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My concern today is about how the mainstream media interprets the statistics that Peter Obi quotes in his public interventions. It is perfectly understandable – and proper – to interrogate the accuracy of the statistics that he reels out with effortless ease. Media fact-checking is the answer. However, it is equally important that we do not conduct fact-checking to hide the message embedded in the statistics. There are disturbing signs of what is coming when INEC blows the whistle for formal campaigning.

Gov. Obi reels out facts and statistics to demonstrate expertise at what Nigeria needs to become a production economy. But there is something fundamentally wrong in the way he goes about it. It is this failing that drives the media fact-checking attention he receives. One task remains, before we get into what is fundamentally wrong and how to address them. This is to examine some of the fact-checked stories on the man. There are three broad ways that factchecking misleads, rather than educate and guide voters. Let us illustrate with the following examples.

Example One. AFP, a respected global news agency, fact-checked Obi’s statement that Morocco earned more from exports than did Nigeria in 2021. Obi attempted to establish that Morocco, a less populated country without natural gas, was doing better than Nigeria but shouldn’t. His message was that Nigeria was not doing well because of leadership failures. The fact and the message are materially true. AFP admitted that “Morocco is a smaller country with higher exports than Nigeria in 2021.” So, what was the purpose of the fact-check? The Agency established that Obi understated how much Nigeria earned, not that his message and conclusions were false. By chasing this red herring, the fact-check unfairly targeted the credibility of the candidate.

Example Two: We have witnessed instances where mainstream media used fact-checking to editorialize in news reports. Newspaper with leanings to one of the candidates are the biggest culprits. The function of fact-checking is to establish whether politicians are misleading voters. It is not a licence to abuse the candidates. Citizens who read fact-checked reports will make up their minds about candidates with credibility based on what they read. Therefore, moving from checking the veracity of claims made by politicians to calling them names is unprofessional. One newspaper used the words “serial liar” to describe a candidate, based on facts that he misstated. Is it the duty of the journalist to tell the public that any candidate is a liar? Only opinion and editorial writers enjoy the licence but not the journalist.

Example Three. Responsible media organisations fact-checked supporters and reported their findings in a way that may ascribe the opinions candidates they support. In one instance, an online medium fact-checked the following an alleged endorsement from a prominent Church leader. “I will give Peter Obi 8 million votes from my church. I never endorsed any political candidate before. But Peter Obi is more than a political candidate. He is a movement under who Nigeria will be great again”. This statement clearly represents a personal rather than a corporate opinion, given the “I” factor in it. Those hawking the message in the social media also never volunteered information about where and when someone issued this statement. At any rate, those who endorse candidates often do not meet them nor contact their parties to do this.

So, what was the medium fact-checking? The best that a professional journalist could do is to publish the story (I would not) but add that the medium did not independently verify the claim. This medium never published the original story but went to great lengths to debunk it, thus making it appear as if the claim came from the candidate himself! This is another instance where a report needlessly targeted the credibility of a candidate.

As we move closer to electioneering belt, a lot more of these misguided and mischievous fact-checking are bound to appear. Editors will publish out of ignorance or of deliberate mischief. The fact that it is happening now, before full-blown campaigns, exposes something fundamentally wrong with the preparations of Candidate Peter Obi.

It exposes poor or absent communication research and strategy in the campaign. Such a team will have the facts and statistics on the subject for any public speech. Second, it also exposes the reality that Obi is yet to discipline himself to working from a prepared script. There is an advantage to acquiring the discipline of writing down speeches. A script is not mere putting down of words and figures on paper. It automatically triggers verification of figures and statements against the facts, as every good editor knows. Third, with so many of the facts and statistics struggling for space in his brain, there is always the probability that the message will come out jumbled and inelegant. It happens often with his speeches. The stakes are too high to continue with this free-flowing style that gradually impresses fewer and fewer people with his knowledge of statistics.

As for our friends who are editors and publishers, Obi will remain prime subject of preponderant factchecking. He is the leader on issue-based discussions and appears more charismatic than his opponents. We therefore can only point to instances where professionalism failed to lead the focus on the man. Professionalism in political reporting is being loyal to the people that will choose a leader and not to the candidates fighting for the people’s mandate. Professionalism fails where factchecking statistics that Peter Obi (or any other candidate) quotes fails to factor its contexts and message, when it results in editorializing, and anytime a report tends to indict candidates for sins of remote supporters.

There is always something unique about Nigerian charismatic leaders in politics. Four such outstanding leaders, in the order of their surnames, are MKO Abiola, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, and Peter Obi. Each of these visionary leaders amplified their charisma using factual and oratorical devises to explain their vision of life and leadership.

Awo used facts and logic to marshal his thoughts on every subject. The common people marveled at the facts, leaving intellectuals to analyze the logic. Zik was tall on logic and most effective in public delivery. Commoners and intellectuals united in praising his oratorical prowess but not much with his logic. MKO burst onto the scene to explain life and leadership with trademark commonsense and colorful local proverbs. We tripped on the proverbs which explained the life we lived with such force and clarity. Today as we enter another defining moment in our democracy history, Peter Obi interprets the Nigerian condition and its leadership imperative through facts and statistics.

In three cases, people, including intellectuals and historians, wrote the interpretations because the antagonists disciplined their public appearances. How could Obi present profound truths but degrade them with doubtful numbers? To think that what he needs are as simple as putting thoughts on paper, subjecting them to internal fact-checking, and using manual or technological props to present them. This calls for a little more discipline and formality from the leader in his public outings.

the statistics peter obi quotes
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The Statistics that Peter Obi Quotes