Social media birthed a youthful ‘Obidient Movement’; it may have changed Nigerian politics forever

Dennis Da-ala Mirilla
Social media powered a campaign againt poilice brutality. It changed Nigerian politics forever

In October 2020, long before the ‘Obidient’ Movement began, mostly young Nigerians gathered around the country in large clutters. Some held placards, and others held bottled water, snacks, and branded T-shirts.

Those with even a modicum of a following on social media went Live, transmitting to their followers and fans what was happening on the ground. For days this went on across the country, with annexes in the UK, France, Canada, and the US.

How it all started

They had been protesting police brutality on social media for years through the hashtag #EndSARS. But in a large mass, they had taken the protest to the streets for the first time. Those protests in October 2020 didn’t end police brutality. The activities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad remain a menace in the country. It culminated with what multiple human rights organisations have described as the Lekki Toll Gate massacre of 2020.

At the time, it felt like hope was lost. But if the recent presidential election says anything, it’s that the tragedy from 2020 ignited a political awakening among the youths of Nigeria.

Over 48 million of the over 93.5 million registered voters who could have voted in the presidential elections on Saturday are youths. Of the over 9.5 million people who registered as new voters between July 2021 and July 2022, over seven million are between 18 and 34. One thing was clear for young Nigerians: their voices can make a significant impact when they come together.

After the watershed October 2020 event, young Nigerians have begun to realise their power as a significant political bloc without whom elections can’t be won. The narrative had been that youths agitating for a better country online does not typically translate to votes during elections.

But this year was different.

Young Nigerians were determined to challenge that narrative, and social media will be their tool. They set up targeted advertising on YouTube, held Twitter Spaces, Instagram Live and Facebook Live and Clubhouse rooms. The message was clear, register and come out to vote.

Many chose to back the candidacy of Peter Gregory Obi, a 61-year-old former governor of Anambra state. He was considered the best of the other leading candidates, APC’s Bola Tinubu and PDP’s Atiku Abubakar -two wealthy septuagenarian veterans who had been on the political scene for more than three decades.

“People like his frugal attitude and his message about cutting the cost of governance,” Idayat Hassan, director of the Centre for Democracy and Development think-tank, told FT

“But beyond that, young people are using him as a vehicle to channel their frustration with the Nigerian system. He’s not running just for himself, if you check online sentiment, you’ll see he’s running on behalf of young people,”

Social media birthed the 'Obidient Movement'; it may have changed Nigerian politics forever

INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, announced early Wednesday morning that APC’s Bola Tinubu had won the election and is now president-elect. It is important to note that many Nigerians are unhappy with the general conduct of the elections, and the total vote count implies that only under 25 million Nigerians voted from the more than 90 million plus eligible voters.

This unhappiness stems from the reports of violence in some polling centres, no elections in others, late uploading of results on the INEC Results Viewing Portal (IReV), consistent malfunctioning of the verification machine BVAS and registered voters not receiving their Permanent Voters’ Card from INEC.

What is happening?

Since Nigeria went back to civilian rule at the turn of the century, the politician Bola Ahmed Tinubu who was Lagos governor in 1999, has allegedly held a ‘firm grasp’ on the state. Over the years, through two decades of election cycles, only Tunubu-endorsed candidates have won Lagos. But on Saturday, that changed.

For the first time in two decades, a candidate endorsed by Tinubu lost Lagos during an election. Labour Party’s Peter Obi defeated Tinubu in Lagos during the presidential election.

They call it “the Obidient Movement,” from the name Obi.

Riding the wave of the #EndSARS movement and the Obidient Movement that it birthed, the moment in history outlines how young people have begun to consolidate power using social media but, more importantly, taking their fight off social media to build a grassroots network of supporters and allies alike.

Throughout the campaign season, thousands of Nigerians took time away from work and flooded the streets, dominating campaign grounds around the country as part of the Obidient Movement. But the movement itself was not about Peter Obi per se. It was more the culmination of excitement built up post the EndSARS protest and anticipation that real change could be made from the top.

Though an establishment politician, Peter Obi offered himself as the bellwether of that change by listening and speaking directly to the youth.

Since APC’s Tinubu was announced as president-elect, members of the Obidient Movement have been holding court against the INEC chairman, INEC officials, and officials of the APC. They are alleging that the election was neither free nor fair.

Social media birthed the 'Obidient Movement'; it may have changed Nigerian politics forever

“All the polling units’ results that were not uploaded to IREV is a breach of the electoral act. This is a legal breach, and it is not violence if Nigerians come out peacefully and speak out against these illegalities,“ Sen. Datti Ahmed, Obi’s running mate, said in a press conference this week.

“INEC is preparing grounds for an illegitimate government. We wish to state for the record that last weekend’s election was a sham. It was neither free nor fair,” Gov. Ifeanyi Okowa, his PDP counterpart, said in the same press conference.

Read also: Can we save young Nigerians from misinformation on social media?

“A lot of Obidient are either depressed or generally tired because we gave this a good fight,” Ngozi Echebi, a member of the ‘Obidient’ movement, said. “We were being labelled people who can’t do anything to actualise what they preach on social media. Obedient wanted to show the current leaders that we can make things happen. Seeing this Obidient movement, I was so hopeful. But we won’t give up,” she added. FS Yusuf, one of the movement’s leaders, said, “We are not giving up, so why are you depressed!? Please cheer up.”

The plan is to move the needle come Saturday, March 11, when Nigerians take to the polls for the gubernatorial election.

Back on social media

Already young Nigerians are back on social media, beginning a new kind of movement. They have been signing petitions after petitions on titled “US, Canada, UK, to CANCEL INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu Visa,” “UK, US, Canada, Europe, and Asia Cancel Nyesom Wike’s Visa,” “We Call Upon the US & United kingdom to Reject Manipulated Nigerian Presidential Election,” “INEC, include pictures and names of candidates on the ballot paper,” “Dissolve the Flagrantly Corrupt Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Will these petitions yield any results?

Social media birthed a youthful 'Obidient Movement'; it may have changed Nigerian politics forever

When EndSARs started as a hashtag on social media years ago, it didn’t look like it would yield any results. Now, the most powerful political baron in South Western Nigeria in recent years could not win his presidential bid in Lagos.

The contours of this new movement are still very opaque. It will be wise not to underestimate young Nigerians.

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