A lot has been written and said to excoriate OBIdients for what can be described as their saviour-complex political narcissism. But these criticisms have had little to no effects as they often get dwarfed by and drowned in choral pushbacks from the ever-bellicose supporters of Peter Obi. In this piece, I intend to be nuanced in my critique of the OBIdient phenomenon and I hope I don’t get dismissed with the knee-jerk stereotype of being a paid pen for PDP or APC. For the avoidance of doubt, I’m not a fan of either party.
When I was at Obafemi Awolowo University, Scientific Maximum Shishi was very common. This faux academic-sounding coinage was a fancy term invented to euphemize the culture of jungle justice within the shores of OAU. Any student allegedly caught stealing was taken to every hall of residence after the Student Union had conducted a makeshift trial and guilt had been established. During this tour around male and female halls of residence, volunteers would be given the chance to welt the suspect. The louder the suspect screamed the more they were beaten to the wild satisfaction of onlookers and students cheering from the balcony of their dormitories. There were numerous instances of suspects passing out under the flagellation of Scientific Maximum Shishi. In such cases, they would be provided with water and/or milk to revive them only to continue beating them almost immediately they came to.
There are striking similarities between how Peter Obi’s supporters attack those who do not share their political persuasions, especially celebrities, and the mob frenzy of OAU’s Scientific Maximum Shishi. According to OBIdient jurisprudence, it’s criminal not to support Peter Obi because he is the only one with the skillset to rescue Nigeria from collapse. He has almost been deified to the extent a mild critique of him smacks of sacrilege in the estimation of his supporters. As a punitive measure, OBIdients come up with witty memes, recriminatory posts, hyperbolic conclusions, and name-calling to “drag” you for daring not to support their statistics-quoting and macroeconomics junkie candidate.
The latest victim of the OBIdient mob justice is Nollywood actress, Mercy Johnson. She got attacked for attending an APC rally. Her endorsement of Bola Tinubu was perceived as an act of betrayal to the patriotic undertaking by OBIdients to make Nigeria POssible, as they like to sloganize. Not a few celebrities have been sent to the OBIdient gulag in a similar fashion. Jide Kosoko, Eniola Badmus, Joke Sylvia, Brymo, and Femi Otedola have incensed OBIdients for either overtly supporting Tinubu or seen fraternizing with him. This demonization culture all started earlier this year when Jay-jay Okocha, Kanu Nwankwo, Victor Ikpeba, Taribo West, and some other former Super Eagles stars visited Tinubu and prayed for him at his residence.
Timi Dakolo suffered the same fate for performing at Atiku’s presidential declaration ceremony in March. Even Femi Kuti who is known for his anti-establishment political philosophy in his music was sent to the OBIdient gulag for simply saying he was too angry to be OBIdient. He alleged that Obi’s supporters threatened to burn down his Afrika Shrine for that. Poju Oyemade was not spared from the OBIdient version of Scientific Maximum Shishi despite being a pastor; a calling that enjoys numerous privileges in the Nigerian sociocultural context under the touch-not-my-anointed immunity. His offence? He cautioned Nigerian youth not to ‘waste their enthusiasm on poorly planned projects.’ As avuncular and innocuous as that piece of advice may seem, it stirred up the OBIdient hornet’s nest.
These instances of mob action have earned OBIdients infamy and opprobrium from supporters of other candidates. Despite having cautioned his followers to be respectful, Peter Obi has been blamed for their actions. I understand the innate desire to want to scapegoat someone for the actions of a group, but things are not as simple as that. Hence, most attacks directed at Peter Obi are largely misguided. But I guess all is fair in love and war. Elections in Nigeria are really no different from warfare.
Politics is one of the domains where human beings exhibit ultra-tribalism be it for pecuniary reasons or based on genuine ideological persuasions (I would argue that Peter Obi’s supporters are driven ideologically rather than for monetary rewards). Tribalism exists in everything we do be it in how we defend our religion, sect, or denomination, or how we camp ourselves in the Messi-Ronaldo or Wizkid FC-Davido 30GB divides.
Tribalism unites and divides us. Certainly, politics is where this in-group/out-group dynamic is most profound. The supporters of Peter Obi are really not doing anything different from what say supporters of Tinubu or Atiku are doing. But every election cycle has a candidate favoured by most of the electorate. Because they are popular with the electorate, these favourites naturally have more people speak up for them online and offline. In this sense, OBIdients clearly stand out from others. But I can assure you, had Tinubu or Atiku commanded a large army of supporters, we’d be complaining about their Scientific Maximum Shishi the same way people complain about OBIdients. In fact, we saw this in 2015. Buhari was clearly preferred by many despite his chequered history as a military dictator. Nigerians were fed up with PDP and they threw their support behind the reformed democrat to the extent they became recriminatory to those who showed any sympathies to PDP. A case in point is the oft-resurfacing screenshot of a tweet by Japheth Omojuwa circa 2015 saying he’d gladly vote for a dead pig instead of Jonathan. The electorate had a country to save and Buhari was going to do just that, or so they thought. That hysteria is exactly what is at play again with the OBIdient phenomenon. If you get enough people to prop up a candidate to start a movement, you have the advantage of the crowd to demonize others.
Another angle often not considered by critics of the OBIdient frenzy is the psychology of social media. You don’t have to be a social psychologist to see that social media has ruined humanity. It is a domain where negativity and toxicity are amplified. Most viral content tend to be toxic. What do you expect from a generation of people who grew up in a gbas-gbos internet culture? These are the people who share memes that glorify violence (stylized as vawulence). It is an internet culture where feminists call men trash and now men (Patriarchy FC) are responding in kind. It is a culture where tweeps come up with witty clap backs to ratio those they disagree with.
Nothing played a greater role in making social media a cesspool of toxicity than the addition of the share feature on Facebook and the retweet feature on Twitter. These features created the viral culture and they became instant tools used to amplify content that further divide us along our tribal lines. And of course, they were coopted into politics, the granddaddy of tribalism. Because OBIdients constitute the largest social media demographic, expectedly, they exhibit far more toxicity than others. Again, I should say that the same would be said of others if they had the numerical strength of OBIdients.
There is no equity in a free market of ideas. Some ideologies appeal more to people than others. And the one(s) with the largest following have their way and say. Peter Obi for whatever reason is the darling of young people. To blame him for the behaviour of his supporters is cheap scapegoating. The toxic tendency of his supporters is a reflection of how irrational human beings can be when they are ideologically driven by a cause.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in Punch Newspapers on the 22nd of December, 2022.
Olayemi is the publisher of The Disaffected Magazine. He also hosts the Disaffected Nigerian Podcast. He enjoys everything from Evolutionary Psychology to the syncopations of Apala music to Fela’s discography. He fancies himself as an Amala enthusiast. His dream is to be a travel writer someday.