“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 was heard saying in the leaked audio clip. “This is a religious war.”
“I believe that, I believe that, I believe that,” Mr Oyedepo responded with Mr Obi saying on the other side of the phone that “If this works, you people will never regret the support.”
Mr Obi’s critics have accused him of playing a politics of ethnicity and religion ahead of Nigeria’s 2023 presidential election, which he lost but has challenged in court. He denies this, asking critics to provide evidence. The leaked file appears to have substantiated the position of the critics.
The leaked audio has, however, sparked controversy.
Many supporters of Mr Obi monitored on microblogging sites Twitter and Facebook have dismissed the audio as deepfake, a term used to describe doctored clips generated with artificial intelligence tools. But on Sunday morning, Kenneth Okonkwo, LP’s Presidential Campaign Council (PCC) spokesperson, confirmed the authenticity of the audio but suggested a different interpretation of the conversation. He immediately faced threats of being cancelled by the “Obidients” as Mr Obi’s supporters are described. He has been blamed for undermining their efforts to dismiss the leaked file as deepfake.
In his tweets, Mr Okonkwo attempted to defend the “religious war” comment made by his principal in the viral “private conversation”.
“Firstly, the context of the conversation was aptly put by Bishop Oyedepo when he said, ‘All Nigerians have (an) equal stake in this nation, nobody has the right to claim that he is dashing something to someone,” Mr Okonkwo tweeted. “H. E. Peter Obi was simply urging the Bishop to help him push this message of (an) equal stake of all Nigerians in the Nigerian project to his people and the Christendom because the politicians of the other party is carrying on this campaign as if it is a religious war (sic).”
In the tweets, he accused the All Progressive Congress (APC) of trying to twist the narrative of the telephone conversation, saying “it is not surprising that these political criminals are trying to spin the conversation as if Obi was making a religious statement.” He also accused the APC of beginning what appears to be the religious battle of the ballots by running a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket in a religiously diverse country.
However, many supporters of Mr Obi saw Mr Okonkowo’s tweets as “anti-Obidient” and unauthorised, while insisting on the deepfake spin.
Then, Diran Onifade, the head of the Obi-Datti Media Office, said in Abuja on Sunday that the audio clip was just another propaganda by the APC to discredit Mr Obi, running in agreement with the Obidients.
“All these are meant to serve no other purpose than egregious mischief aimed at demarketing Peter Obi; if the goal is to create a credibility problem, the ploy has failed woefully,” Mr Onifade said, also describing the audio as deepfake. “Peter Obi has long been on record as the only presidential candidate who has urged the Nigerians electorate not to vote for him on the basis of religion or tribe.”
He also described it as APC’s “endless subterfuge to continue to hold on to what they know does not belong to them.”
Local and international observers of the 2023 elections have identified how identity politics took over Nigeria’s political space during the presidential polls.
Many believed Mr Obi’s consistent lobby of Christians worked and helped him pull over 6 million votes. Many religious leaders had been seen openly campaigning for him and urging their followers to ensure the Muslim-Muslim candidate (referring to Mr Tinubu) was humiliated on Election Day. Including the famous Paul Enenche of Dunamis, a number of faith leaders have also insisted the poll was rigged against Mr Obi and that Mr Tinubu holds a stolen mandate.
Meanwhile, Mr Tinubu, who opted for a Muslim-Muslim ticket that appears to aggravate the worries of Christians, also during the campaign appealed to the Muslim base and his ethnic Yoruba. While Mr Tinubu played the Muslim-Muslim card partly to court northern Muslims, Mr Obi projected himself as the frontline Christain in the presidential race.
For his part, Mr Oyedepo on Sunday morning said he had not been influenced by any politician but was short of categorically denying the conversation in the leaked audio held.
“Nobody had ever told me what to say in this world. No. I have never campaigned for anybody or spoken on anybody’s behalf and I will not do that till I go to heaven,” Mr Oyedepo said.
He also said: “There is no (political) party in this country that didn’t come to me for prayers and for advice. I advised them, some they didn’t take. Those who chose to take it see results; those who said no are going about it (laughs). If you still come again, I will still tell you, it doesn’t change.”
Mr Okonkwo did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ request to determine if he contacted Mr Obi before letting out the tweets on the leaked audio clip on his behalf. He neither responded to our calls nor replied to our message on the subject matter.