town hall

2023: How Long Can This Rock Stand? 

“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” – Matthew 16:18. 

The excerpt above is well known by Christians and is known by non-Christians who have come across it in one way or another. For those who do not know about it, those were the words of Jesus Christ to one of his disciples, Peter, in reaction to a satisfactory response to a question asked by Jesus. Jesus had asked his disciples about what the people were saying about him, and who the people were saying he was. Having been with Jesus for a while, and regarded as his disciples, you might expect that his disciples would know him, in the real sense of the word, but Jesus didn’t assume they knew him. After they told him who the people were saying he was (one of the prophets), Jesus asked his disciples who they [the disciples] thought he was. In response, Peter said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Pleased with the response, Jesus commended Peter, and the excerpt above was a part of that commendation. 

The Presidential Town Hall organized by Arise TV on Sunday, November 7, 2022, was another opportunity for Nigerians to assess the candidates seeking their vote to be president in the 2023 general elections. As many anticipated, the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu was absent. Tinubu’s continuous absence from events such as this, where he should engage prospective voters on his plans, has been of concern to observers but that is not the purpose of this piece. The event, like others, exposed Nigeria’s unenviable fate in the 2023 general elections, as it was not better than previous ones in the area of candidates’ responses to questions on the many challenges in the country and their ideas on how to address them. It is no wonder that in the following week, the Nigerian political discourse space hardly discussed the main issues of the town hall. Instead, discussions were about the needless spat between the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, and the spokesperson for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) presidential campaign, Dino Melaye. 

That needless spat was what triggered the allusion to the exchange between Jesus Christ and his disciple, Simon Peter, which the excerpt above highlights. Supporters of the Labour Party candidate have tagged themselves ‘Obidients’, in reference to their candidate’s last name, Obi. While a person in the audience stood to put a question to the presidential candidates during the town hall, Dino Melaye was heard making a mischievous jest of the Obidients saying, “nawa o, Obi people”, as he assumed the person was an Obidient. Besides the mischief that is characteristic of Nigerian politicians, Melaye’s comment showed his discomfort with the growing influence of the Obidients, and that is a headache shared by stakeholders in the ruling APC and the main opposition PDP. The main reason for this piece is, however, the needless emotional response from the Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi. 

“You see what is happening here? I won’t take this, he called it obi people. This is an ANPP person and he called him obi people….. Stop that, I’ve taken a lot from you here. Why are you always trolling me?”, Peter Obi said in response, with his face red with emotion. It is not clear what the Labour Party candidate intended to achieve with that response, or why he thought it was even needed. Even if Melaye was trolling Obi, which can be debated and argued as not the case, since Obi was not addressed directly, that response was pointless and immature, especially as it was emotion-filled. It begs the question of whether Peter Obi really understands the gravity of the task ahead. And it is even more funny, given the fact that Obi has been a state governor for two terms, an experience that should have exposed him to the pleasant and unpleasant parts of the political phenomenon. It is difficult to imagine that Obi was always serenaded while he was governor, especially in a country like Nigeria where politicians’ stock-in-trade is mischief. 

Bereft of ideas and nation-builders, Nigeria’s political space is one that is unattractive and oftentimes characterized by sabotage in various ways, including jestful comments aimed at triggering opponents. Obi must have had his share of this while he was governor of Anambra State. But no matter how wild the antics of his opponents in Anambra were, they cannot be compared to what a Nigerian president – even the most intolerant one – would face. And the only thing separating a presidential candidate from the presidential office is time. There are three months between now and the presidential election, and in that period there would be many attempts by opponents to sabotage Obi and his bid for Nigeria’s top job. If the election goes his way, there would be even more attempts by opponents to sabotage his government. Melaye’s antics during the Arise TV town hall would be child’s play, but if Obi cannot handle something as little and insignificant as that, how would he deal with worse stones that are bound to be thrown at him in the days and months ahead? 

Obi may have less baggage in comparison to his rivals in the race for Nigeria’s presidency, and some parts of his record in public office may be better than his peers, but he has so far been less than impressive in engaging issues, especially in answering questions. Speeches are an important part of leadership, and speeches have made and marred leaders. This is an area where the Nigerian political space is greatly lacking, and Peter Obi – like others – has so far been lacking in eloquence. But while this may be overlooked sometimes – yes, there will be times when poor speech will not be forgiven by the public – Obi must learn to separate relevant things from the irrelevant ones. Besides jestful clowns, there would be people who would really tempt his patience but would not be as relevant as deserving a response, at least not an emotional one like the one he gave to Melaye. 

When Jesus made that comment to Simon Peter, he was convinced that Peter was a worthy foundation that his church could be built. A good foundation must have the capacity to withstand a lot of potential invaders, or else it would give way and collapse the structure built on it, and may leave a lot of casualties in its wake. In verse 19 of that Matthew chapter 16, Jesus went further, saying to Peter, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” We must reiterate that this was after the foundation had been certified to be worthy of the potential structure [the church]. In the race to the 2023 presidential election, Nigeria’s Peter [Obi] still has a lot of convincing to do if he must be handed the key to Aso Rock, Nigeria’s presidential seat.

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