Why is former President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo sometimes seen as a convenient lightning rod for criticism each time he takes a position of public interest, and his critics often panic like a fox entering a chicken coop? Why does the Buhari government often see him as a straw that stirs their drink, a sore thumb, a kill-joy? These are just two of the questions I asked in this column few years ago. The questions remain as relevant today as they were then. Times are anything but normal in Nigeria, especially as the elections draw closer. Surely, love him or hate him, OBJ (as he is fondly called) for many Nigerians, has become like the charmed magic circle that never stops turning.
Some people have even said the man tolerates drama well, that he has developed a thick skin, unperturbed about whatever fiery darts that are thrown at him, and therefore, unafraid to walk alone in the dark. He seems to cherish these negative descriptions and hardly can do without enemies. Perhaps that mirrors his persona, and it sticks with him, regardless of what you think about him. This is who Obasanjo is: he is like an apple on a tree. He wears his heart on his sleeves. You can easily predict where he stands on any matter. Nothing of a surprise and nothing really to hide. You don’t need any lenses to see his character traits. In Pidgin English, OBJ no send oo. No matter how his fingernails may have been bitten to his skin, he has no regrets, no apologies for whatever decision or position he has taken.
Since Obasanjo publicly endorsed Mr Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party in a letter titled: “My Appeal to all Nigerians, particularly Young Nigerians”, his endorsement has continued to attract high-octaned reactions across the country, among political parties and politicians like claps of thunder. Many have hailed his decision, while some have condemned him. I don’t think anybody who pays attention to our politics should be surprised by what Obasanjo has done. The surprise is for those who pretend not to know the man. Could his critics have criticized him if he had endorsed their own presidential candidate? These are the reasons Obasanjo gave for endorsing Peter Obi as the best Presidential material for the February 25 poll. “None of the contestants is a saint, but when one compares their character, antecedents, their understanding, knowledge, discipline and the vitality that they can bring to bear and the great efforts required to stay focused on the job, particularly looking at where the country is today and with the experience on the job that I personally had, Peter Obi as a mentee has an edge”. Obasanjo also added that other important point to make about Peter Obi is that “he is a needle with thread attached to it from North and South and he may not be lost. He has people who can pull his ears, if and when necessary. Needless to say that he has a young and able running mate with a clean track record of achievement, both in public and private life”. What OBJ said about Peter Obi is a sort of testimonial to what the former Governor of Anambra state truly is. Obi does not need embellishment.
He is not a saint no doubt, but his character is beyond reproach, his competence, performance, vision, ability, and background are unquestionable. Was OBJ not spot-on when he described the present administration of Buhari as “hell on earth, stressful and eventful, like moving from frying pan to fire, and from mountaintop to the valley? Which is why he cautioned us all, “not to be fooled again”. As he told the youths, “it’s your time and your turn”.
Are you surprised that the presidency went to the gutters and called Obasanjo “morally squalid and frustrated”? For the Tinubu camp, OBJ’s endorsement of the Labour Party candidate “is worthless”. Tinubu also told party supporters in Benin City, Edo state capital last Thursday that Obasanjo was “jealous” of his achievements. Apparently in panic mood, Tinubu added, “the blind cannot lead the blind”, stressing incoherently, that the former President’s endorsement of Obi would not work or make any difference in the Presidential poll. Really? But why worry if it doesn’t matter? Why are Tinubu minders losing sleep if Obi endorsement counts for nothing? They know it does.
These are the facts. In 2015 presidential election, the same Obasanjo had endorsed Buhari, ahead of his own political godson, President Goodluck Jonathan. Asked by CNN anchor, Christine Amanpour what Obasanjo’s endorsement meant to him, Buhari responded thus: “Well, it will certainly bring more supporters to us and more confidence in our campaign going into the election for people still sitting on the fence”. Chief Obasanjo, Buhari told CNN, “is highly respected, and no serious issue that can be discussed [in Nigeria] without people seeking his (Obasanjo’s) opinion or listening to it “. And you asked, what has changed between then and now that has made Obasanjo “morally squalid and frustrated “.
On August 17, 2022, Tinubu led an entourage of APC chieftains, including his running mate, Kashim Shettima and Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, to Obasanjo’s residence in Abeokuta, Ogun state. It was for his support, Gbajabiamila told reporters afterwards, amid excitement. Would it have been “worthless”, if Obasanjo has endorsed Tinubu, not Peter Obi? Who says our politics is not a fun to follow? The truth is that, even though political endorsement is a personal recommendation, it does have an impact when it comes from an influential person. And indisputably, Obasanjo opinion carries political weight. Historians have traced the role and impact of high-profile endorsements in Presidential election back to the 1920 in the USA when Warren Harding was endorsed by movie stars that included Lilian Russell.
In 2008 U.S. presidential election, Oprah Winfrey was among hundreds of celebrities who endorsed Barack Obama. In 2016, Hillary Clinton was endorsed by scores of celebrities, including Britney Spears, basketball star LeBron James, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Snoopy Dogg, Beyonce. These celebrities have a combined Twitter followers of 195.6 million, as against 21 million followers of celebrities such as Dennis Rodman, Mike Tyson, Hulk Hogan, Sarah Palin and Chuck Norris who endorsed Donald Trump. However, the point here is that the final verdict lies with the voters. Nonetheless, as a student of Public Relations and Marketing, I know as a fact that marketers and Media Consultants to politicians spend ‘bullion’ vans of money to burnish the image of their clients in what is called “secondary brand association”, that is, transfering a celebrity opinion of a candidate, his emotional features to generate and convey positive meaning to the candidate he has so endorsed.
Make no mistake about it, both Tinubu and Atiku camps, are acutely aware that everybody contesting for public office, especially the presidency, will cherish endorsements coming from high-profile personalities like Obasanjo, IBB, Chief Edwin Clark, etc. They are pained by Obasanjo’s endorsement not really because it will guarantee Peter Obi’s victory, but Obi’s endorsement did something some people are not analysing its impact. Obasanjo’s appeal was particularly directed to the youths. You know why? The Youths and first-time voters make up 60 percent of the voting population in this election, and they form the bulk of the “Obidient Movement”, the propelling force of the Labour Party Presidential candidate.
I agree that Obasanjo has done wonderful things, as well as terrible things, and they all came out of the same person. But you cannot deny the fact that he had been there before, and knows what drives and influences our politics. Love him or hate him, he is a strong voice in our nation that you cannot ignore, even if you disagree with him and his message. That’s why those who are opposed to his endorsement of Peter Obi are rattled. I disagree with erudite lawyer and elder statesman, Chief Afe Babalola that the election will be determined by the candidate with the biggest war chest. While I am not dismissing the role of money as the lifeblood of politics, the February 25 Presidential election will be won, not by the smartest candidate with the heaviest war chest, but one with a better vision of Nigeria, one with character, integrity, trustworthiness and competence. That’s where Peter Obi has an edge over other contestants. However, it’s for Obi/Datti campaign and the Obidient Movement to get to the grassroots and sustain the present momentum. They should not rest on their oars.