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Peter Obi: Failed regionalising of a country’s beacon of hope

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While Sam Omatseye is taking a forceful vacation from the backlash he incurred from his recent baseless attack on the person and aspiration of the Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi, it became the turn of one Jesutega Onokpasa to take the increasingly toxic platform of The Nation newspaper to impugn the claims the Anambra State-born business king and politician is making to Nigeria’s highest political office.

Omatseye’s baleful “Obi-tuary” headline has lived its distasteful short life, interred, as it has been, in a hail of angry condemnations by peeved Nigerians, but it seems that The Nation, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s political propaganda machine, is devising new ways, even if devoid of value, of ridiculing the dreams and hopes Obi represents.

After reading the article by Onokpasa, titled, “What is Peter Obi really up to?”, I did a random check on Google and could not find anything useful about the writer except that he is a businessman based in Warri, Delta State. Other stuff about him is not worthy of even a cursory read. The article itself is also empty of facts, and it would seem the only thing that qualified it to be published and promoted lavishly on social media was its presentation of Obi in the negative.

Just before I dissect the points Onokpasa futilely attempted to advance, it is important to draw the attention of those who have been blowing the trumpets of Peter Obi of the sister landmines that have been laid for them, and which they are all, in righteous ignorance, stepping on.

I have been keenly observing the direction the campaigns for the 2023 elections is being cleverly twisted to take and can rightfully say that the number one objective of the All Progressives Congress, and of course, the strategists in the Tinubu campaign office, is to progressively condition the minds of Nigerians across all the regions that Obi is a mere regional tiger, with no footprints in other parts of the country.

Obi has been tagged a “closet IPOB”. In fact, Omatseye highlighted this in his now villainous intervention. All these are very intentional efforts to carve a centrifugal stature of Peter Obi. There have been many of such examples, and if history will serve as reference, this strategy is not new.

To ensure this comes to be, members of the Tinubu vuvuzela club have selectively been creating content designed to provoke Obi’s Igbo tribesmen into angry reactions. And once this happens, the next is the emergence of a horde of hired hands on the social media, pushing narratives of a caustic Igbo trolling a harmless and innocent Tinubu.

There have been many efforts in this regard. Luckily, it has not been as effective as the design intentions prescribed. But I am aware that, given the marathon that the campaigns will be ahead of 2023, this drive will be sustained to ensure that those who love Obi in other regions will be discouraged from voting because of the contrived regional candidature of a man whose footprints of philanthropy spread all across the country.

Obi has been tagged a “closet IPOB”. In fact, Omatseye highlighted this in his now villainous intervention. All these are very intentional efforts to carve a centrifugal stature of Obi. There have been many of such examples, and if history will serve as reference, this strategy is not new.

During the campaigns for the United States Presidency between 2018 and 2019, Donald Trump hired a digital agency, Cambridge Analytica to help him on the road to victory. Faced with the uphill task of upsetting a former Senator, White House veteran, former Secretary of State, and wife of a former President, Hilary Clinton, Trump knew he stood no chance in an open contest of ideas and issues. Rather than work on becoming versed in campaign rhetoric, Trump deployed his agency to be sending “disappearing emails” to most of Clinton’s supporters, emphasising how she was crooked and untrustworthy.

Cambridge Analytica was so good at this rogue job that people who hitherto supported Mrs. Clinton got so annoyed that they abstained from voting on election day. They could not bring themselves to go out and vote for Trump, but they could not also risk voting for Clinton, whom they just have been made to discover, was “crooked”.

The consequence was an electoral victory that almost cost America all of its credentials as the world’s beacon of democracy. While Clinton’s supporters refused to go and vote, Trump’s supporters voted in their numbers and that was how she lost many of her traditional bases, and the election.

Cambridge Analytica has long ceased its operations and entered bankruptcy, but its modus operandi are lessons that have apparently been learned by a few people in Nigeria as preparations for 2023 gathered steam quite early. For instance, while the people Obi is up against have been screaming themselves hoarse that his support remains only on social media, the same people are daily recruiting influencers with the sole objective to dilute the soaring influence of the Labour Party, singularly influenced by Obi’s personality. I am also aware of data mining efforts, not exactly similar to what Steve Bannon and his group did at Cambridge Analytica, but also not too different.

