ANAP Poll And The Peter Obi Challenge

Entrepreneur and founder of Stanbic IBTC Bank, Atedo Peterside, dropped a bombshell on Thursday morning when his ANAP Foundation released the result of an opinion poll conducted for it by NOI Polls on the forthcoming presidential election.

The poll shows Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) holding a significant eight per cent lead over Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigerian People’s Party (NNPP) trailed them in the fourth position.

ANAP Foundation has been conducting such polls since 2011 through NOI Polls. Mr Peterside said the latest was conducted in early September and asked respondents the same question: “Suppose the presidential election is being conducted today, who are you likely to vote for.”

“Who are you likely to vote for?”

According to a statement he personally signed: “The results showed a significant lead for Mr. Peter Obi with 21 per cent of voters proposing to vote for him if the presidential election were to be conducted today, and 13 per cent each proposing to vote for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who are both tied in second place. Dr Rabiu Kwankwaso was a distant fourth with three per cent of voters proposing to vote for him.”

However, the statement said only just over a half of the respondents said they had made up their minds on whom to vote for on 25 February, next year. “Undecided voters and those who prefer not to reveal their preferred candidate add up to a whopping 32% and 15% respectively.”

“While these Poll results show some significant trends, it is key to note that the battle ahead lies in the hands of the undecided/swing voters, as it appears they would ultimately decide which candidate takes the lead to emerge as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the 2023 presidential elections.

“In summary, our September 2022 Polls are inconclusive in terms of establishing a clear winner, as the undecided voters are large enough to turn the tables. However, ANAP Foundation has concluded that the trends are clear enough to establish the front runners and so our subsequent polls will concentrate on the four leading candidates only.”

Derision

The poll was greeted mostly with derision from the camps of the three candidates said to be trailing Mr Obi.

Speaking on the “Politics Today” programme of Channels Television, on Thursday, the spokesperson of the NNPP presidential campaign council, Abdulmumin Jibrin, said the poll should be ignored.

“Let me say this, NOI Polls clearly projected that Jonathan would win the 2015 election but he lost. There is no work that they have done, where you can say that the projections are right or anything. It is absolutely false and is not a representation of the reality on the ground, particularly if you are talking about the northern part.”

In his reaction, the PDP campaign spokesperson, Daniel Bwala, also dismissed the poll. He added that he would throw a party if Mr Obi wins as many as three states in his home South-east zone in the election.

Mr Bwala noted that the poll did not provide the size of the participants, methodology and margin of error, all of which are basics in the conduct of opinion polls.

Speaking in the same vein, the spokesperson of the APC presidential campaign council, Bayo Onanuga, said the poll was “concocted and meant for the trash can.”

“If you look at it, the reason why you have to dismiss this is this, the NOI poll gives our candidates 18 per cent in the South West. That is our own base. You don’t need to do any opinion poll to know that that is the stronghold of our candidate. And they went to the North East and gave our candidate 18 per cent again, whereas the same people gave Peter Obi 64 per cent in the South East. You can see that there is no logic in this thing,” Mr Onanuga argued.

NOI Polls
NOI Polls have been conducting opinion polls for ANAP Foundation, at least since before the 2015 presidential election. Contrary to the claim by Mr Jibrin of the NNPP, the polls did not project the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan to win that year’s election.

In a statement issued on 16 February 2015 to announce the results of the polls, ANAP Foundation said “the figures put General Muhammadu Buhari in a slight lead (32 per cent) over President Goodluck Jonathan (30 per cent); indicating a 2 percentage points lead.”

However, the poll for the 2019 presidential election, released by the foundation on 14 February, also said Mr Buhari was leading his main opposition candidate, Atiku, but declared that the election was too close to call. President Buhari went ahead to beat Atiku with almost four million votes, winning in 19 states. NOI had correctly projected victory for President Jonathan in 2011.

Most active candidate
There are factors that tend to buttress its latest poll. One is that Mr Obi has been the most active so far among the major candidates in direct electioneering, bar perhaps Mr Kwankwaso. Both of them are virtually running as independents and are not distracted by internal politics in their parties, unlike their two major rivals.

Mr Obi in particular has no vanquished opponents in the LP to placate, no members aggrieved by party primaries to reconcile and no party leaders to consult or brief over his plans. Instead, he has concentrated his efforts on overt public relations, meeting with former presidents, diplomats, Nigerians abroad and even aggrieved members of his opponents’ parties. He has also been attending church programmes, popping up at airports dragging his luggage and appearing on television for interviews.

Mr Obi has clearly been the most visible of the candidates, egged on by the hype and cheers of his supporters.

