Many of my friends want Peter Obi, the Labour Party presidential candidate, to be Nigeria’s next president. This is for two reasons. One is for the sake of “representational justice”, i.e. the need to have someone from the Southeast as president in the interest of equity, fairness, and justice. Secondly, many believe that Peter Obi would transform governance and the economy. Without examining the second claim very well, we would be electing another Buhari.
Peter Obi is one of them, a paid-up member of the Nigerian political class. But at the same time, he isn’t an entrenched member of the class. He is also a serious businessman. That means something in terms of openness to change. He speaks in terms that suggest he could be a departure from the status quo. The Labour Party candidate talks about cutting waste and profligacy, converting our economy from wasteful consumption to production. Nigerians rightly sense that they have the opportunity to put someone different in Aso Rock. Not the usual oligarchs and plutocrats.
In the face of fervent expectations of candidate Peter Obi, a skeptic would ask “isn’t this exactly hat people thought of Buhari in 2015?”.
Peter Obi, the Labour Party candidate, shares more similarities with Buhari than many may be aware of or like to acknowledge. Obi seems to be generating even more euphoria than Buhari did in 2014/2015. Let’s compare the two politicians.
Buhari lacks empathy to the extent of being a sociopath. Obi cannot compete with him here. Obi would not, for instance, sit pretty in Aso Rock in starched agbada aloof when people are experiencing flooding, as Buhari has done. His record shows otherwise.
I can wager that Buhari has made zero effort at self-improvement in any area in the last 40 years. I doubt he has read one chapter of a book or attended any course much less administered one. Obi on the other hand is obviously is a hungry learner. Even though I haven’t looked inside his bags he travels, I know he is a voracious reader. This is reflected in the number and frequency of courses he has taken. You also have to concede to him that when criticised he listens and makes adjustments. Buhari takes criticism personal and gets offended.
But Obi is another Buhari in at least 3 ways. He is increasingly coming across as someone who is out of his depths and unprepared for the job. His supporters are merely projecting themselves on him and assuming what he has not committed to doing. They are filling in the blanks for him. The Labour Party candidate has an army of defenders of just anything he does. They do not care how absurd defending Obi makes them look.
Obi’s website which he just recently announced with fanfare has no meaningful content. It mainly contains his and his deputy’s elaborate biographies. It also has the newsfeed from his campaign Twitter account and some forms for volunteers to fill out.
A prepared candidate ought to have had a website months ago even before party primaries. Such a website would highlight the key national issues Peter Obi cares about and proposed solutions. Having taken so long and then presenting a vacuous website shows but one thing. A troubling lack of preparation.
I first noticed this red flag of unpreparedness when he picked his vice presidential nominee at the 11th hour. Why at the 11th hour when he has been planning to be president for years now? The candidate he first picked turned out to be a placeholder to beat the deadline to name a VP for the Labour Party. He was actually still looking for the real one. I thought even if a placeholder had to be picked to allow more deliberation, Obi should have a vast network of politicians from the Northwest to consider. Instead, he picked his placeholder VP from the Southwest. This portrayed that his network and spread are limited.
Then came the present issue of his Presidential Campaign Council. It took forever to come up with one. The eventual list was an anticlimax. Majeed Dahiru who was appointed Chief Analyst, Policy and Strategy wrote to decline his appointment. It took so long to announce the Presidential Campaign Council yet the diligence to sort out everything with everyone was still lacking. Some people appeared more than once on the list with some names wrongly spelled.
Then there’s John Enenche, a retired major-general who until recently was Defence Spokesman to the Nigerian Army. He turned up on the Presidential Campaign Council. Here is a man who routinely assaulted facts and insulted people’s sensibilities. He insisted that nothing happened at Lekki tollgate where the security forces had killed scores of #EndSARS protesters. Enenche said the images of victims were ‘Photoshopped’.
Similar things happened when Buhari became President in 2015. It took him forever to come up with a list of ministers. Everybody was looking forward to the A-list of saints and technocrats he was cooking for 6 months. Buhari’s list of ministers turned out to be the same recycled politicians and people with confirmed criminal records. This made everyone wonder why it took so long to come up with such a list when he could just have released a list of ministers from any period in the country’s political history.
The Walking Manifesto
Obi has no campaign manifesto in the same manner that Buhari had none. Everything we heard came from the APC or some campaign group. Buhari dishonestly kept quiet about the policies and ideas being canvassed on his behalf. When he got into Aso Rock, he was quick to deny and disown the various manifestos.
Up to now, Obi has no manifesto. No policy documents at all. He says his record in Anambra is all we need to know what he would do in office, and we should take his word for it! That his media interviews and public speeches suffice. He even said in his penultimate interview on Arise News that the United Kingdom has no written constitution in defence of not having a manifesto.
