It’s been a streak of endorsements for Peter Obi these past few days. To borrow a football expression, he has scored a hat-trick of endorsements from Obasanjo, Samuel Ortom, and Edwin Clark. It could have been two braces had the rumour of IBB’s endorsement turned out true. But we know in Nigerian politics, rumours more often than not turn out true. Hence, speculatively, he may have a fourth endorsement from IBB in the offing.
The endorsements started with Obasanjo’s new year 6-page letter addressed specifically to Nigerian youth. In it, he harangued about the degradation of the economic and material lives of his compatriots, especially within the past seven and a half years. In the quintessential style of a doyen politician, he avoided name calling but he left cues here and there for the reader.
This letter is unlike his past epistolary interventions post his tenure. It has less vile and judgement. The reason for this difference in tonality this time is the addressee. His past letters were addressed to his successors. But he chose to write to the youth this time. How avuncular of him. After talking about the need to take back the country and divest the mind from the tribalistic tendencies that have stopped the country from achieving its potential, he inconspicuously snuck in his imprimatur of Peter Obi’s candidacy in just two paragraphs. That’s after he charitably caveated that none of the contestants is a saint.
But since the letter’s publication, the reactions have been torrential. Supporters and critics of Obasanjo have distilled the entirety of the letter into the endorsement. If you were an OBIdient, of course, you’d celebrate the endorsement. If you were an APC or PDP supporter, you’d most likely give a straw man argument on how inconsequential the endorsement is. Like most reactions I’ve seen, you may go full ad hominem on Obasanjo and paint him as the worst villain in the history of gothic novels.
As someone who prefers to stay on the sidelines, it’s interesting watching the hypocrisy on all sides. For Peter Obi and his supporters, it’s interesting how they don’t seem aware of their cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, Peter Obi blames Nigeria’s woes on the present and previous administrations. Yet, he goes cap-in-hand to the Obasanjos, Babangidas, and other who is whos of Nigerian politics to seek their blessing. Obi is supposed to be a break from the norm. A vote for Obi is supposed to be a protest against the political establishment. But how do you speak of the evil the establishment has done yet, you actively seek their imprimatur?
To be fair, that’s sadly the nature of politics. To become president, you must dine with the devil to make a Faustian bargain with your integrity even though you may have the best intentions for the people you want to serve. It’s the yin and yang of politics. This may not apply if you want to take a much more idealistic and radical path like say Omoyele Sowore. But it doesn’t seem Nigeria is ready for that type of disruption yet. OBIdients despite all their disaffection with the system still have some faith the same system can champion a messiah like Peter Obi. But a little fraternizing to get a nod from the so-called ruiners of Nigeria doesn’t hurt their cause, I guess.
The letter was obviously not well received by APC. Like an entitled toddler, they threw tantrums over an endorsement that isn’t theirs. Like a jilted lover, they attacked Obasanjo with ad hominems. But all of that reeks of hypocrisy. Despite the bad blood they’ve had since 1999, Tinubu led a delegation in 2015 to Abeokuta seeking Obasanjo’s blessings for Buhari’s ambition. Just last August, the same Tinubu revisited Obasanjo in Abeokuta in the company of Femi Gbajabiamila, Bisi Akande, and Nuhu Ribadu. What has changed since the two visits and the new-year letter?
At a recent rally in Edo state, Tinubu using his trite food analogies called Obasanjo a wicked man. He added that whoever Obasanjo endorses is like poison. I find it absolutely fascinating how you can change from a villain to a hero and back to a villain in the narrative of someone depending on how useful or not you are to their vested interests. And how often do we see this play out in politics?
APC supporters have argued that Obasanjo’s endorsement is worthless anyway. Niyi Akinsiju, the spokesman of the APC-PCC said out of all the four living former military heads of state, Obasanjo is the only one who doesn’t behave like an elder statesman. For Adamu Garba, the endorsement is proof that Obasanjo is jealous of what Tinubu has built in 30 years. And on and on the attacks go. If you add attacks from the PDP camp, the list becomes inexhaustive.
APC folks have shown how hurt they are that the endorsement did not go their way, despite all they’ve said to make Obasanjo seem irrelevant. The sudden re-villainization of Obasanjo is testament to their bruised ego. All they can do is grab on straws and dart ad hominem attacks. Things they never would do had the Ebora Owu given their Jagaban his imprimatur.
Olayemi is the publisher of The Disaffected Magazine. He also hosts the Disaffected Nigerian Podcast. He enjoys everything from Evolutionary Psychology to the syncopations of Apala music to Fela’s discography. He fancies himself as an Amala enthusiast. His dream is to be a travel writer someday.