By Rudolf Okonkwo
Several weeks ago, in the heat of the 2023 campaign, I commissioned two social scientists conversant with Nigeria to help me map out the DNA of an Obidient. They went to work. Periodically, they sent me their findings. After stating that deep down, the ‘Obidient’ movement is not about Peter Obi and Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, Scientist #1 propounds that ‘Obidients’ are desolate, dejected, and dislocated hitchhikers who saw a shiny wagon on a muddy road and hopped on. Scientist #2, on the other hand, sees them as reluctant anarchists plotting destruction in the bushes, only to be distracted by the sound of a noisy wagon full of hitchhikers enticing them to give the Nigerian project a final chance.
The first time they appeared close to a consensus was when Wole Soyinka intervened in the political process after the election in the infamous Datti/fascism debate. The team thought they had mastered the characteristics of the Obidient. They mentioned one particular trait, anger. They said that these were furious people who were also impatient. They compared them to one specific group during the Civil Rights Movement in the US that forced Martin Luther King Jr. to start to talk about the “urgency of now.”
The social scientists felt that the anger of these people steamed from years and years of being victims of the Nigerian state’s failure. The Obidients, the scientists, argued had become so disenchanted with their situation and the situation of their country that they have relegated the norms of their society to the back burner. They suggested that today’s global village offered new tools to these actors and amplified their sense of violation. When I asked for a better explanation, the scientists told me that what social media exposed them to about situations in other parts of the world heightened their expectations of their country’s leadership. Still, something in their pronouncements did not apply across the board.
Another case in point was when they used the example of Oby Ezekwesili’s intervention in the news story that Pastor Enoch Adebayo said that God would help the president-elect, Bola Tinubu, to fix Nigeria. For those who missed the drama, here is how it happened. According to a news report, Daddy GO sent one of his pastors to represent him at an event. When this little-known pastor, Dele Balogun, went, he read a speech. The day after, the newspapers reported what he said. And as it is tradition, they attributed the message to Pastor Adebayo.
Here is the exact thing Dele Balogun said. “Let us pray for the incoming government that God will support it and give it the Grace to do the right thing… Thank God the President-elect has promised to fix Nigeria. If God helps him, Nigeria will prosper in his hands.”
The reaction of the Obidients was swift. They tongue-lashed Pastor Adeboye for keeping quiet when the elections were rigged, and voters were suppressed and killed.
Some people did not see anything wrong with what the man of God said. Any true man of God’s job is to pray for his country’s government. It doesn’t matter whether the government is elected, selected, or imposed.
Unfortunately, the Obidients do not pray like this. And they made Pastor Adeboye know that they don’t play like this.
Just like with Soyinka, the reaction of the Obidient shocked the political arena, including Obi himself. Peter Obi had to come out and disassociate himself from the tongue-lashing the Obidients gave Daddy GO Adeboye for daring to say what God told him. Obi even suggested that the people doing the bad stuff were disguised operatives from other parties trying to give his supporters a bad name.
For saying so, he got tongue-lashed by angry Obidients and supporters of other parties, from Reno Omokiri to Omoyele Sowore.
Even those who shared the news story were not spared. Former minister, Oby Ezekwesili, felt the need to defend Pastor Adeboye and to call Reuben Abati an unprofessional journalist and purveyor of fake news for tweeting the story. In the language of Obidients, Oby Ezekwesili called the story “utter rubbish.”
The social scientists agreed that there are numerous secret cells of Obidients across Nigeria. They said that the largest number of latent Obidients is in the North. They are waiting for a perfect trigger to coagulate around a mission, a name, and a movement. Despite the perception, the social scientists noted that the multitude of tomorrow’s Obidients in the North is not satisfied with their lives in relation to their peers in similar parts of the world. They agreed that a day would come when religion and tradition wouldn’t be enough to cage them and stop them from breaking loose and dethroning those who have diminished their lives.
“For now, it is enough for their leaders to point at others outside their region and blame them for the poor life they live,” the social scientists write. “That strategy is too old, but it is still working. But it won’t suffice for long. And when the North ignites, with abundant dry leaves, tears, and heartbreaks, there won’t be time to worry about trifles like respect for elders and constituted authorities. And the nation will be on fire when the North is on fire.”
In a pivotal reminder, the scientists pointed at Sudan, Egypt, and other Arab African states as examples of places where people who shared the same worldview as those in the North of Nigeria had stood up and demanded change. They believed that, eventually, it would get to the turn of northern Nigeria.
Peter Obi used to say that the society we abuse today would take revenge on our children. That was so yesterday. The new mantra is this: The society we abused yesterday is taking revenge on us. And one thing about revenge is that the first sign that it is in progress is that it decouples all the chains that connect it to a structured and functional law and order society. It baffles those who missed the cue, especially the elders, who are apostles of gradual and ordered transformation that will not upturn years of familiar social order and civilization.
In moments like this, philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, noted, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”
Nigeria wrings everyone born and bread in it until they become an Obidient. Depending on the material one is made of, some transform after just one wring, while others require a lot of wringing, punching, and slapping.
For the social scientists, everything came together when Seun Kuti slapped a police officer on the Third Mainland Bridge, Lagos. For the first time, the two social scientists agreed – last last, Seun Kuti becomes an Obidient.
And this conclusion is one that both Seun Kuti and the Obidients will disagree on. And nothing is as Obidient as that.
Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo teaches Post-Colonial African History at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He is also the host of Dr. Damages Show. His books include “This American Life Sef” and “Children of a Retired God,” among others.