While he is at all that, his supporters, who are largely self-driven, have been busy testing their own booths on the ground. Even though INEC has not blown the whistle on the campaigns, they have been holding so-called million-man marches in state capitals and cities in many parts of Nigeria. Such efforts have put them into collision with the authorities in some states, most recently in Delta and Ebonyi. In Lagos, a group is in court trying to stop them from holding a rally on October 1, to mark the EndSARS protest that had ended on a bloody note in that city in 2020. Whether they held their rallies or were thwarted, they made much noise about it anyway. Over the weeks, the LP candidate and his supporters appeared to have the field all to themselves.

Social media bullies
His supporters have also bullied their rivals almost into silence on social media, in particular on Twitter. These netizens include the Nigerian Diaspora, who might have voted in the NOI Poll for their idol. It should be noted that the poll did not disclose the methodology used, and whether it ensured that the respondents are all residents in Nigeria since they cannot vote next year from elsewhere.

Mr Bwala pointed this out in challenging the credibility of the poll. “I know they said it was random sampling. But then, because of the result, I am tempted to believe that this polling was carried out online because Peter Obi has a measure of people who are very active for him online much more than the other candidate and I will tell you why.

“There was an algorithm and data analytics that was carried out that came up with the finding that 57.5% of people who follow Peter Obi and engaged for him on social media do not live in Nigeria, in fact, the majority of whom are bots on Twitter, they are not real human beings.

“If you take away 57.5% of the people who are active for him, who probably live abroad and they don’t have voters cards they are likely not to come to vote, then what it means is that Peter is basking in the euphoria of hallucination and this (poll) result is a true reflection of that.”

Given the domination of Mr Obi’s supporters on social media, it is likely that he would win every online poll regardless. Another conducted by the Daily Trust newspaper last week also showed him leading with 71 per cent of the votes.

Counterintuitive
Yet, to take the poll as reflective of how the candidates stand with voters is counterintuitive.

Relying on the composition of the fields for this electoral race, some observers see the election to be similar to the first-ever presidential election in Nigeria. A former Minister of Aviation and member of the PDP, Osita Chidoka, articulated that view during the week on Arise Television.

The 1979 election was Nigeria’s first attempt to restore democracy after the bloody military coup of January 1966 had sacked the First Republic. The five candidates in that poll were prime actors in the previous civilian dispensation who tended to represent where they came from. Each drew heavy support from his home zone, but the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) eventually prevailed because it managed to spread across the country and won three key minority states (Rivers, Cross River and Benue, which then also consisted today’s Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and half of Kogi states respectively).

Each of the current four leading candidates has been projected to lock down his own section of the country too, as President Buhari is supposed to have reawakened our ethnic and other divisions. This has further led to the postulation that next year may produce Nigeria’s first ever presidential run-off election, with none of the candidates able to meet the requirement of a quarter of the votes in two-thirds of the states. The NOI poll also mentioned that possibility.

Given that observation of similarity between 1979 and 2023, the geographical map of Mr Obi’s support that we see in the NOI poll, however, rubbishes that projection. With 68 per cent of likely voters in the South East, he alone appears as a colossus in his own home state. Contrast that with Mr Tinubu drawing only 18 per cent in his home South West, Atiku 28 per cent in the North East and Mr Kwankwaso nine per cent in his supposed North West redoubt.

The notion of Mr Obi being so popular in his section of the country while other opponents drew only lukewarm support in their own parts is made more curious by the respective electoral histories of the candidates. Their antecedents suggest Mr Obi is the least loved and influential among his people.

While Messrs Tinubu, Atiku and Kwankwaso all won the governorship elections in their states handsomely at the first try, Mr Obi’s came through the court three years after the poll. Atiku did not use his governorship mandate in 1999, having been nominated as a running mate to Olusegun Obasanjo and serving as vice president for eight years. Mr Kwankwaso also lost his first reelection bid in 2003. But like Atiku and Mr Tinubu, the NNPP candidate has since become a political force at least in his home state, helping many candidates into office after their tenures.

Mr Obi does not have that profile. He never had a majority of his party members in the Anambra State House of Assembly throughout his years as governor. And since he left APGA after a dispute with his successor that he helped install, he is not known to have helped many candidates to election in the state. Certainly, not any governor. His stay in the PDP didn’t help the party reclaim the governorship seat from APGA or help it elect the senator for his district.

It is also known that Mr Obi stormed out of the PDP largely because of the hostility to him by leaders of his party in his home zone. The South-east is the only zone being governed by three different parties, none of the governors beholden or even sympathetic to Mr Obi.

Of course, the desire of the zone to produce the next president will naturally galvanise support there behind Mr Obi. The South-east is the only southern zone yet to produce the president in the Republic and the Igbo are the only leg of the nation’s major ethnic tripod yet to produce an elected president. The people feel betrayed by the two major parties, especially the PDP which they have voted in presidential polls since 1999, for refusing to cede their tickets to the zone. They will naturally back Mr Obi, especially as he seems to be making waves also outside the region. So the idea of his popularity in the South East is not far-fetched.