In the same interview, when asked how he would clear the gridlock around the Apapa port, he said being an importer himself and having suffered from the gridlock, he has the determination clear it. There were no ideas or details about the “how”. He again cited his economic record as Anambra governor as evidence of his ability to sort out the chaos around Nigeria’s dominant seaport. He forgets that Nigeria is not Anambra.
Buhari’s solution to solving the electricity crisis was his body language (of ‘integrity’). And indeed as soon as he was sworn in, we started seeing images of frozen bottles from freezers depicting how the electricity companies supplied so much electricity to Nigerian homes. Bottles kept in freezers for chilling were freezing and breaking.
Today, however, there’s less electricity available in homes to consume than there was when Buhari came in with his ‘integrity’ and body language. Just in the last 8 months, the grid has collapsed at least 9 times. The country is often left in pitch darkness. That’s what body language without a well-thought-out policy roadmap, properly articulated and documented, as well as a structural and institutional approach to solving problems and resolving issues does. This is what Peter Obi wants us to rely on again: his body language, media interviews, and track record in Anambra!
One of his campaign spokespersons said Obi is the manifesto, a ‘walking manifesto’. To which I asked, ‘How can one print out this manifesto to read, study, interrogate, make annotations, and ask questions if any arise?’ How can a person be running for office with no written documents save what they have said orally in the media?
Supporters projecting themselves on their candidate
Like Buhari’s in 2014 and 2015, Peter Obi’s supporters have created numerous images in their heads of what he would do. They yet have nothing concrete written down to interrogate and look forward to. Nothing to hold their candidate accountable for.
When a politician makes no firm, verifiable commitments they owe you nothing. The images you create in your head are the lies you tell yourself. Not those the politician told you.
An army of defenders and excuse makers
The issue of Peter Obi using ethnic slurs on someone a decade ago when he was governor arose and instead of condemning it, a supporter said it was ‘normal’ in politics! He also excused his poor treatment of workers on strike in his state. He downplayed aspects that couldn’t be denied or excused. On the terrible idea of having Enenche on Obi’s team, someone said what Enenche said about the Lekki tollgate killings was part of his job.
But the same people condemn Buhari’s arrogant, insolent spokespersons, as though they are not “doing their job”. The individual even compared the gentleman’s role to that of a newscaster who only reads a script given to him or her!
The point the person missed is that this Enenche was the Head of Defense Communications. He was the person in charge of the news, overseeing the editor, producer, and the entire crew. Eneche was responsible for what made it to the news and how it is rendered. The army’s chief spokesman was not a newscaster. In any case, assuming his bosses ordered him to insult people’s sensibilities with such crass utterances, even military people are responsible for the orders they obey. The civilised world settled at the Nuremberg Trials almost 20 years before Enenche was born and almost 40 years before he joined the army.
This person also attempted to absolve Obi of poor judgment in such a critical decision, of having Enenche on the list and of not reviewing it critically before release. That is how supporters (who have graduated to worshippers) have absolved Buhari of every single thing no matter how obvious his failures have been.
In 2015, the social and literary critic, Ikhide Roland Ikheloa, shouted himself hoarse from the rooftops that Nigerians were about to make the greatest mistake of their lives by voting for Buhari. Nobody listened. The 2015 race was a tough and emotional one. The atmosphere was charged and intense. The divide was steep.
Those for President Jonathan saw nothing with his performance and wondered why they shouldn’t reward him with another term. They saw candidate Buhari as an evil impostor. Those supporting candidate Buhari only saw integrity, competence, uprightness, frugality, courage, and change. They wondered how anyone who wanted Nigeria to survive was even considering voting for the weak, corrupt, and ineffectual Jonathan.
Pa Ikhide insisted that Jonathan was unworthy to be president. But rather than vote for Buhari, he would close his eyes and vote for GEJ then go to the toilet and vomit! Buhari was an absolute no no. He would destroy Nigeria. Ikhide said that he was an adult the first time Buhari was Head of State and can never forget the damage he did to Nigeria. He was an outright disaster.
Had those who voted for Buhari listened, they would have at least had a better appreciation of whom they were voting for and what they were getting themselves into. And if they weighed the evidence but still decided to vote for Buhari, the fact that they objectively considered the case against him would have prepared them for the outcome. His performance would not have shocked and disappointed them.
If Peter Obi emerges president, there will be those who would rate his performance very high regardless of the reality. Some, like the BMC (Buhari Media Centre) and its variants, will defend anything and gaslight people. These Nigerians will not act as vigilant citizens demanding and ensuring good governance, holding the government to the highest standards possible. They wouldn’t be acting out of genuine ignorance but out of wilful self-deceit.