How the Obidients noise became counterproductive, By Pita Agbese
One of the most important takeaways of the recent presidential election in Nigeria was how the followers/supporters of Peter Obi, the Labour Party candidate, brow-beat supporters of other candidates into an uneasy silence. The Obidients were all over the place, shouting themselves hoarse about how Obi was the only candidate worth voting for. They depicted Obi and themselves as the only true lovers of Nigeria. Their biggest angst and vitriol were reserved for Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC. He was depicted as a senile and befuddled old drug lord who had no business seeking to govern Nigeria.
Anyone who voiced any support for Tinubu’s candidacy was lampooned as a champion of an alleged drug kingpin and as a hater of Nigeria. All manner of silly accusations were lobbed at anyone who dared criticize Obi who was presented as a superlative performer and the only one who would “rescue” Nigeria from the clutches of corrupt and incompetent old fools and criminal denizens.
The Obidients could not understand how anyone would see flaws in Obi’s character. Obi was even equated with Jesus Christ. Even when Obi dodged a question on his national security strategy by asserting that even if the questioner “put a gun” on Obi’s head, Obi would not publicly disclose his strategy, his supporters hailed that vapid answer by saying that Obi was smart not to have revealed his security strategy. Or when, in the same interview, Obi said that if he was elected, he would deal with the theft of crude oil by inviting illegal oil refiners to a talk and ask them what they needed his administration to do to legalize their criminality, the Obidients did not see that answer as a boneheaded idea. The Obidients were so sure that Obi would win that they promised the rest of us who were not persuaded by Obi’s candidacy that we would be “shocked” on election day.
Well, the election has come and gone. It seems the only people who suffered from the shock-therapy that the Obidients had promised us were the Obidients themselves. Obi, the Obidient Master, was himself shocked into tears.
For many of us who were not in the Obi concentration camp, the shock of the election was that we were not shocked at all. In a country known for its inability to generate enough electricity, a threat of being shocked has to be taken with levity. The noise of the Obidients could not generate enough electricity to shock the rest of us.
What went wrong? By brow-beating the opponents into silence, the Obidients began to operate in their own echo chambers. The only voices they heard were their own voices. They hauled epithets at those who dared to criticize Obi. They read impure and compromised motives on any opinion, not celebratory of Obi. They called us names. They accused of us being too old to understand what young Nigerians wanted. They arrogantly told us that they would “take [their] country back.”
Hearing the echoes of their own voices led the Obidients to exaggerating the level of support that Obi had. At the same time, being unable to hear voices other than their own, the Obidients underrated the level of support enjoyed by Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar of the PDP. On social media, where the Obidients were ensconced and self-righteously pontificating about the impending Obi revolution to create a “better Nigeria,” the Atikulators of four years ago were not in sight. Supporters of Tinubu were not bold enough to voice their support for their candidate.
I am sure that the second shocker to the Obidients must be the fact that Atiku came second in the presidential race. Listening only to themselves, the Obidients were desirous of change but unable to lift a finger to bring that change about. After all, Obi, as a superhero, was going to single-handedly create a better Nigeria. The Obidients pooh-poohed the necessity of building political structures to help galvanize support for their candidate. They boasted that they themselves were the political structures that Obi needed. Refusing to believe that Obi could do anything wrong, they saw no problem with Obi embracing obnoxious persons like Samuel Ortom of Benue State who ended up damaging the Obi brand of a squeaky clean politician who was intolerant of corruption and sleaze. They saw nothing wrong with Obi being lionized by Obasanjo, the architect and the builder of the Nigeria that Obi was going to demolish, to build his better Nigeria.
In another essay on the Obi candidacy, I will argue that contrary to the assertion that Obi has had a positive impact on Nigerian democracy, he has had a corrosive on our democracy. Even the much-talked claim that Obi brought millions of young voters who would otherwise have not bothered to cast their ballots may Turpin out to be an old wives’ tale.
Interestingly, Obi himself became one of the first victims of the corrosive effect of his candidacy as the decibel of the Obidients drowned out contrary voices leading to the simultaneous exaggeration of Obi’s support as well as the underplaying of Tinubu’s electoral value. In the end, the shock of the presidential election was that the shock turned into a dud.
-Agbese is a University Professor and public affairs analyst