Exclusive: Peter Obi pleads with Bishop Oyedepo to help him win the 2023 “religious battle” in a last-ditch effort to get votes

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The news room learned via a leaked discussion that Peter Gregory Obi, a key presidential candidate, rallied Christian leaders to intensify a sectarian pitch to push him over the line as Nigerians prepared to cast their votes and political tension heightened.

The Labour Party’s standard-bearer, Mr. Obi, saw the election on February 25, 2023, as a fight to defend Christians’ rights in the nation, launching his campaign out of a polarized cycle sparked by Bola Tinubu’s nomination of Muslims and Muslims with a focus on religion.
Messrs. Obi, Tinubu, and Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president who ran again on the platform of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, were the three candidates who dominated the election.

On the day of the election, Mr. Obi, 61, called Bishop David Oyedepo of Living Faith Church (Winners’ Chapel) and begged him to deliver messages to Christians throughout the South-West as well as those in core states like Kwara, Kogi, and Niger.

“Daddy, I need you to speak to your people in the South-West and Kwara, the Christians in the South-West and Kwara,” Mr Obi said in the audio obtained by The Gazette. “This is a religious war.”

“I believe that, I believe that, I believe that,” Mr Oyedepo said.

“Like I keep saying: if this works, you people will never regret the support,” Mr Obi said with candour, adding that Christians in places like Kogi, Kwara and Niger have been difficult to penetrate.

“We look forward to God’s intervention,” Mr Oyedepo said, promising to circulate more messages to Christians on Mr Obi’s behalf.

Mr. Obi ignored The Gazette’s calls and messages left on his two available phone lines for two days. When The Gazette addressed an inquiry to them with the complete tape, his media advisors and loyalists, including Akin Osuntokun, Valentine Obienyem, and Mike Ifedi, all declined to comment.

Mr. Ifedi claimed he was attempting to talk to Mr. Obi about the tape in order to get a reasonable response, but his message did not arrive before the decision was made to publish this story.

Mr. Oyedepo requested that The Gazette send him a question over WhatsApp, but he withheld his comments for more than a day after receiving the messages and the audio.

‘United and Indivisble Nigeria’

Although religion has traditionally played a significant role in Nigerian politics, the lengthy talk undermined Mr. Obi’s public claims that his campaign had no religious overtones.

He participated in various discussions aimed at preserving peace and stability in the nation and was viewed as a formidable candidate to become the first Igbo president of Nigeria since the Civil War.

“No one should ascribe ethnic or religious colouration to the OBIdient Movement. Nigeria is one and my ambition is to become the President of a United and Indivisible Nigeria,” Mr Obi said in a statement signed by him on March 26, a month after the election, as he continued his legal push to reclaim what he described as a stolen mandate.

Mr. Obi, whose ambition inspired a historically high level of youth participation in Nigeria’s recent election, faced a barrage of political criticism on the purportedly ethno-religious undertones of his campaign.

The governor of Sokoto, Aminu Tambuwal, who represents the Muslim-dominated northwest flank, was one of many who criticized Mr. Obi’s campaign for missing participation from all ethnic groups.

Mr. Obi claimed that the goal of his campaign was to free Nigerians from the control of Mr. Tinubu’s APC, which has dominated the nation since 2015 amidst severe underdevelopment and widespread poverty.

Religion, competence

Analysts believed that the 2023 election to succeed Muhammadu Buhari will be the first since the nation’s restoration to civil rule in 1999 to include three main candidates with nearly equal chances of winning.

But those components were not present when the season began. Up until May 2022, Mr. Obi was running for office under the PDP, but it became apparent to him that he would not be successful the party’s admission. He immediately received the party’s ticket after joining the Labor Party.

Even then, according to an analyst, political watchers found Mr. Obi’s candidacy to be somewhat unappealing because they perceived Labour as being too extreme and unviable for a national campaign. Prior to Mr. Obi’s participation, Labour had only produced one governor in its nearly two-decade history.

“No political heavyweights followed Peter Obi to Labour,” political analyst Omodele Odunfa said. “That was why many people, including myself admittedly, did not take him seriously at first.”

Mr Odunfa claimed that Mr Obi’s aspiration became tempting to Christians after Mr Tinubu chose Kashim Shettima, a fellow Muslim, as his running mate.

“Christians rightly saw Bola Tinubu’s action as a holy war against their faith and decided to rally behind a ticket they could relate with ideologically,” he added.

Despite the fact that the PDP ticket included both Mr Abubakar, a Muslim, and Ifeanyi Okowa, a Christian, some Christians believed Mr Obi would better represent their interests as president since it would meet the call for a southern Christian president to succeed a northern Muslim leader.

Mr Obi, a Catholic, quickly united all Christian denominations in opposition to Mr Tinubu’s Muslim-Muslim ticket, which he described as politically expedient and administratively sensible.

“Tinubu said he picked because Shettima because of competence,” Mr Odunfa said. “But we all knew it was simply because he knew it would be his surest path to victory.”

Mr Odunfa said it was Mr Tinubu who started the 2023 election along religious lines.

“But for Bola Tinubu’s divisive move, the way Christians were fired up for Peter Obi might have been somewhat neutralised,” he added.

Following his election as president-elect, Mr Tinubu promised to lead an inclusive government in which all Nigerians would be treated equally, as mandated by the country’s Constitution.

On the pre-election call, Mr Oyedepo stated that Mr Obi’s appeal was greater than that of his challengers, who he claimed had bad health and ill-gotten wealth.

“A sickening nation like Nigeria will require a strong and healthy personality,” Mr Obi said. “Anyone whose source of wealth cannot be verified should not have access to governance, particularly in a dying economy like Nigeria.”

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