Mr. Festus Keyamo, the spokesman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential campaign council, is about to introduce an interminable process in our presidential campaigns. He has just challenged the son of the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr Peter Obi, to organize a successful rally for his father in Anambra State as the son of Bola Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the APC, has done in Lagos State. The challenge is not just absurd, it is infantile through and through. It leaves every rational mind wondering whether the presidential contest is about Obi and Tinubu or their sons.
This set-up invokes compulsive questions. When did our political order get so debased that it can admit of such bland irrationality? When will some of these fellows who call themselves presidential spokesmen grow up? Must they descend to the pit of unreasonableness to justify their hire?
I hardly pay attention to inanities, believing as I do that sillines, in whatever variety it comes, should be underserving of the attention of the serious-minded. But, sometimes, idiotic tales have a way of dragging the unsuspecting out. Some people are just addicted to fishing in troubled waters. That is what some of these presidential spokesmen are doing. They have, in some cases, practically made themselves agents provocateurs. They hunt for trouble so as to be seen to be doing something for their paymasters.
The other day, it was Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, the man whose convoluted portfolio in the Tinubu campaign is still a subject of light-hearted jibes. Fani-Kayode had railed freely at Peter Obi for not responding to comments or remarks by Tinubu’s spokesmen. In his fury, Fani-Kayode is still asking Nigerians who the hell Peter Obi, a presidential candidate, is for refusing to join issues with spokesmen who are not not contesting any election. What cheekiness.
But as the likes of Fani-Kayode pine away for no good reason, Obi has repeatedly said that he will not talk to Nigerians by proxy. He will engage them directly. He wants the people to hear from him and assess him on the basis of who and what he is. With that, they will connect more with him and his message. They will also be in a position to hold him accountable in the future. That has been Obi’s approach. He wants other presidential candidates to do the same. In fact, he has been telling the people to reject any candidate who talks to them by proxy.
Of course, there is a whole world of sense in the Peter Obi approach. Those who aspire to lead the people should not sit askance. They should be involved. They have to make themselves part of the everyday conversation aimed at putting the country on the right track. Anybody who has a good idea to share with the people in this regard will be very glad and willing to do so. Knowledge goes with passion. Those who know are usually eager to connect with the right audience. But aloofness, the type that some of the presidential candidates are displaying , smacks of either lack of ideas or disdain for the people or a combination of the two. Refusal to engage the people may also be a complex syndrome. It betrays a certain lack or inadequacy on the part of those running away from their critical and mainstream audience. Such inadequacy necessarily leads to withdrawal or escapism. Unfortunately, those who aspire to pilot the country’s ship of state can ill afford this luxury.
Let us return briefly to Keyamo’s challenge. What was he thinking about when he decided to call out Obi’s son? Is the presidential contest now a family affair so much so that Obi’s son has to square up with Tinubu’s son? If we go by Keyamo’s approach, we will soon see Obi’s daughter slugging it out with Tinubu’s daughter. After that, Obi’s wife and Tinubu’s wife will enter the ring. The contest will even graduate beyond them. Obi’s kinsmen in Agulu, Anambra State, will have to face Tinubu’s kinsmen from – Keyamo should tell us. When we are done with that, Obi’s classmates from Christ the King College, Onitsha, will join issues with Tinubu’s classmates from – who will tell us? Then, of course, Obi’s course mates from the University of Nigeria will be called out to face Tinubu’s course mates from…until we know the university. The matching game will almost be interminable as the two candidates will be matched on everything and anything imaginable. Is that what Festus Keyamo is aiming at? Who sent him? Who commissioned him? Has he prepared his candidate for this rigorous process?
Rather than shooting from pillar to post, as some of the spokesmen are doing, they should stop to think of the challenges bedeviling the country. For a country that has become so badly fractured, what plans do the candidates have about getting Nigerians to begin to believe in their country again? How will they deal with the despondency in the land? A lot of Nigerians have given up on their country. What magic wand does each of the candidates have to restore the lost confidence of the people in their country? What about the hydra-headed problem of insecurity? What will those who aspire to lead the country do differently? The economy of the country has collapsed. The purchasing power of the naira has declined to an all-time low. These are just a few of the challenges facing the country. Our candidates should be put on the spot so much so that they cannot run away from these nagging issues.
Unfortunately, the so-called presidential spokesmen are shooting aimlessly at imaginary enemies. They have, by their approach, reduced the campaigns to an exercise in mudslinging. Somebody needs to tell these presidential spokesmen that the presidential contest is not about them. It is about the candidates. Each candidate owes the Nigerian people the responsibility to sell himself and his message. Nobody can do it on their behalf.
So far, Obi appears to be the only candidate that is selling his candidature at every turn. He does not shy away from anything or any situation. Some people call him a mobile billboard. He is found everywhere. That is why he is not bothered about the discriminatory restriction placed on campaign billboards in places like Lagos. Does a man who is boldly advertising himself and his message need the sheer symbolism represented by billboards? I do not think so.