The Presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, has maintained a curious silence as his supporters, widely regarded as ‘Obidients’, have for days subjected the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, to various forms of attacks and online ridicule for debunking previous reports of endorsing the embattled candidate.
The Sultan, who stands as the head of Nigeria’s vast Muslim community, had earlier rebuked the Obi campaign for its irresponsible attempts to “draw him into partisan politics” after it became obvious that the campaign was behind false reports alleging that the religious leader endorsed their candidate.
In the statement containing the rebuke, Alhaji Abubakar reiterated his non-partisanship and issued a warning to the campaign to refrain from propagandist claims that are damaging to the subjects involved, including a respected and ancient institution like the Sultanate.
Angered by the Sultan’s categorical denial and stern rebuke – a development which further exposed the underbelly of the Obi campaign as built on the quicksand of falsehood, exaggerations, and empty boasts – Obi’s supporters took to social media and other media platforms to disparage the religious leader, using insults and slurs aimed at his religion and ethnicity.
Some of them attributed his denial to an unsubstantiated ‘Fulani conspiracy’ in which members of the Fulani ethnic group, the majority of whom are resident in northern Nigeria, are accused of collaborating to block the emergence of an Igbo president and are thus opposed to Obi’s ambition.
They also echoed divisive rhetoric about Nigeria’s first coup in 1966, a bloody event that led to the killing of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, a soldier of Igbo origin who led the unsuccessful military takeover of government.
One of Obi’s prominent supporters referred to the Sultan as “an incompetent idiot” and the “failed leader of a backward region responsible for Nigeria’s problems.”
The comments have drawn sharp criticism from other Nigerians, particularly Muslim northerners who expressed dismay that a necessary denial of what amounted to fake news could prompt the attacks.
Peter Obi, meanwhile, has ignored appeals to call his followers to order and halt the attacks on the religious leader. His silence, and refusal to rein in his followers, have elicited suspicions that he may be behind the attacks, having failed in his desperation to secure major endorsement weeks before Election Day.
Earlier, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, the presidential candidate of the NNPP and former governor of Kano, dismissed the supposed challenge of the Labour Party with a comic description of the party’s evolution in the campaign as similar to the lifecycle of a laxative, Andrews Liver Salt — which when applied to water causes bubbles to rise to the surface in a dramatic fashion before fading just as quickly into perfect silence.
He too was met with depraved attacks by the Obidients, including unflattering tribal tropes which put him down as “an uneducated northerner” despite possessing better academic qualifications and governance experience than Peter Obi.
Obi, whose tenure as Anambra governor resulted in the cleaving of the state into two warring factions of Catholic and Anglicans, has previously been accused of dangerous exploitation of ethnicity and religion – two highly inflammable factors in Nigeria’s high-stake politics – to further his ambition.
His silence as the Sultan of Sokoto continues to suffer ridicule at the hands of his followers has added to that criticism, with many Nigerians, including northerners, insisting that he lacks the maturity and temperament to lead the multiethnic and multireligious nation.