Obi-Oyedepo leaked audio: A dangerous slope, By Senator Iroegbu

While the authenticity of the audio recording is in doubt and could have been edited and doctored, the conversation, however, is being used as a tool to discredit Obi and his efforts to continue challenging the electoral outcome...

By Senator Iroegbu

Over the weekend, a carefully choreographed propaganda war machine was unleashed, leading to supporters of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate and President-elect, Mr. Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT), finding their voices again on social media.

For a long time, APC knew that its choice of Muslim-Muslim ticket had riled up average Christians in Nigeria though some may not publicly admit it. While most Christians who look at people based on shared humanity, competence, principles, and ideologies, may not deeply have any issue with the controversial M-M ticket but will find the optics of it hard to ignore, especially in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-regional, and heterogeneous complex society like Nigeria. Deny it as much as you want, most Christians are angry at this choice, especially considering the highly sectional and clannish administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. The administration’s style has polarized Nigeria into an “us versus them” zero-sum game, typified by the “97 versus 5 percent” (wrong math) vote cast reward policy. Most Christians watched in disbelief as all the heads of the three arms of government and the ruling party were dominated by one-half of the two main religions in the country.

Naturally, someone must benefit from the fallout of such anger and indignation for an open assault on the sensibilities of the pluralist nature of our country, and here comes, Mr. Peter Obi, the Labour Party (LP) presidential candidate in the 2023 presidential election. Obi’s choice was not hard and it is easy to unwrap as a guess that Christians chose Obi and not the other way around because his nature and antecedents made it easy to support him. As a result, the candidate of the Labour Party emerged as a breath of fresh air whose message of transparency and accountability resonated with the youth population of the Millenials and Gen-Z under the umbrella of the Obidient Movement. Obi’s personae and timing of the candidacy were also suitable for people of the South East and South-South based on equity, fairness, and justice. His emergence was also championed by people with genuine interest in the unity and inclusivity in Nigeria’s polity from South West, North Central, and all over the country. In the end, Obi’s moral bank and backing were solid and remain despite the current hullabaloo about the leaked audio.

Armed with all these, Obi would have won resoundingly despite the alleged rigging, but he was checkmated by the system and power of incumbency, the counter-narrative from the Muslim north over the MM-ticket, the ethnic solidarity from the South West who voted ethnicity over religion, and other reasons like stomach infrastructure, party, and business loyalty, etc. Nevertheless, the ruling party, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and their supporters never gave Obi, LP, Obidient Movement, and their supporters a chance of success but were outrightly dismissed as “structureless noisemakers”, who won’t garner up to 2 million votes. But to their utter shock and disbelief, not only did he surpass the 2 million votes but won most states if the real results from Rivers State were to have been accounted for, he would have won with 13 states against Atiku’s 12 and Tinubu’s 11. His electoral success was symbolic in many ways as not only did he annihilate hitherto PDP strongholds in South East and South-South, he defeated the APC candidate in Lagos, the APC Head of Presidential Campaign Council in Plateau, APC Chairman in Nasarawa, and President Buhari’s polling unit in Aso Villa and Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Rattled but not removed, APC and some elements within PDP had changed tactics in post-election campaigns focused on demarketing and containment of Obi, LP, and Obidient Movement. They were frenzied in their reaction and became even more terrified and apprehensive when the resulting outcome as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was in doubt and controversial. So, a template to achieve the above two major aims (de-marketing and containment) was fashioned out, and some were applied immediately, while others were applied later on as events unfold.

The first step was to mock, demonize and demoralize the Obidient Movement to discourage LP/Obi-Datti from going to court given that they came a close third while applying other strategies. When this didn’t work, then the strategies were activated into a full propaganda war. The second step was to make Peter a sectional Igbo candidate and in a worst-case scenario, an IPOB sympathizer. If that didn’t work, then they cast him as a Christian candidate who divided the votes along religious lines and not the APC’s insensitive Muslim-Muslim ticket that Christians were naturally reacting to. Posts from APC and some PDP influencers like Reno Omokri and Deji Adeyanju are pointers to this. The third step was a do-or-die effort to secure Lagos using the above narrative, which succeeded resoundingly.

