For at least three reasons, I really wanted to stay away from the hoopla that attended Peoples Gazette’s publication of Peter Obi’s “religious war” (or “Thank you, Daddy”) phone conversation with Living Faith Church’s Pastor David Oyedepo.
One, there was nothing in the conversation that was surprising to me. I have repeatedly called attention to the unmistakably Christo-centric tenor of Peter Obi’s campaign, which his deluded defenders disingenuously deny even when undeniably overwhelming evidence unquestionably points to it.
Unlike many people, however, I don’t hold this against Obi. It was his tactical and strategic response to APC’s same-faith ticket and PDP’s nomination of a northern Muslim as its candidate after eight years of a northern Muslim presidency.
In a deeply fractured country like Nigeria, when a competitive electoral contest pits entrenched collective identities against each other, as I’ve pointed out several times, it’s inevitable that political gladiators will deploy religion and ethnicity as tools for mobilisation.
Second, I recognised that Obi’s “religious war” comment to Oyedepo was merely his attempt to cultivate what we call consubstantiality in rhetorical studies, that is, establishing mutual ideals, values, interests, and attitudinal dispositions with the person or people you’re speaking to. Every human being seeking to persuade does it.
Oyedepo is a militantly passionate anti-Muslim preacher (who once told congregants to never give alms to any “Malams by the roadside” who beg them “in the name of Allah”), so the best stratagem to achieve identification with such a person is to invoke the spectre of a “religious war” with Muslims. And it was very effective. “I believe that. I believe that. I believe that,” Oyedepo said in response to Obi’s claim that the 2023 presidential election was a “religious war.”
Although Obi deployed anti-Anglican bigotry (and often framed Chris Ngige as a “Yoruba man” in order to delegitimise him, which Okey Ndibe condemned in his columns) to gain and retain power when he was governor of Anambra State, I have not seen any credible evidence of Islamophobia against him.
Significantly, Obi is Igbo and Oyedepo is Yoruba (in common with Tinubu, Obi’s mortal opponent), so Christianity is the only obvious margin of overlap between their lived experiences. Obi exploited that overlap to establish kinship with Oyedepo, like any politician would do. I don’t have a problem with that.
Finally, I think Southern Nigerian Christian politicians suffer a linguistic disadvantage that their Hausaphone northern Muslim counterparts don’t when it comes to the exploitation of religion for politics. They discuss their strategies of religious mobilisation in English, Nigeria’s national language that most people have access to, but Hausaphone northern politicians discuss theirs in the Hausa language, which isn’t accessible to most people in the South.
Muslim Northern politicians have uttered similar or worse sentiments than Obi’s during political campaigns, but their verbal indiscretions often don’t leak out because of linguistic barriers. On the few occasions that they do (such as when Buhari exhorted Muslims to vote for only Muslim politicians who’re sympathetic to Sharia or when he said the dog and the baboon would be soaked in blood if the 2015 election was rigged), northern defenders muddy the waters by accusing southerners of mistranslation, of literalness, of incompetence in understanding interlingual equivalence between Hausa and English, etc.
And, frankly, how many people will come out smelling good if their private communications are made public? We all have what scholars call a duality of scripts. We sometimes say different things for public and private spaces, although I think publicising the private thoughts of politicians who’re seeking political offices that put them in positions to determine the destinies of millions of people is fair game.
So, I was prepared to let this slide until Obi issued a statement calling the leaked telephone conversation “fake” and threatening to “take appropriate legal actions against Peoples Gazette and others” for publishing the tape. (By the way, who are the “others”?)
That statement implies that he will sue the Peoples Gazette for libel. I am convinced that this is mere face-saving litigious bravado that will peter out quietly. In libel law, truth is the most important defense. The tape is NOT fake, so Obi can’t conceivably win a case against the Peoples Gazette.
First, on April 1st, the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ) fact-checked the audio tape and found that it is neither AI-generated nor altered by editing. “FIJ subjected the audio to a deepfake test using Deepware, an AI tool used to detect alterations in audios and videos,” the publication wrote. “Deepware’s deepfake detection technology ‘was designed to detect deepfake videos or, simply, any fake content in the areas of visual and audio communication.”
I also personally used multiple deepfake detection software and found no evidence that the audio was edited or generated by Artificial Intelligence.
Plus, Obi’s presidential campaign spokesperson by the name of Kenneth Okonkwo confirmed the authenticity of the tape and even retorted that “Honesty is the best policy” when he was unremittingly bullyragged by the headless mob of revoltingly primitive social media rapscallions who call themselves “Obidients.”
Obi’s close personal media aide by the name of Valentine Obienyem also all but confirmed the genuineness of the tape and only added the requisite fib that spokesmen of Nigerian politicians must tell by claiming that “They edited out the Muslim-Muslim ticket that led to the discussion, where Obi said that in a society like ours, religious balancing was a necessary consideration and that their recklessness had made Christians to assume it was a religious war.”
That’s the most persuasive admission yet that the tape is real. Obienyem gave an insider’s confirmation that the conversation did take place. Is he and Okonkwo the “others” that Obi threatened to sue alongside Peoples Gazette?
Well, Oyedepo himself hasn’t questioned the veracity of the tape. He only said Obi was one of several politicians who routinely call to seek his blessing and counsel and that he is not a political partisan. Maybe, he is also part of the “others” that Obi will sue. He basically confirmed the Peoples Gazette’s story.
More than that, though, Peoples Gazette gave Peter Obi and his aides ample pre-publication opportunities to respond to the tape before publishing it. The paper said it gave Obi and his aides 48 hours. They didn’t respond.
The paper reached out to Oyedepo via WhatsApp who asked to be sent the audio file. The paper did. Oyedepo read the WhatsApp message, but never responded 24 hours after the fact, probably because he remembered the conversation but couldn’t defend it with the resources of logic and reason.
So, what will Obi tell the courts if/when he sues Peoples Gazette “and others”? If he says the tape is fake and Peoples Gazette insists that it isn’t, the court will call IT experts to authenticate it. The result will embarrass Obi, diminish his credibility irretrievably, and herald the death knell of his budding national political career.
That’s why I think he is merely blustering—or that unscrupulous lawyers want to get his “shishi,” which he doesn’t like giving out to people. In law, if a piece of information causes you to suffer reputational damage or emotional anguish it isn’t libel if it is true. Irreproachable scientific proofs and circumstantial evidence conclusively show that the audio tape is real. Obi has no legal basis to seek redress from the Peoples Gazette.
If Obi had threatened to sue on the basis of the invasion of his privacy, that would have been a different matter altogether. Although Section 37 of the 1999 Constitution provides that, “The privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected,” there is not a sufficient body of judgements against privacy violations in Nigeria to determine how the courts will rule.
But privacy violation isn’t the basis of his threat because that would confirm that he did utter the words he is disclaiming. The basis for his litigious threat is the claim that “the audio call being circulated is fake” and that “At no time throughout the campaign and now did I ever say, think, or even imply that the 2023 election is, or was a religious war.”
That’s in the realm of libel. In light of watertight evidence that it is he who is lying, not the Peoples Gazette, let’s see if he’ll have the courage to follow through with his threat. I am salivating in anticipation.