compared to this instance because Goodluck Jonathan’s replacement with Mahammadu Buhari did not successfully solve the issue that called for Jonathan’s removal. Consequently, the Obidient movement is a counterrevolution to the Broom revolution that broke the power of incumbency.

After nearly eight years of Buhari’s regime, young people are eager to vote for a candidate from a smaller party other than the one in power, which was not the pattern before 2015. After Buhari’s presidency, the Nigerians’ optimism for a better country has been dashed. Young Nigerians realised that voting out the incumbent party does not necessarily solve the country’s leadership crisis. 

It is important to put an end to the old order of politicians who have been in charge of the nation for many years, and to the moneybag strategy, the old guard has used to maintain power since independence. Young people find Obi highly enticing because he appears to be the antithesis of the old system. He is the youngest at 61 years old, with Tinubu and Atiku being septuagenarians at 70 and 76 years old respectively. 

The ruling party’s chosen candidate is Ahmed Bola Tinubu. He was formerly the governor of Lagos State and is regarded as a big moneybag since he is one of Nigeria’s most prominently wealthy politicians. His own political movement is known as the BATified, which is an acronym for Bola Ahmed Tinubu. According to reports, Tinubu’s financial assistance was crucial to the current incumbent’s victories in 2015 and 2019, so it was easy for him to emerge as the party’s nominee. 

He has many supporters and, since he belongs to the ruling party, he can run an extensive political campaign, making him a force to be reckoned with. However, there are concerns regarding Tinubu’s age, health, and cognitive abilities which lead some to question his fitness to serve as the country’s leader during such a trying period. 

Obi’s supporters are fast to share anything online that paints Tinubu in a negative light: social media has recently been flooded with videos of him being held up while standing and his shaky hands; his manner of speaking and the lack of clarity in his words have also sparked a heated online discussion among young people in Nigeria. Young people now believe that Nigeria needs a young president who can handle the pressure of running a complex country like Nigeria.

On the other hand, Atiku Abubakar Atiku has run before and believes that this is his final attempt. Formerly Nigeria’s vice-president from 1999–2007, he has constantly run for office and he has a sizable following because he is running for office under the PDP – regarded as the main opposition. Atiku’s current issue is that the party is engaged in an internal struggle that leaves him more uncertain than he was in 2019. However, he has a huge following at the grassroots; Atiku had run with Obi as his running mate in the 2019 presidential elections under the PDP but lost to Buhari. 

Since 1999, the Nigerian presidential race has been dominated by two parties. The  rise of Peter Obi means that the traditional two-horse fight for the presidency has become a three-horse race. Obi’s impressive performance thus far can be attributed to his attraction to young voters who have always felt that they had no good options when it came to voting for candidates. 

They now have Obi who they believe will better serve their interests, and this has drawn them to the growing Labour Party. During the PDP 2023 party primary election, Peter Obi concluded that the primaries would not offer him a fair chance to compete against a wealthier Atiku, therefore he made the decision to join the Labour party, which was the closest party he could identify. Because the party was already represented in the legislative body, joining it was simpler for him. 

The minute Peter Obi switched to the Labour party, the political landscape in Nigeria underwent a shift. Suddenly, young people who often showed little interest in elections took to social media to organise and mobilise themselves in support of Obi. The amount of youth involvement in politics being shown in the run-up to the February 2023 elections is unprecedented. The election’s increased youth enthusiasm is to a large extent due to Peter Obi’s candidature, who they think to be a stronger candidate than Bola Ahmed and Atiku Abubakar. 

Additionally, he appeals to younger voters by portraying himself as a younger contender. He promotes himself as someone who is running for office based on his ability and competence rather than necessarily the money he will be awarding. Hence, the campaign’s pidgin English slogan, ‘We no dey give shishi’, which translates to ‘We are not giving a dime’, was created by his followers – a mindset that is crucial for our election because elections in Nigeria are heavily influenced by the highest bidder’s ability to raise the most money. What use are majority rule and democracy if money is the main deciding factor?

The selection of a running mate is a crucial component of any candidate’s presidential campaign, but it is especially crucial in Nigeria where Nigerians also vote based on who is chosen as their running mate. This is because of the nation’s multi-ethnic and multireligious makeup. In order to be fair to both religion and region, Nigerian political parties since 1999 have paired a northern Muslim presidential candidate with a southern Christian vice-presidential candidate or vice versa for both religion and region. 

While Peter Obi, a southern Christian, and Atiku Abubakar, a northern Muslim, were sensitive enough to respect that practice, Tinubu, a southern Muslim, rejected it by choosing Kashim Shattima, a northern Muslim, as his running mate. The majority of young people are questioning Tinubu’s choice to run as a Muslim-Muslim ticket at a time when religious and ethnic tensions in Nigeria are high.

It is important to point out, that the ‘Obidient’ movement drew its strength from the EndSARS protest of 2020 when young people went out to protest against police brutality. For two weeks, young people protested in various cities in Nigeria, calling for the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the notorious police unit that had been killing young people in Nigeria. 

To quell the protests, policemen opened fire, killing some peaceful protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate on the night of 20 October 2020. This is where the incredibly vibrant youth’s political awakening that gave rise to the “Obidient” movement began.  After the protests, there was a significant rise in youth interest in politics, reflected in the number of young people who registered to vote. As a result, a large number of new voters are signing up to vote. According to Reuters, 10.5 million new voters have registered ahead of the election, and 84 per cent of them are under the age of 34. This is a youth-led revolution. 