The idea is to increasingly tag Obi an Igbo irredentist, thereby luring away his supporters from other parts of Nigeria. Any person who has not seen this pattern is not following the election closely, reason the central command of Obi’s campaign, if there is any at the moment, should sieve the momentum so far generated before the soaring popularity of their candidate is manipulated to shrink to the dance of a few.

I had to do this because it was clear to me that this Onokpasa was also attempting to reinforce the same objective. There is nothing in his article that is new. But the guiding rule of all pernicious propaganda is to be pluralistically repetitive. If many people from different places appear to be echoing the same thing about a person or an issue, the chances of people believing it increases quite rapidly. Advertising works in much the same way. The more you repeat same advert, the more people remember it and that also has a direct correlation to increased patronage.

Onokpasa, I must say, was very pathetic in his very brief article, although I am sure he must be pleased with himself, having found his name in print. In one breath, he said he was sure Obi is qualified to be president, but in the same sentence, he claimed he did not know “how such an astonishing miracle could occur”. He went on to say rather strangely that Obi does not know how to work with people and has never been able to assert himself as a political leader.

This is a very horrible untruth. Obi won elections twice in Anambra State and was able to assert his policies of low-cost government on the people for eight years, emerging without any corruption blemish. Perhaps, Onokpasa’s idea of assertiveness is the type of highhandedness that has become the way of political leadership in Nigeria. That is not the Obi style, and I also believe that is the turn Nigeria is desperately in need of making

He also talked about how Obi was “supposed to be able to navigate the minefield of Nigerian politics when he failed so woefully in politically establishing himself in Anambra, just one of its 36 states?” This is very unfortunate. At a time Nigerians are speaking of increasing civility in its politicking, someone in Delta State is suggesting there are minefields that need navigating. If we are to play politics based on issues, what will make the political space so dangerous as to be compared to a field full of landmines?

I do not want to even respond to his claim that Obi could not command the loyalty of the legislators in the 21 Local Government Areas in Anambra State. It says a lot about Onokpasa’s orientation and suggests he is rooted in the maximum rulership kind of government that every Nigerian detests.

A governor is not supposed to command the loyalty of legislators. That is the definition of tyranny. Legislators are supposed to act as CHECKS on the governor, and any governor who seeks to control the parliament is deemed to be anti-people. The misrule we have witnessed in the past decades in Nigeria has been fueled by legislators being a pliable extension of the governor. We are at a point where an independent legislature should be pursued with collective national vigour. Loyal legislators are essentially not democratic. Does Onokpasa know this?

If Obi wins and becomes President of Nigeria, his good works will speak for him, if he does good, and it would not matter if he has one, two, three, or even no legislators in his party. He ruled Anambra State with a minority House of Assembly membership, but he was able to work with them, surviving two impeachment attempts and going ahead to build, through goodwill and people-oriented programmes, a base for his political party, the All Progressives Grand Alliance. The party he left behind in Anambra State has continued to dominate the government of the state ever since, producing two governments consecutively and going on to become the majority party, long after he was gone.

How else should a governor be assertive if not to build such a lasting legacy that, as far as political leadership is concerned, has consistently defeated the two behemoth parties in every election in the state?

It is true, like Onokpasa pointed out, that Obi has no politician of note in the southeast behind him. But this point that he raised in ignorance missed two very key facts. The first is that, the writer forgot that when he contested for the governorship of the state, Obi had no political leader in Anambra State behind him. He presented himself to the people, laid out his plans and programmes, and got the votes of the people. This was enough. His contract was with the people of the state and not with any comity of political godfathers. And that was why he never let the people of the state down throughout his tenure.

Secondly, Onokpasa thinks Obi is running for the Presidency of Anambra State. That is not correct, no matter how desperate the efforts to tag him as a regional champion. He is running for the presidency of Nigeria and does not need political leaders from any particular region to usher him into the arena. He is presenting himself as a Nigerian with solutions to our collective problems as a nation. He is not going to Abuja to solve Anambra State’s problems. He is going to solve the problems of Mustapha, Adebayo, Okechukwu, Nsikak, Amina, Terngu, Akenzua, Timi, Abdulmalik, Aisha, Useni, Nenritdung and, if I may add, Onokpasa.

This is the space Obi wants Nigerians to get him into, and the sooner this is realised, the easier this election will be for all of us.

Okuhu is a specialist brand critic and strategist, serial author, among other competencies. He is the founder/publisher of BRANDish.

This article was first published in https://ikemsjournal.com.ng/

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