By Etim Etim
Peter Obi’s 12-minute interview on CNN last Friday has triggered quite an interesting debate on many social media platforms.
His supporters think that Obi not only gave a good account of himself, but but stamped his authority as the nation’s leading presidential candidate.
Coming just two days after the NOI poll put him as the front runner in the race, the CNN interview was part of a well-planned sequence of events and positive media exposure for him.
His trips across major cities in the US and Europe the weeks before also received positive reviews across the country. A day or so after Obi’s CNN appearance, a picture of his All Progressives Congress (APC) contemporary, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, dozing off at the palace of the Emir of Gombe as the Senate President was speaking, turned up on social media.
The contrast between the two men couldn’t have been starker and the underlying message was unmistaken to discerning Nigerians at home and around the world.
Nigerians have been unsparing in their comments and criticisms. Somebody wrote: “If this man is elected, his wife and children will be running the government, while he spends permanent time in foreign hospitals.”
Since he launched his bid earlier in the year, Obi has given several TV interviews and attended many public events within and outside the country, where, often, he speaks extempore.
We now know that Obi, and to some extent Atiku Abubarkar, his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) opposite number, are very comfortable before the television cameras.
I understand that Atiku has, since the last election, brushed up himself with a series of courses in public speaking and grooming. A master’s degree has also been added to his academic cupboard.
In the years after he left Government House in Awka, Obi has attended a few executive programmes in some business schools in Nigeria and abroad to update his knowledge.
He is fairly eloquent, fluent and well-spoken. Although he may not always appear well-rehearsed, he does not forget his words midway in speech like his APC opponent.
Tinubu’s refusal to attend the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Conference in August, preferring to send his poorly-dressed running mate instead, triggered further warnings about his disabilities.
Nigerians have been considerably alarmed by the shaking of his left hand, wetting of his pants, wobbly gaits and long drawls in his speeches. Nonetheless, Tinubu’s refusal to grant a live TV interview, even to his own TVC station, since his nomination as a presidential candidate three months ago, is a clear pointer to his impairments.
Critics say the man is just too physically and mentally unfit to lead this vast and complex country. I recall that even Candidate Muhammadu Buhari’s symptoms weren’t this visible and obvious when we elected him in 2015, yet he crumbled barely a year in office, and had to spend months in a London hospital.
President Yar’Adaua’s ill-health was well known to many even before he was elected in 2007. He braved it as much as he could, showing rare courage to make public the ailment he was battling with. But the pressures of the office exacerbated his condition and, unfortunately, he died after a lengthy hospitalization three years after election. Yet, even after his demise, Nigerians were still showed empathy to his fate as a human condition. The weight of the official responsibility as the President is too enormous for a sickly person, or one with a hidden health condition. He will spend more time in hospitals than in office.
As a country, Nigeria is too sick to be led by a sick man. The country requires full attention, commitment and dedication from the leader. There are too many people who will take advantage of the absence of the President to do us harm. We saw it during Yar’Adua administration. We are witnesses to what happened in the early days of the current president. Nobody want those experiences to happen again. Why then should we be stuck with a sickly old man when the country is filled with millions healthy, capable and competent men and women? Are we cursed?
To divert attention from his woes, Tinubu’s supporters have been talking down on Peter Obi’s media appearances. They claim that he does not come well prepared enough. They accuse hi of always reeling out unverifiable statistics. To an extent, I agree. Obi needs some coaching in handling the press. He has to hire experts to design his economic blueprints and distill out memorable talking points for him.
Obi just has to do away with those bogus statistics. Nigerians are too sophisticated to be fooled with constant reference to China. But in terms of articulation, erudition, elocution and off-the-cuff remarks, Peter Obi is far ahead of Bola Tinubu. If you do not believe me, send the two of them to a debate, or get Tinubu to grant a live TV interview. Some Nigerians are ready to bet anything to support their position that Tinubu will not be available to square up against Obi in the event of any Presidential debate. In fact, to remove Al doubts, they have thrown a challenge to say it is now Tinubu’s turn to do a live TV interview that lasts 10 minutes or more. “Iwo lo kan”, Sir.
Etim, a Communications Consultant, lives in Abuja
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