The movement gained steam as we approached the deadline for voter registration and there was a surge in the number of young people struggling to get themselves registered to vote. For instance, under the well-known Secretariat Junction bridge, Jos social media influencer Shiela Chuhwak and a group of young people launched a mass voter registration drive called Jos Street PVC Registration. Hundreds of young people turned out to register to vote while poets, musicians and dancers They also pooled their resources, provided refreshments to anybody who came to register, and paid for elderly people’s transportation.     

People donated their property to the Labour Party; a building in Delta state was offered by the political pressure group, Like Minds 4 A New Nigeria, to Peter Obi to use as a Labour party campaign office. This is in response to supporters of the ruling party mocking Obi with claims he can’t win the election because he lacks structure. 

Young people in Nigeria’s main cities have used social media to organise and hold sizable rallies without Obi’s help or physical presence. There have also been tales of young people organising themselves and travelling to villages and communities to inform residents about the Labour Party logo on ballots. Never before in Nigerian history have young people mobilised so much of themselves and their resources toward a political course.

One can understand how passionate the movement is by following the discourse on social media, where there is great tension between Obi and Tinubu supporters. Atiku appears to be flying under the radar, but given that he has shifted his campaign to the grassroots, he cannot be underestimated.

The current Buhari administration has also complicated the fight for Tinubu in favour of Obi since the economy has worsened since it took control in 2015. Under Goodluck Jonathan, the inflation rate was 8.5 per cent; under Muhammadu Buhari, it was 20.77 per cent; under Goodluck Jonathan, fuel cost N87 per litre, now it costs N185 per litre, driving up the cost of transportation and food. 

The most common food in Nigeria, a bag of rice, now costs up to N42,000 under Buhari compared with N12,000 under Goodluck Jonathan. Youth unemployment has skyrocketed to 19.61 per cent, up from 8.22 per cent in 2015. This is partly why the APC has lost some appeal with young Nigerians. Higher education institutions were closed for over eight months under Buhari in both 2020 and 2022 as a result of academic staff strikes, with no resolution found by the government. The bulk of tertiary students are young, and they can influence how the 2023 election turns out.

The multidimensional insecurity is worsening the situation: Clashes between farmers and herders in central Nigeria; North Eastern residents fleeing Boko Haram, their economic activity devastated; banditry in the North West causing forced relocation; the Independent People of Biafra Movement (IPOB) agitating for secession in the South East and attacking villages. 

These attacks are mostly carried out by the Eastern Security Network (ESN), the armed wing of the separatist group, and a faction called DOS, headed by ex-IPOB directorate of state. Now that IPOB insurgent groups are becoming more militant, these groups have imposed a mandatory Monday stay-at-home day. 

As a result, everything is closed on Mondays, including businesses and schools, and those who break the order have their properties burned down. Economic activity has been impacted by this insecurity. These crises of insecurity coupled with the cost of living crisis have contributed greatly to the success of the Obidient movement.     

The effectiveness of voter education and mobilisation is another factor. However, there is a pattern of high pre-election youth interest and low election youth turnout; young registered voters made up 51.1 per cent of the total number of registered voters in the 2019 presidential elections but youth voter turnout was only 28 per cent. There are presently 39.65 per cent of young people registered heading to the 2023 elections. Young people, who comprise most of Nigeria’s population, are the main voting bloc going into this election. However, the key factor is how committed young people are to come out to vote in the election. 

Winning the number of states required by the constitution in addition to obtaining the majority vote for Obi is one of the movement’s biggest hurdles. To win a presidential election in Nigeria, a candidate must receive at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in two-thirds of the states and the federal capital territory in addition to receiving the most votes overall. However, the Obidient movement is having trouble gaining support in the northern regions where many point to the Hausa-Igbo tension as a significant hurdle to overcome. 

The tension between regions has a long history dating back to the days of colonialism but some examples of tension between these two groups include the Chukwuma Kaduna-led January coup d’état that led to the assassination of prominent Hausa leaders, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Ahmedu Bello, and the failed attempt by the Igbos to establish Biafra, which caused a deep underlining tension between the Igbos and Hausas. Since the 1966 counter-coup, no Igbo has been Head of state. Now Obi, an Igbo man, is trying to reverse the tide that was set in 1966

Obi has gone some way to overcoming this issue by choosing Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, a Hausa Muslim, as his running mate. Buhari’s origins in the North and his cult-like following provide another challenge for Obi in the region. But a Hausa Obidient community is emerging in the North, comprising young people who are dissatisfied with Buhari’s leadership and are certain that Obi is the best choice for Nigeria at this point. Nevertheless, the numbers are extremely low and might be insufficient unless something unexpected occurs before the election.

No matter how the 2023 election turns out, the Obidient movement has made it difficult to predict the results. A three-party race has replaced the traditional dominant two-party race. Many people are even speculating about the potential of a runoff election in the event that no candidate comes out as a clear winner. Many people will refer back to the constitution to comprehend the run-off provision because it may be necessary for these elections. The Obidient movement will nonetheless leave a lasting mark on Nigeria’s political landscape, even if it is unsuccessful. 


Nathaniel Deme is a Teaching Assistant for Directing at the EbonyLife Creative Academy, Lagos. He studied History at the University of Jos but also loves films and the process that goes into making them. As a researcher and writer, Nathaniel is interested in Social movement, African history, Social history, Film and culture. He writes from Lagos.

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