Is This a Movement?
“This may be a movement.
It’s tough to beat a movement.”—Howard Wolfson,
Hillary Clinton’s Communications Director.
The scandalous realization of Hillary Rodham Clinton of what she was running against in the run-up to the 2008 American presidential election may help us understand the potential presidency of Peter Obi in Nigeria.
3 January 2008 was a day voters defied “the laws of caucus physics,” to borrow the decent words of political reporters John Heilemann of New York magazine and Mark Halperin of Time magazine. Hillary Clinton and her campaign team were stunned by the outcome of the influential Iowa state caucus, where she was expected to win the first Democratic Party caucus of the year. She knew the strength of Bill Richardson, John Edwards, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama, the other heavyweights in the race, but still came a distant third. Here is a hint of what happened that day and how she got a tipoff of what she and the other candidates were up against in the bold candidature of Barack Hussein Obama. This story is told by the two journalists mentioned above in their successful book, Game Change(2010).
Let us encounter a few illustrative words sourced from pages 172-174 of their behind-the-scenes account of that historic election.
‘”Around seven o’clock, McAuliffe wandered over to the campaign’s second-floor boiler room in the Hotel Fort Des Moines. Thirty-odd kids hunched over computers, monitoring the turnout numbers as they came in from caucus sites around the state. As the numbers kept climbing-165! 185! 195! 205!-McAuliffe started to wonder if something was wrong.
Wolfson, walking by on his way to grab some pizza, said, “We’re gonna get our asses kicked.”
“Someone needs to prepare Hillary,” McAuliffe said. “Are we going to get second?”
The next four hours were a blur for Hillary Clinton. Reeling from the loss, she appeared onstage for a televised speech surrounded by old and pale faces-Madeleine Albright, Wesley Clark, her husband-that created an unflattering contrast with the young and multiracial tableau presented by Obama.
But the expression on her face belied her words: with her frozen smile, her dazed eyes, she looked as if she were having an out-of-body experience.
Returning to her suite, Clinton found it even more crowded than before. Chelsea was there, along with Hillary’s mother, Dorothy Rodham, who sat on the bed looking inconsolable. Vilsack walked over to Hillary and apologized for having been too optimistic. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I thought we could win.”
“It’s okay,” she said-but didn’t mean it.
“Can we win with a positive message?” Wolfson asked.
“I don’t think so,” Hillary said. “I don’t know what it would be. I’m open to suggestions.”
“This may be a movement,” Wolfson said. “It’s tough to beat a movement.”
Penn could barely believe his ears.
The confusion that gripped her went beyond questions of strategy and tactics, beyond going negative or not. It went to the existential core of her candidacy. In a voice infinitely weary, Clinton asked Svengali, “What are we going to do now?”‘
Sadly for them, there was nothing they could do standing in the path of an aggressively rising thunder. Barack Obama ended up winning the 2008 presidential election. He created a momentous occasion as the first African-American to be sworn in as President. And the rest, as they often say, is now history. He was the man “from nowhere” who became somebody.
Something like the abovementioned event is about to happen in Nigeria, or part of it may have already transpired. Given our peculiar voting system, the circumstances may not follow the same pattern. Still, the socio-political system is about to get a shakedown exposing its dark innards.
It is possible to suggest that most of the other presidential candidates are already in a quandary about the candidacy of Peter Gregory Obi. His name is perennially on the airwaves, and his face is a political brand with presidential freshness. It is only fair to ask: is he the new Barack Obama within the context of one who seeks to break the old order? And is he markedly different from his political breed in the way he has been able to galvanize young people to spearhead his presidential drive?
Young people on the margins of Nigeria’s class structure have queued behind Peter Obi, believing that he personifies their hopes. His candidacy has since morphed into a youthful political movement determined and boisterous in its rejection of the old order. But it is not like Obi is entirely free of some of the genes of the system he is poised to grapple with in the elections. He emerged out of it and is only trying to detoxify, perhaps having figuratively experienced his moments of political awakening. This realization would be a good thing to happen to him and those who believe with him that he leads an anti-elitist movement.
But it is still possible for Peter Obi to suggest that one may only pass through a partisan tunnel hedged by old evils and never partake in their dogmatic rituals. It is unlikely that many of those chanting his name from north to south would believe his purity in Nigeria’s cultural politics, whose waters are as murky as they come. Then again, the drowning child needs a lifebuoy.
Perhaps, Obi’s attraction is the charm of his personality, the clarity of his message of a quantum leap from “consumption to production,” and his accessibility to the populace everywhere he goes. Perhaps, some don’t even know why they are rooting for him and may only be tagging a popular movement that has erupted like angry volcanic ash from the underground of Nigeria’s quaking political structures. His message resonates with the suffering masses in dire economic straits who have romanticized a liberator for some time. But it is entirely a different plane of argument whether the man is imbued with a messianic complex. Has sunshine come for Nigerian youths distressed by current public officers and those who hold them in place?
Nothing is certain until the ballots are cast, counted, validated, and verified. But why is Peter Obi’s presidency even probable? The quick response to this is that he is on the ballot, and he’s an eligible candidate. But again, so is every other person cleared by the electoral body to contest for the highest office. Each one is a likely President. Peter Obi’s presidency seems probable and may be theorized because his campaign takes its traction from a growing discontent movement with layered operations organs. And this is a thunderous and youthful drive. Everyone standing in its way is, in the fitting words of the late poet and soldier, Chris Okigbo, in “the path of thunder,” figuratively.
The young people have seemingly succeeded in co-opting the elderly, utilizing passion and the flexible tools of the new media where they have been able to send messages across boundaries with the swiftness of unexpected raindrops. They are the denizens of the digital media landscape and have been inventive and inspiring to one another from areas far apart. Several public commentators and influencers have meditated on Nigeria’s current political climate. They have concluded that a tenacious youthful undercurrent is girding Peter Obi’s quest for the presidency.
The cream of the crop of Obi’s movement is difficult to track. They prefer to call themselves “the Obidients.” This new addition to our political lexicon is a corruption of “obedient,” but their version finds expression in the epigrammatic surname of the one they love without compunction. The scattered nature of leadership makes disruption of the wave challenging to achieve. If destroyed at one end, it is likely to resurrect at another. It is ghostly, slippery, and with a booming voice that attests to its resilience. Like the #endsars movement, it claims to have no crowned tip because everyone is effective from their little corners. And this is why the crusade is charming and knotty. It may prove challenging for other candidates. There are no frontrunners, and they are no backbenchers. Everyone is frantically trying to outdo the other. There is a gentle rolling thunder on the way. And unless the thunder stops, no one may be able to subdue its startling and booming rumble.