Thursday 6 April 2023

Peter Obi threatens to sue Peoples Gazette over leaked phone call with Bishop Oyedepo.... The investigative digital outlet stands by its story.

Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi, has threatened to sue Peoples Gazette over a leaked phone conversation between him and Living Faith Church founder Bishop David Oyedepo reported by the newspaper on April 1.

“This is a religious war,” Mr Obi said in the leaked audio to solicit the revered cleric’s assistance in getting Christians in the South-West to back his presidency bid, particularly in the central states of Kwara, Kogi, and Niger.


The story elicited a fierce and broad-ranging storm among Nigerians, with critics and supporters brawling over the politician’s resort to religion for his political advantage.

Mr Obi was largely quiet since the story was published on Saturday evening, despite widespread calls for him to clarify his views that were already expressed in the telephone call. Two of his aides sought to push back against the manner the report portrayed the former Anambra governor, who came third in the February 25 presidential election.

“Our legal team have been instructed to take appropriate legal actions against Peoples Gazette and others,” Mr Obi tweeted Wednesday evening in response to The Gazette’s story.

“Let me reiterate that the audio call being circulated is fake,” he added in the thread of tweets. “At no time throughout the campaign and now did I ever say, think, or even imply that the 2023 election is, or was a religious war.”

Mr Obi, however, was silent on why he failed to comment on the story, despite multiple efforts to reach him for comments over the two days preceding the publication.

The Gazette also reached several of Mr Obi’s aides with the audio file and asked them to comment. The aides, including his long-time spokesman Valentine Obienyem; close associate Mike Ifedi; and his campaign director-general Akin Osuntokun, all failed to comment after discussing the audio with their principal.

Mr Oyedepo, on his part, declined to comment after an enquiry, alongside the audio, was sent to him as requested.

When Mr Oyedepo mounted the pulpit the next day after the story was published, he did not deny that the conversation with Mr Obi took place. Instead, he told his Sunday service audience that politicians of all parties regularly consulted him for advice on elections, which he gladly offered.

Moreover, Mr Obienyem, who served as the chief press secretary when Mr Obi was Anambra governor, confirmed the authenticity of the audio on his Facebook page on April 2.

Kenneth Okonkwo, a spokesman for Mr Obi’s campaign, also confirmed the audio and insisted that it was genuine even in the face of relentless online vitriol from Mr Obi’s supporters.

“Honesty is the best policy,” Mr Okonkwo said while emphasising that the audio was indeed that of his principal amid vicious attacks from his fellow Labour supporters.

In a statement on Wednesday night, The Gazette promptly said it was standing by its story and flayed Mr Obi’s attempt to intimidate its newsroom.

“Peoples Gazette stands unflinchingly by the audio recording of Peter Obi and David Oyedepo as published on April 1, 2023,” Deputy Managing Editor Boladale Adekoya said.

Mr Adekoya added that the audio clip was sourced and properly authenticated in advance of running it.

“The audio and the context surrounding it were properly sourced and authenticated in line with journalism best practices,” the editor said.

He further stressed that The Gazette was prepared to go to any length to protect the source of the clip, suggesting that Mr Obi initiated the lawsuit with the aim that the organisation would be compelled to reveal the source of the telephone conversation leak at trial.

“Finally, we maintain in no uncertain terms that we will uphold the principle of source protection to any length,” Mr Adekoya said.

Mr Obi, 61, has led Labour since he resigned from the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party in May 2022. His candidacy has been deemed historic for its ability to garner a large following that propelled him into the spotlight within a few months of the campaign.

Following the declaration of Bola Tinubu as the president-elect by the electoral office INEC, Mr Obi rejected the polls’ outcome and proceeded to file a petition that argued that he should have been declared winner of the election instead.

Mr Obi’s petition has continued to infuriate the ruling All Progressives Congress, which has also made several allegations, including treasonable felony, against the politician.

As part of his response to The Gazette’s publication, Mr Obi said he would not leave Nigeria, notwithstanding the pressure on him by the ruling regime of Muhammadu Buhari.


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