An environmentalist theme in Peter Obi’s race for the Presidency

International Election Section

Opinion – 

Glory Amwe Bulus

Changing agenda

Like other presidential races, the just concluded election/Nigerian presidential race reflected the domination of the three major tribes; Mr. Bola Ahmed Tinubu from the Yoruba tribe, Mr. Peter Obi from the Ibo tribe, Mr. Rabiu Kwankwaso and Mr. Atiku Abubakar from the Hausa tribe. The first 3 were former governors, and the last was a former Vice president of Nigeria. The expectation was that the echoes of tribal and religious manipulation, which have characterized the political fabric of Nigeria, would be the only game in town. Mr. Peter Obi went some way to proving that such a conventional approach to politics is not the only game in town by introducing an environmentalist approach extending beyond the tribal and religious lines (Oboh, 2022). While this might not have led to winning the election, it has profited Obi’s campaign and will continue in the post-2023 Nigerian election.

The top four Candidates in the 2023 Nigerian presidential election (BBC, 2023)

The environment made it to the agenda.  

One could barely find an environmental issue, making it up to the power and money politics being exercised in Nigeria. However, in September 2018, southern Nigeria experienced massive flooding, displacing millions of people and losing several lives. The flood was caused by a combination of deforestation, the opening of a dam, and the negligence of the government, despite repeated warnings from experts. This natural disaster has sparked a debate in Nigeria on the importance of sustainable environmental practices and the need for more responsible government policies. Deforestation has been identified as one of the leading causes of floods. Like many other African countries, Nigeria has been grappling with deforestation for years. Forests have been cleared for farmland, settlements, and other human activities. Unfortunately, these practices have not been sustainable, leading to land destruction by erosion and flooding struck (The Nation, 2023).

Compounding this issue is the Lagdo dam in the Adamawa region of Cameroon, which was opened after heavy rainfall, leading to a surge in the water levels of the Benue River. The Benue River flows through Nigeria and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The surge in water levels caused by the opening of the dam led to flooding in several Nigerian states. Despite repeated warnings from experts, the Nigerian government failed to take action to prevent the flood. The government had received warnings from the Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency (NHSA) about the likelihood of flooding in the affected areas. However, no action was taken to mitigate the potential effects of the flood. As a result, millions of people were caught unawares when the flood struck (The Nation, 2023).

The incumbent’s failure 

The environmental issue being discussed within the context of election campaigns that were held reflected the failure of the Nigerian government under President Mohammadu Buhari’s Administration. The negligence has led to widespread condemnation from both within and outside the country. Known for his poor political report sheet and uncaring attitude towards the loss of life and property as in the cases of herdsmen killing farmers, submerged in the abysmal pit of economic crisis signaled by the fall in naira value against the dollar, President Buhari gave another opportunity to Mr. Peter Obi the chance to echo the failure of All Progressive Congress.

Rather than playing the tribal game of emphasising how the Ibo’s have never been partakers of the Presidential positions in Nigeria or highlighting the contribution of the oil-filled Ibo ancestral South, Presidential aspirant Peter Obi made the environment a key issue in his campaign, highlighting the devastating effects of deforestation, flooding, and the government’s negligence in responding to these issues. Obi has been a vocal advocate for environmental protection and sustainable development, and his platform has resonated with many Nigerians concerned about the country’s ecological future. Mr. Peter Obi’s freelance campaign managers posted his consistent proactive measures and responses to the flood. For example, he was seen entering the flood and giving instructions on how to resolve the problem (Ekanme, 2023).

Effect of Lagdo dam release on farmland in 2022 (Tribune, 2022)

Obi led by example.

Mr. Obi told the story of his rapid response to the flood situation in Anambra State, where he was formerly a governor. Unlike other governors, who send a representative to the region devastated by natural disasters, Obi showed himself as an ever-present help in times of need to the people of Anambra state by being at the scene of the flood and finding solutions on the spot. Obi stated that in the same way he has rescued Anambra State, he would rescue Nigeria from its dilapidated political and socio-economic structures (Ekanem, 2023).

Beyond tribe and ethnic jingoism

While it is challenging to devoid himself of his Ibo personality as his accent quickly gives him away, Obi has managed a dignified campaign by attempting to unify Nigerians using these environmental concerns. The unification of all Nigerians under the danger of environmental disaster was a well-thought-out campaign strategy as farmers, fishermen, traders, and others who are directly affected by this disaster had been visited by Mr. Obi. His emphasis is that human-aided natural disaster does not know tribe or religion; therefore, the solution is what the people need, suggesting himself as the deliverer. Using expert information like the Global Forest Watch (2023), Nigeria lost an average of 96.5kha of forest in 2021. This has had a devastating impact on the environment, leading to soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, and increased greenhouse gas emissions whether it is in the North, Southwest, or Southeast. While the Lagdo dam is a Northern example, a southern example is the Oya dam. In July 2022, the Nigerian government opened the Oyan dam in Ogun State, causing flooding in several communities. This led to the displacement of thousands of people and the destruction of homes, farmland, and infrastructure (Ijaseun and Onuh, 2023).

Peter Obi visited the flooded location in Ogbaru, Anambra State in 2012- (The Nigerian Voice, 2012)

Way Forward

Obi has pledged to address this issue by implementing policies to protect Nigeria’s forests and promote reforestation. However, In the outcome of the election, All Progressive Congress candidate Bola Ahmed Tinubu took the lead followed by the People’s Democratic Party leader Atiku Abubakar leaving the third position to Mr. Obi with no chance to begin to fulfill his vision of the environment. Nevertheless, Peter Obi’s advocacy on the environment and his vision for the country have led to the Labor Party winning 40 seats in the upper and lower houses of the National Assembly compared to their previous absence in the houses. This would grant his party this opportunity to push forward more environmentally friendly projects. Obi’s platform will continue to resonate with enough voters to secure him even if it has not secured him the presidency. His campaign also remains effective considering the low margin in votes received. His focus on environmental protection has already made an impact on the national conversation and will continue for the next four years with Labor Party’s strength to poll more votes in the Gubernatorial election scheduled for 18th March 2023.

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