Buoyed by the outcome of the Lagos propaganda warfare but still roundly mauled by Obidients on social media, they activated the second step: choreographed and coordinated demarketing of Obi’s ethnic group, Igbo; his core support base, Obidient Movement/Youths, and his character. The well-coordinated events at the weekend including the so-called Eze Ndigbo whose past dalliance with APC in Lagos has been exposed, the so-called Obidient constituting nuisance on board Ibom Air, and the leaked but allegedly edited conversation with Pastor David Oyedepo.

It is no longer news that the audio conversation reportedly between Obi and Oyedepo, the founder of the Living Faith Church aka Winners Chapel has caused a stir online. This conversation is said to have taken place ahead of the February 25 presidential election and allegedly focused on the Christian voting community in Nigeria’s southwest and north-central regions.

While the authenticity of the audio recording is in doubt and could have been edited and doctored, the conversation, however, is being used as a tool to discredit Obi and his efforts to continue challenging the electoral outcome. It is important to note that even if the conversation is authentic, it should be viewed in its entirety and context.

As a response to the leaked audio, it is important to hear from both Mr. Obi and Pastor Oyedepo on the burning issue but before then, here are some posers. Firstly, it is not uncommon for politicians to appeal to specific voter groups during elections. This does not necessarily mean that they are engaging in a “religious war” or any form of sectarian politics. It is possible that the conversation was focused on how to better engage with voters from the Christian community in those regions.

Secondly, it is important to highlight the potential dangers of the government or ruling party abusing their powers to wiretap citizens. If this perchance turns out to be the case, then it can be viewed as a violation of individual privacy and a breach of trust. Such actions undermine the democratic process and could lead to a loss of faith in the electoral system.

It is important to note that wiretapping conversations without the consent of the parties involved are illegal and a violation of privacy. The fact that the conversation was leaked and possibly doctored to support a certain narrative only adds to the danger and malice behind this act. It is unacceptable for political parties and their supporters to resort to such tactics to discredit their opponents.

It is also worth noting that Obi and Oyedepo have yet to admit the authenticity of the leaked audio even though the latter has made indirect remarks about it, while the former’s spokespersons in the persons of Kenneth Okonkwo and Valentine Obienyem have partially admitted that such a conversation happened but not the way it was doctored to feed a narrative. This, therefore, calls for a thorough investigation into the matter. It is important that the truth behind the conversation is uncovered and those responsible for possible wiretapping and doctoring of the audio are held accountable for their actions.

In conclusion, the leaked audio and the propaganda war unleashed against Peter Obi and his supporters via wiretapping are dangerous omissions in the conversation that threatens the integrity of Nigeria’s democracy. It is important for all parties involved to respect the rule of law, democratic principles, and the right to privacy of individuals. We must strive to build a society where fair competition and healthy political discourse thrive, rather than resorting to underhanded tactics to gain an advantage.

In a nutshell, the leaked audio conversation should be viewed with caution and in context. While politicians should be held accountable for their actions and statements, they should not be subjected to character assassination or smear campaigns by government agents and ruling party snooping and wiretapping political opponents. It is also important to safeguard against the potential abuse of power by the government or ruling party.

This writer endeavors to refrain from engaging in discussions concerning ethnoreligious matters except when it relates to the issue of inclusion, equity, fairness, and justice, but acknowledges feeling uneasy due to the nature of the call and some of the remarks made in the audio, but the context and the trigger is quite understandable. In such contexts, it is important to consider the flow of discussions both before and after certain statements to understand the full narrative. What was the flow of the discussions; like what was said before and after the areas that were cut off by the perpetrators to support their narrative?

Going further, it is good to state that our support should be geared toward a Nigeria where Muslims, Christians, traditionalists, and nonconformists as well as the major and minor ethnic groups have a sense of belonging without feeling domineering or dominated. It’s also to be noted that balance-of-power and checks-and-balances are key ideals of democracy. It may sound Utopian but if one must aspire for perfection, such a person has to aim for excellence or a semblance of it–that is–you must aim for the stars if you intend to land on the moon. So, the basic instinct is to support any candidate and group championing or representing these ideals.

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