<strong>AT DAGGERS DRAWN</strong>


·         Midweek spat between Labour Party’s Peter Obi and the federal government over alleged treason was unnecessary, writes Bolaji Adebiyi  


·         Hopes for the de-escalation of tension that arose from the declaration of All Progressives Congress Bola Tinubu as the winner of the 25 February presidential election dimmed on Wednesday as the federal government and Peter Obi of the Labour Party were at daggers drawn over the former’s allegation that the latter’s activities since the declaration of the poll’s results were becoming treasonable.  

·         “Obi and his vice [deputy], Datti Ahmed, cannot be threatening Nigerians that if the president-elect, Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), is sworn in on May 29, it will be the end of democracy in Nigeria,” Lai Mohammed, minister of Information, told foreign journalists firmly in Washington on Wednesday, explaining, “This is treason. You cannot be inviting insurrection, and this is what they are doing.”  

·         According to the minister, who said he was in the faraway capital of the United States to give the Nigerian government’s narrative of the foreign community and its media’s skewed understanding of the electoral outcome, the Labour Party’s candidate’s statement was that of a desperate person, claiming that Obi was not the democrat that he claimed to be. “A democrat should not believe in democracy only when he wins the election,” Mohammed said.  

·         Obviously taken aback, Obi responded robustly on the same day, saying he was not perturbed by the minister’s reckless use of the word ‘treason’ because, as far as he (Obi) was concerned, he had taken the legal route towards the recovery of his mandate and has remained committed to that. “Any person ‘seeing’ treason in a clear legal process should explain to Nigerians how opting for the tribunal by myself and my deputy amounts to treason,” he said in a statement.  

·         Coming at a time many Nigerians were looking out for feelers on the president-elect’s likely team as an indication of his policy thrust, and lessening of tension in the polity, the escalation of hostility was discomforting. No doubt, the federal government is the instigator of this renewed aggression by misrepresenting the situation on the ground.  

·         Though there is nothing wrong with the government trying to set the records straight, however, it would be inappropriate not only to mix up the facts but also to deploy extreme language in providing its own narratives. To be fair, despite Obi’s vociferous denunciation of the results, he has done what the Constitution and the law require of him. He has engaged a team of expensive learned silks to file his complaints with the election petitions tribunal. The tribunal is due to start listening to his case shortly.  

·         While it is true that Obi’s strident critique of the poll and his supporters’ noisy protests and street demonstrations wear the toga of an attempt to intimidate the polity and the judicial process, stretching that to amount to treason is an overkill, indicative of a surreptitious move to clamp down on the legitimate outpouring of anger.  

·         Yes, it would have been ideal for Obi to rein in his supporters and go back home after filing his dispute before the election petitions tribunal. But those who know how these things work in the nation’s political environment are aware that hangers-on tend to be more concerned about electoral defeats than the candidate itself due to disappointments over perceived missed opportunities. In the circumstances, therefore, demobilising such a charged army of adherents becomes extremely challenging.    

·         So, it ought to be understood that when such a disappointed and disoriented bunch of disgruntled elements gather at the front of the Defence Headquarters and call for an interim administration, treason is not yet deducible unless hard evidence is procured to show that they are not only working in concert with some military elements but also that they have actually procured the means of enforcing their demand.  

·         It is against this background that those who accused Mohammed of being flippant at his Washington outing might be on point. His otherwise brilliant presentation on the unmeritorious claim of Obi that he won the poll would have struck a more positive cord had he restrained his urge to call a dog a bad name in order to hang it. Or, is it not common sense, as he argued, that a person who came a distant third in a contest cannot sustain creditably a claim of triumph when it is obvious that the loser has no clear path to victory?  

·         Yet, if the information minister had been more specific, his message would have been clearer. For it was Obi’s deputy, Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, that actually walked on the precipice of treason. He, it was, that appeared on a national television network last week Wednesday to speak emotively, asking, threateningly, that President Muhammadu Buhari should not inaugurate Tinubu even as he called on the Chief Justice of Nigeria not to swear in the president-elect.  

·         Datti-Ahmed’s outburst has attracted the ire of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, which fined the network on which platform he appeared a whopping five million Naira. That punitive action by the regulatory authority has brought it into a frontal collision with the media, which charged it with excessive application of sanction.  

·         The LP vice-presidential candidate was also upbraided by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka. “I denounced the menacing utterances of a Vice-Presidential aspirant as unbecoming. It was a gladiatorial challenge directed at the judiciary and, by implication, the rest of the democratic polity,” he said in a terse statement on Tuesday.  

·         Not done, Soyinka expatiated his position on ARISE NEWS Channel on Wednesday, “I have never heard anyone threaten the judiciary on television the way Datti did. I heard the kind of menacing, blackmailing language as that to which we were treated by Datti. That kind of do-or-die attitude and provocation is not what I think we have all been struggling for.” For him the totality of Datti’s comment in the interview was unbecoming.  

·         With all the tongue-lashing at home, not even the Baba-Ahmed misconduct would have merited a charge of treason at the Washington round, which Obi thinks is a waste of taxpayers’ money. The important thing to note here though is the need for government officials not to worsen the already bad situation with their habitual overbearing tendency to kill a fly with a sledgehammer.  

·         Adebiyi, the managing editor of THISDAY Newspapers, writes from  


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