Lessons Peter Obi Must Learn From Ross Perot’s 1992 Run For President

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In Feb. 1992, Larry King asked the most impactful question of his long career in cable TV, “Can you give (me) a scenario in which you’d say, OK, I’m in?”

His guest on CNN Larry King Live was Ross Perot, a popular self-made billionaire from Texas who had never run for, nor held, political office. Perot surprisingly decided to answer with his characteristic but earnest candor, “If you’re that serious, and you get me on the ballot in all 50 states!”

Perot was making this statement less than a year after George H.W. Bush, who kicked Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, had begun to accrue ratings that would reach, at one time, 90%. Bush’s popularity was so high that the heavy weights in the Democratic Party declined to run – former vice president Walter Mondale, Governor Mario Cuomo, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Senators Bill Bradley, Lloyd Bentsen, and Joe Biden, among others.

Perot was that type of person. He always had the courage of his convictions. And he had the vision and the wealth to match them. By declaring his candidacy on cable TV, and not on the traditional TV networks of ABC, NBC, or CBN, he was doing something innovative. He was going to tap into America’s new acquired habit of 24-hour television, and use it to aggregate his support base. There he issued a challenge, as it were, to his supporters.

Perot a successful businessman turned into a political leader before our eyes.

The people responded to his TV challenge and mobilized. They built up a followership from the scratch  – precinct, district, county, and state. They got him on the ballot in 50 states.  A partnership was born – the people and Ross Perot. On the basis of that, Perot ran for office in 1992 and spent $68 M of his own money to run infomercials and pay campaign staff. He was a constant presence on cable TV and articulated the reason he was running competently. He shunned the traditional big rallies but concentrated on retail politics in the precinct and county level. The party chieftains were surplus to requirement. He had his MBAs and BAs running the administrative side of things. If he needed volunteers, he used the opportunity of his next TV appearance to plug it. The traditional networks caught on early and joined in having him as a guest.

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Perot demonstrated that one could run for elective office outside of the party machinery: powered by cable TV and grassroots organization.

He did not win but he garnered 18.9% of the votes cast. Bill Clinton got 43% of the votes. Bush, who was poised for a handy reelection, with change to spare, according to polls taken after the Kuwaiti war, secured 37.4%. That is the story of how Bill Clinton was elected president. The political historians may squabble but even they have to admit that Bush could have used some of the 19,743,821 votes that went for Perot.

But that was not the point. Perot was different from many of us, who are reduced to throwing shoes at the TV when we see the blatant incompetence with which the affairs of our country are conducted or policies enacted. He might have invented the meme, “Don’t get mad, get even!” The point was that he shook up the landscape where career politicians had begun to take the electorate for granted.

The Nigerian political landscape is ready for the kind of shake up that Perot brought to America in 1992.

We have two major political parties who are completely contemptuous of the people they represent. There is no ideology or mission statement to separate APC, the party in power, and PDP, the main opposition party. None of our politicians has offered change for the future or the betterment of our people in any shape or form. There are incumbent governors, ministers, senators, and one Central Bank Governor, who have picked up nomination forms to contest for president in 2023; but none has wished a better future for Nigerians in speech or action. The passengers kidnapped 2 months ago on the Abuja-Kaduna train line in a routine commute across neighboring states are still in captivity. No word on any efforts to free them. But as far our politicians are concerned, “This show must go on.”

The Nigerian people are hostages to the iniquitous impunity of our rulers.


The first lesson for the Peter Obi campaign is actually Bill Clinton not Ross Perot. This is my reason: Bill Clinton won the election but he planned ahead of the opportunity at a time when everyone was seeing obstacles. When Bush’s popularity thinned out the field for presidential nomination in the Democratic Party, Clinton stepped forward with a pathway to victory. If he did not process it mentally first, then the disruption Perot brought to the 1992 election would have gone unharvested.

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On the APC side: Asiwaju Bola Ahmed put all his presidential ambition eggs in the Kano basket. Everything that could wrong has gone wrong. The powerful APC governors led by Nasir El-Rufai has hijacked the party secretariat, and there’s no love lost Bola Tinubu and the governors; Ganduje – Bola Tinubu’s man in Kano – is talking about making time for himself to contest for senate; Abdulmumin Jibrin has resigned as Tinubu’s campaign chief; and there are two formidable candidates that will challenge him in the South West – Vice President Yemi Osibanjo and Governor Kayode Fayemi. The fact that the APC alliance has been unraveled is ordinarily good news if someone is prepared to harvest the wind.

On the PDP side: Governor Nyesom Wike is running. And apparently, he comes from the mind over matter school: One only has to want something bad enough in order to get it. When an interviewer asked him what he’ll do about insecurity. He answered, “Terrorists will run if they hear my name.” Former vice president, Atiku Abubakar also believes in the inevitability of his candidacy. As far as the Turaki Adamawa is concerned, being Nigeria’s president has been ordained from a time out of mind; even if fate keeps knocking him off the queue.

But not this time. Nominally, Peter Obi is contesting under the PDP but his integrity is such that everyone knows that he won’t bribe delegates for their votes in the primaries. Not with his own money. Not with a benefactor’s money. As it is, it appears that Peter Obi’s candidacy will not be tested at the general elections unless the PDP delegates realize that what is in the best interest of their party and that which is in the best interest of the Nigerian people completely overlaps.

SECOND LESSON – Ross Perot created an organizational format after the fact

There is a massive groundswell of popular support for Peter Obi’s candidacy based on his perceived integrity and probity that accrues from his successful tenure as the former governor of Anambra state. His announcement to run, like Perot’s announcement, was received as a challenge by all men and women of goodwill who wish this nation well. And they acted  – people started spaces on Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram. They started organizing.

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Unfortunately, there is no leadership and direction from the campaign core of Peter Obi.

To do list ahead of the campaign proper:

  • Pollsters should be conducting polls so that analyses can be based on fact
  • The volunteer administrators are needed to aggregate wards and LGAs with venues for meetings and outreach from the bottom out
  • A primary registration of the Peter Obi general election voters can be generated starting now
    (Please google the work Stacy Abraham @ Fair Fight Action, and LaTosha Brown @ Black Voters Matter did to elect 2 Democratic senators in Georgia in 2021. Again, preparation must precede opportunity.)
  • The geeks networking on computers can start linking now to build the vast facility that will engender a seamless flow of information and delegation of resources: Marketing
  • Create a ways and mean channel for the fund inflows. A number of unauthorized activity centres are raising money in Peter Obi’s name. People are anxious to be a part of the Peter Obi miracle. Get the information out there and start collecting their stipends.
  • Most importantly, the core campaign should create a communication space to direct authentic information flow: Branding

THIRD LESSON – The party machinery is overrated in the Social Media age

What is the Plan B?

Trump was an outsider in 2015. But when the GOP saw his poll numbers and Twitter influencer pull, they nominated him as presidential candidate. They acted on enlightened self-interest because they learned the Perot lesson well. The rest is history.

Will the PDP delegates act in enlightened self-interest and vote according to their conscience.

  1. Otherwise, the attorney friends of Peter Obi should tell us what INEC says about a 3rd Party or independent candidate run. Be prepared.

Peter Obi could be Nigeria’s first digital, database marketing and social media president.

  • Ik Ngene, Prime Business Africa’s Public Interest Analyst, lives in Canada
Albert Ngene
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