However, if the poll correctly reflects his popularity in the zone, it leads us to another grey zone. Candidates who are adored in their own homes usually earn distrust outside it. Ask Obafemi Awolowo of the Second Republic Unity Party of Nigeria and President Buhari of the ANPP and CPC. They were reviled or feared outside for the same reasons that they were trusted and lionized in their own parts of the country.

But in Mr Obi’s case, the poll suggests that he is also well-loved outside his own section of the country, almost as much as his opponents in their home zones. that seems like a political oxymoron, given the examples cited above. He is running almost neck and neck with Mr Tinubu (12 to 18 per cent) in the South-west, with Kwankwaso (eight to nine per cent) in the North-west and sharing the lead with Mr Tinubu in the North-central.

Mr Obi also has a commanding lead in the South-south, 46 per cent to his closest rival’s (Atiku) six per cent. The zone has never voted for an Igbo candidate in the presidential election before. In fact, until the PDP brought them together under its umbrella in this Republic, the two areas supported different parties. In the Third Republic (1991-93), the areas were split between the two official parties.

Mr Obi will bring about a watershed next year if he records the feat this poll is suggesting that he may. More so, to do so with a party that has no roots or structure.

From personalities to parties
Since the presidential election of 1979, the Nigerian electorate has been moving from voting personalities to voting political parties. The 1983 election, although widely discredited, saw the NPN encroaching the home fortresses of Mr Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikiwe. After the fall of the Second Republic, requirements have been inserted in the constitution to ensure that parties have a national spread. But for the need to avoid further trouble with the South West mainstream political group, only the PDP and APP would have been registered for the 1999 General Election, the Alliance for Democracy (AD) having failed to demonstrate national spread in the threshold elections that were used as an entrance examination for party registration.

Since then, only President Buhari had shown the capacity to run in presidential elections on the steam of his own personal popularity, but his bid on the strength of the CPC which he quickly cobbled together in 2011 was not remarkable.

In 2007, Atiku ran on the ticket of the Action Congress, a small party that he joined after being excommunicated by the PDP. The party relied on his popularity but his returns were dismal. He had since bidded for the PDP ticket, and when he secured it in 2019, his performance was spectacularly different from that of 12 years earlier.

Virtual independent candidate
That is the main reason many observers remain unenthusiastic about Mr Obi’s chances. As a virtual independent candidate, he has put himself up against the structures of the established political parties. There has been no notable experienced politician who has defected to the LP since he took its ticket, which may indicate that the big actors have not yet seen the tide turning in his direction. More importantly, his opponents have the apparatuses of government in their control and will deploy these viciously in protecting their territories, even in the South-east.

Mr Obi is the only known candidate of the LP. In many states, voters do not know the party’s governorship and other candidates. In such states, the contest for these offices remains between the candidates of the APC and PDP whom they have probably known across seasons. In how many parts of Nigeria have voters voted for different parties for different offices, especially in elections that hold the same day?

The poll also gave the North-west to Atiku. The only reason one can see for that is because Mr Buhari is not on the ballot, which would tease some of his voters to look elsewhere. He clearly does not have Mr Buhari’s charisma in that region. Will those who will look at Mr Buhari’s rival of so many years be substantial enough to hand him the vote-rich zone? But this candidate himself knows what it means to stand against the candidate of a party that controls six of the seven governments in the state. The governors and lawmakers and their candidates.

Youth anger
Mr Obi is being projected by his supporters as the candidate of the youth, with a view to helping him reap from the disaffection and anger of this demographic group against a system that has turned many of their dreams into nightmares. The state of the economy and widespread insecurity will turn many voters against the establishment parties, especially the one running the central government.

As a former head of OSIWA in Nigeria, Jude Ilo, observed following a PREMIUM TIMES’ analysis in this series, “the #EndSARS has shown the power of youth restiveness and anger and one cannot do a proper analysis of the electoral landscape without factoring in the unpredictability of that demographic and in this instance, their desire to go against the mainstream parties.”

Community rigging
The new features of the electoral system, especially those introduced by the 2022 Electoral Act, have given more eligible voters confidence in the integrity of polls. According to various recent researches, many Nigerians now think more than ever before that their votes will count.

However, Mr Ilo also warned about what he called community rigging. “The voting pattern in the country must factor in community rigging which is rampant across the country. In states where particular parties have always won elections, it is about rigging, not voting, because they control the communities. We may need to acknowledge that given the way INEC is setting up, community rigging may be a challenge and that can distort voting patterns.”

Watershed poll
This election will shed a lot of light on other novel factors, especially the influence of social media on political mobilisation. Mr Obi’s performance on 25 February may guide us in understanding politics and elections in the information age where messages are easier to pass across but realities are also easier to distort.

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