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Peter Obi and the hypocrisy of temporary standards

Fifteen years ago in July 2007, I picked up my Cambridge GCSE A’ Level results from Oxbridge Tutorial College. Coming from a Science and Commercial family where I was the undisputed black sheep in my Arts and Humanities ways, it is fair to say that my family members were waiting with bated breath to see what my results would look like.

Despite their less than stellar sixth form grades, the third siblings ahead of me had gone on to become an Engineer, a Medical Doctor and a Banker. Then there was David, who wanted to study Journalism and Creative Writing.

I ripped open the envelope and silently checked the three pieces of paper inside it. Geography: B. Advanced Business Studies: C. Economics: A. So, A-B-C was the result and with that I became the best performing A-level student in the family, except dad the nerd himself up until then. Upon realising that the black sheep had outscored the golden children, someone whose identity is not important to this story proceeded to make a catty comment about how I had weekend lesson teachers at home, so why did I even get a B and a C. Which was hilarious because a) I still had the best grades, lesson teachers or not, and b) the golden children who came before me also had lesson teachers – the very same individuals in fact!

Standards for thee, not for me

There is a viral illustration by Mike Asukwo, by far my favourite African cartoonist, where he depicts the exaggerated tone policing, fact checking and background verification visited on Labour Party candidate Peter Obi. In the cartoon, Obi has his entire outfit checked over by multiple people holding magnifying glasses while the other candidates in the picture do not get so much as a glance. The message is obvious – there is only one candidate in the upcoming election who is expected to adhere to a set of arbitrarily defined, hifalutin standards whose origin is unclear.

For the other candidates, there are no such expectations. For the sleepy octogenarian who believes that something is “his turn,”there are only praise singers, excuse makers and purveyors of assorted nonsense. Where Peter Obi’s facts, statistics and claims are subject to endless fact checks and nitpickery of the most tedious kind, Its-My-Turn Man openly expresses disdain for the idea that he should be expected to present himself before a live TV audience to express himself before the people he wishes to govern. Who dares expect a whole presidential candidate to appear on television? “Baby politicians,” he describes such candidates as.

Dubai Man on the other hand, only has to say something that sounds like it ‘could’ be intelligent, even if he blatantly has no idea what it is. You know the drill. Something something “macroeconomic blueprint,” something something “integrated national masterplan,” something something “green energy revolution.” Watching him speak always evokes the vivid imagery of a mischievous child character from a Cyprian Ekwensi’s book, who bamboozles his illiterate parents by reading out random big words that he himself does not understand from a dictionary.

Read also: Obi vows to remove subsidy, empower private sector in economic agenda

All of these characters hardly get a jot of the heightened inspection and exaggerated rubbernecking that Peter Obi gets. When Peter Obi speaks, however, everyone is able to accurately state where he misplaced a decimal point or used data that was 15 days out of date. Like I found out in 2007, certain people receive credit for the work they do, while others receive only scrutiny, inspection and even criticism for the same or an even greater standard of work. Football goalposts for some, rugby goalposts for others, you see.

As it was in 2015…

The last time Nigeria faced an electoral crossroads of this magnitude, the clever internet yuppie class decided against all reason and common sense, that Muhammadu Buhari – of all people – would be the ticket to a “progressive” style of governance. Goodluck Jonathan, you see, was a “moron” and an “ineffectual buffoon” despite a list of actual governance results that his hapless media team ended up doing nothing with. Buhari – who had neither distinguished himself in private enterprise nor military service, was the sexy face of data-driven, results-oriented governance.

Something something democratic ideal, something something democracy makes people better, something something “he will lead from the front.” No matter how silly, trivial, unserious or ludicrous Buhari’s campaign promises were ($1=N1 anyone?), none of these low-hanging fruit ever got fact checked. All the energy for scrutiny, fact checking, political satire and critical journalism was reserved for the incumbent.

One fellow took a photo at a segment of uncompleted fence at the Idu Train Station in Abuja, and proclaimed that the entire Abuja-Kaduna rail line – with 100 percent of the track laid at that time – was a “ghost project.” Another smart chap took the GEJ administration to task for claiming that it refurbished or constructed 13,000km of road by mixing up the earth’s diameter and its surface area.

Of course, at the end of that extended show of assorted clownery and chicanery, we ended up with President Toothpick, and those who were laughing and smiling in 2015 certainly are not doing so now! You’d think there is a lesson there but you know?

Whatever.

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