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(FRANK TALK) Interim National Government and The fear of Peter Obi

Steve Nwosu
I spent the bulk of the wee hours of this Wednesday surfing the Internet, Google, and all the other search engines I could remember. I aimed to pick out a quote, a statement, or just anything Mr. Peter Obi, candidate of the Labour Party, may have said and done to call for the touchy and vexatious Interim National Government.
But all I could come up with was his reaction to the wild allegations that have been making the round in the local news media, and mainly the social media, about the plot by some unnamed persons to foist an interim government in Nigeria to stop the inauguration of President-elect Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu on May 29, 2023. Wild allegations which the Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed went to give credence to in faraway Washington, United States of America. Obi had to react because the purveyors of this strange tale have left no one in doubt that the former Anambra State governor might know a thing or two about it.
All the internet, which is famed for never forgetting anything, could throw up was Obi’s statement distancing himself from any interim government plot. His words:
“It is most unfortunate that these consistent efforts to portray me quite contrary to what I am, and my core values, are coming from such high quarters. Minister Lai accusing me of stoking insurrection is totally malicious and fictitious…
“I have never discussed or encouraged anyone to undermine the Nigerian state; I have never sponsored or preached any action against the Nigerian state”.
Obi sees the ongoing ING drama as a deliberate and desperate effort to demarket him but regrets that the entire project is now backfiring on the country’s image abroad, given that the minister had to go all the way to the United States to make the strange allegations.
Ironically, the minister said the trip was to change the narrative and correct the wrong impression that was being created outside the country, by opposition elements who lost the 2023 presidential election.
It did not occur to the minister that the same countries he was expending scarce foreign exchange to go convince all had their representatives on the ground in Nigeria to observe the elections. They, therefore do not need any government officials coming to tell them what they saw for themselves. I can’t laugh! In fact, I have a headache in my stomach right now, and laughing would make it worse.
My Internet search was not in vain, however. It reminded me that it was Aare Afe Babalola, elder statesman, legal luminary, and founder of the hugely successful Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, who recently threw up the idea of an Interim National Government (ING).
Chief Babalola had suggested that the 2023 elections be suspended, while an interim government is enthroned for six months, during which time a new “People’s constitution which should provide for part-time legislators and the non-executive president“. But that was as far back as April 2022. Nobody called for his arrest.
Several months later, specifically, in January this year, the respected Senior Advocate of Nigeria would make another intervention, when he noted that the biggest spender, not the best candidate, would win the presidential election.
Speaking against the backdrop of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s endorsement of the candidacy of Peter Obi, Afe Babalola said: “It is not who can make a difference that will win this election, I repeat, it is not the person who has all it takes – age, health, education, and patriotism, that will win the election; the winner of this election I can bet it, is going to be the person who has made money in this country… It is the person who has the money that will win”.
Babalola went ahead to outline how and who should constitute such an interim government.
Of course, being a path the country had walked in the past – without very fond memories, several people kicked against the idea, just as several others backed it. But it was soon dismissed as the personal opinion of the grand old man. Again, there was no talk of treason and clandestine meetings by politicians and security agencies, or any call for anybody’s arrest.
The Presidency would further pour ice water on the idea of an ING with a week left to the January 25 presidential election. It came via a statement signed by President Muhammadu Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant Garba Shehu. “The title of the statement said it all: “Stop the Joke About Interim Government, Elections Will Hold”.
The statement even opened with a quote from Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s notorious chief propagandist; “repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”. It was the Presidency’s way of putting a lie to all the idle talk of a grand plot to foist an interim government on the country, which was beginning to garner some traction.
Bottom line: Even before the first ballot was cast in the last general elections, the talk of the interim government was already hanging thick in the air. We were already flirting with the dangerous idea long before Sen. Datti Baba-Ahmed, Peter Obi’s running mate, had that now ‘infamous’ Channels interview.
And although Baba-Ahmed never went beyond asking that Tinubu should not be sworn in, which is a scary reminder of our better-forgotten past, the lynch mob has homed in on him, deliberately (mis)interpreting whatever he was trying to say to mean a direct call for Interim Government. But Datti could be calling for something more sinister: a coup d’etat, for instance. Or something more desirable: Like an appeal to the authorities to expedite the judicial process at the election tribunals, to ensure that all the legal gymnastics are concluded, and judgement given, before the May 29 inauguration date. Of course, that is very possible. Kenya did it in two weeks last year. Before then, the judiciary in that East African country also annulled a previous presidential election before the inauguration and ordered a fresh ballot. Ghana completes the same cycle in 30 days. But Nigeria has spread her own to all of 240 days. And it appears, neither the government in power nor the lawyers of its president-elect are in any mood to finish the case a day earlier. Of course, they are not doing anything illegal. They’re only exploiting the loopholes in our very defective operative constitution.
And while they are at it, another plank of the war now is the battle for the minds of the tribunal judges, as well as the Supreme Court – but most importantly, the apex court.
It is not in doubt that the judgements of the Supreme Court are not usually based on law simplicita. On several occasions, other considerations like national security and stability of polity come into play too. It means that even the outcome of a heavily compromised election could be upheld if the Supreme Court feels that reversing it could lead to serious crises in the polity or even threaten the peace, unity, and stability of the country. Those in the know say this has been done at least once in Nigeria’s recent history. So, the aim now appears to be to do everything to impress upon their lordships that there is so much tension in the land that they would have to weigh in more on the side of dousing the tension than interpreting the law.
