Saturday, 24 September 2022 20:19

[OPINION] Obi-Datti: Don’t lose your cool, stay presidential - Dan Onwukwe

There is a saying that in politics, no less than war, the lessons of the past campaign are prized beyond their application to the present one. Interpretation: Each political campaign, like every battle, is dependent upon the experience of past campaigns but is itself unique. In different ways, the ‘old brigade’ politicians in Nigeria have misled themselves in their vaulting and entitlement ambition, to paraphrase America’s 38th President, Gerald R. Ford, to think that the presidency is a prize to be won rather than a duty to be done.            

But unknown to them, Nigeria’s political architecture is changing thick and fast before their very eyes. Today, there’s a ‘new order’, new cadence and rhythm. The emergence of Mr Peter Obi in the 2023 Presidential race is driving our politics in astonishing manner, bringing hope and optimism in the horizon. The incontrovertible fact is that, Mr Obi, the Presidential candidate of the Labour Party, more than any other national figure, is defining the public agenda for the Presidential election scheduled to hold on February 25, 2023. He has been arguing – articulately and emphatically – the urgent need to fix a broken Nigeria, clean up the mess, cut the cost and size of governance. He has been marshaling out the challenges of immediate sort that confront us, and proffering solutions. He has urged the youths to ‘take back their country’. This is their time, their season.  Everywhere he goes – home and abroad- his message is resonating. In Canada, for instance, the oldest man there, a Nigerian, journeyed from faraway place, to see him. The old Daddy of 106 years old from the South-West Nigeria (who has lived the greater part of his life in Canada) said he wanted to have a feel of the man called Peter Obi. As he held his hand, tears of joy dropped. It was a moving scene.  Back in Nigeria, rallies after rallies have become common scenes to behold, on Obi’s behalf, without him giving a dime for the sponsors. They call themselves “Obidients”. They troop to the rallies, of their own volition, in rain and in sunshine. They see him Nigeria’s new hope.  It’s a measure of his frugality, not stinginess. As a critic of the present system in Nigeria that has left millions of Nigerians in extreme poverty and the country in the brink of collapse, Obi reminds everyone who cares to listen, that one of the aims of his struggle “is to dismantle the present structure of criminality” in Nigeria”. It’s not by any violent means, but through citizens’ active participation in the democratic process.          

The picture that emerges from the above is that Obi is perhaps the most formidable candidate, and the man to beat in the Presidential election. No surprise, attempts are ongoing to stop his soaring acceptance across the country. Only last Saturday, the police in Ebonyi state teargassed Obi supporters in the state capital, Abakiliki, chased some into a church. But the rally still took place. In Lagos, a group of lawyers is reported to have filed a suit at the Federal High Court to stop a rally in the state planned by Obi-Datti supporters on October 1. The lawyers, nine in number, have specifically asked the court to restrain Obi, his running mate and their royalists from holding the rally until the hearing and determination of the suit.  Who is afraid of Peter Obi? Many do. And for good reasons. With the Presidential election nearing, Obi’s opponents are seeing the writing on the wall. They are jittery by recent polls. For example, the result of opinion poll by NOI commissioned by Atedo Peterside’s ANAP Foundation showed a massive lead for the Labour Party Presidential candidate with 21 percent, while the APC candidate Bola Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar of the PDP tied on 13 percent, and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) with 3 percent. Similar poll conducted by Daily Trust newspaper showed even a more significant margin by Obi with 64 percent, Tinubu and Atiku at 16 and 14 percent, respectively. The two polls cut across gender, geographic location and age-group.  What does that tell you? It means that if the presidential election is held today, Peter Obi will be Nigeria’s President-elect.  This is the reason why the Tinubu herd dogs are attacking Obi. Though polls don’t have the final say in an election, they provide a vital tool for understanding the country. They can tell us a lot. According to Scott Keeter, Director of Survey Research at the Pew Research Centre, USA, in the absence of polls, we would just have public officials claiming whatever they want. And that’s why some spokespersons of the Tinubu-Shettima Campaign Organisation are in overdrive to malign the truth regarding Obi’s record of accomplishments.                

I thought they said their candidate would be ready to discuss issue-oriented campaigns. But, by the way, who are these attack dogs and their public records? They include Bayo Onanuga, the garrulous Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, enfant terrible Festus Keyamo and journeyman Femi Fani-kayode (aka FFK). They have few attributes in common: they tend to shoot from the hip, they are patronising and overtly arrogant, they talk fast and loose with the facts, they are masters of defining truth downwards. And when they see the truth, they maintain a mouse like silence. But, truth is the only tool that will bring positive change. Not with these hirelings. They have consistently shown an absence of leadership and an absence of a grasp of what Nigeria is today and how to rescue it. But my admonition to Obi-Datti is plain: Don’t lose your cool, stay presidential. Decency in political communication is key. Keep it clean and civil, don’t be desperate to demarket an opponent. Focus on issues; be persuaded by reason, not by tantrums. It doesn’t help. But can  the master of the attack dogs against Obi call his surrogates to order? He won’t because he’s against the wall.  Let’s look at some of the cheap lies against Obi. Oshiomhole, as characteristic of him, went off the handle last week when he alleged that Obi was soft on security when he was governor of Anambra state.  Where was the former Governor of Edo state when, on April 10, 2014, the then Inspector General of Police Abubakar Mohammad, declared Anambra under Obi’s leadership as the “safest state in five years”? The Nation newspaper owned by Tinubu gave a copious reportage of the IGP commendation on April 11, 2014. The newspaper garlanded Obi for a job well done on security matters.  Perhaps the worst of all lies ever told against Obi is that by Keyamo, when he alleged without any scintilla of evidence, that Obi was planning to stage “his own assassination”, and have “Labour Party boys dressed in APC caps and T-shirts to attack some Labour Party offices” across the country. How low can someone go to tell a lie? No surprise, Keyamo came under fire for this incendiary, hate comments on Obi. Well, for FFK, no one takes himself serious anymore. His comments no longer attract more than a pitcher of a warmspit. That’s how low his public rating has gone.                                              

All in all, amid unwarranted  verbal swipes, Obi-Datti campaign and its supporters should keep it clean, civil, affirmative and decent. To paraphrase Michelle Obama’s famous quote, ‘when they go low, we go high’. Their fusillade of attacks should be seen as the final lunges of desperate men. They have neither a “city boy” nor a golden boy” in the ring. They are only searching for smoking guns against Obi, but won’t find any to stick to his name. Rather than response to every herd attack, Obi-Datti campaign should stick to the high road and hope for the best. The good news is that Nigerian voters of today are smart enough than they were in 2015 and 2019. The right thing to do by the Obi-Datti campaign is to continue hammering the message on security, economy, power supply, infrastructure, cutting cost of governance, poverty reduction, job creation and production as a plank for economic growth and development. He should not go on the offensive and attack his opponents personally. The target of the opponents is to discredit Obi’s firm determination, competence and character. He should not lose his temper. He should focus on the issues he has set for his campaign. This is where he should draw the line: keep the contest on a high plane.

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