One is convinced the more along this line of reasoning when one takes a cursory look at the profiles of some of our new-found defenders of national stability, who are spinning and selling us this curious tale of ING plot.
But if the truth must be told, the last time we had an interim government in Nigeria, it was foisted by an outgoing regime. So, we can safely say if ever there is going to be another interim government, it would be between the APC presidency of Buhari and the military to cobble together. Peter Obi and Datti Baba-Ahmed do not figure in the equation. They control neither the Presidency nor the Army. It is, therefore, very curious how they’ve been made to become the centerpiece of an APC family problem.
So, it is either this ING allegation is a big hoax or, if there is indeed reason to believe it was in the offing, it was not coming from the direction of Peter Obi and Datti-Ahmed. The two may well be cannon fodder in the shadowboxing between the Tinubu camp in the APC and the vestiges of the Villa cabal said to still not be comfortable with the prospects of a Tinubu presidency.
I, therefore, understand the dilemma therein. Conscious of not being seen to be fighting the Presidency, the Tinubu camp still had to find a way to warn against a plan to abort his inauguration through an ING. As our elders say, it is only a tree that would learn about a plot to cut it down and still remain in the same place. Obi thus becomes a ready-fall guy to ventilate those fears (and send a message to Buhari)- especially given the out-of-the-blue petition the LP candidate filed against Asiwaju’s election.
Yes, the same people who were thumping their chests and sure-footedly telling everyone to go to court have suddenly gone into overdrive on Obi’s petition – as if PDP’s Atiku Abubakar did not also file a petition!
So, who is really plotting this Interim Government? If you asked me, my ready answer would be ‘NOBODY’! My gut instinct is that the army of partisans, both in government, the security, and the APC campaign team who are running hysterically about Peter Obi and ING probably know there is no such plot. They probably enacted possible scenarios of what could play out in the event of their claiming an unpopular victory and are now trying to preempt the opposition. Of course, it is also a legit political stunt aimed at distracting Peter Obi from focusing on his petition against the election. It is similar to the strategy that was also deployed in Lagos ahead of the governorship and state assembly elections. Given its poor showing in the presidential election in the state, the APC system silently unleashed all its hirelings on all social media platforms, with just two related narratives: 1. Igbos said Lagos is a no man’s land and, 2. Igbos want to take over Lagos (politically) and all Yoruba must rise to defend their land.
It did not matter that no Igbo politician, elite, academic, or a business person of any known address is on record to have said so in the last 50 years. It also mattered little that there was no Igbo on the ballot for the Lagos governorship. All were Yoruba. Similarly, every Yoruba who was not supporting APC suddenly became a “bastard”.
But it was a deliberate battle cry that was not only intended to rouse ethnic sentiments among the Yoruba but also to instill fear in other non-Yoruba voters to stay away from voting, for fear of coming to physical harm. For the threats were backed up with marauding thugs baying for blood.
The strategy worked to a large extent. Ironically, what those behind that campaign strategy saw as a gimmick to garner a few more votes, was no gimmick for the footsoldiers and an undiscerning mass of their people. They took it as gospel truth. They wouldn’t know that their party leaders and the supposedly ‘adversarial’ Igbo would be dining at the same table and sharing jokes a few hours later. The footsoldiers wouldn’t know that what happened at the polling booths, which may have cost the lives of some of their friends, and a handful of other men and women, was no more than a game to the party chiefs who sent them out to the battlefield. Today, the politicians having since taken away their prize, peace is yet to return to otherwise peacefully coexisting neighbours and neighbourhoods. And it might not be returning anytime soon.
The same scenario is also going to play out over this dangerous interim government game of death currently going on. While the Machiavellians behind the project might get what they want by scaremongering, heating the polity, and favorably swinging judgement to themselves, there is a huge price society is bound to pay. Several key institutions would be compromised even further. Some innocent persons would be wrongly implicated and consumed in the mix. And then one is bound to ask: how much price is really too much to pay for ambition?
Sometime last week, I, following a Facebook prompting, downloaded an App called REVIVE. And it introduced me to a whole new world. Although REVIVE may be an already-too-common ordinary app, it got me enthralled. Maybe because, as a latter-day immigrant into the cyber world, some of these little techs and tricks don’t come naturally to me, like is the case with my kids who are indigenous netizens.
I discovered that with REVIVE, I could pick out any old photo of mine, pick any song of my liking, in any language or genre, click a few buttons on the phone, and the photo comes alive, singing that chosen song in the exact voice of the original singer. The exact language.
I later learned that with yet another App, LIPSYNC, I could even get a better custom animation. But it gives an added advantage: I can record my voice, or any other person’s voice, press a few clicks, and it begins to lip-sync with any article or say anything in your exact voice or any voice you may have copied or pre-recorded. It means I could write out the lyrics of any Michael Jackson song (or even a French Ken Lazarus number) impose my own pre-recorded voice on it, and whoever listened to it would think it was me singing. I could impose Tinubu’s voice on a catholic missal and whoever listens to it would conclude that it’s Asiwaju saying Mass. That’s how far we’ve come with technology. It is also the reason we should take every purported voice recording with a pinch (if not a bowl) of salt – whether it is about Atiku and Special Purpose Vehicle, Kashim Shettima and Ibikunle Amosun, Wike and the soldiers, Fayose and the Army General, or even Peter Obi’s YES DADDY conversation with Bishop David Oyedepo. It is even more so when there’s politics in the mix. We shouldn’t run with it until we’ve subjected it to a forensic audit more thorough than even Adrian Forti’s.