Osbornegate and Rumourmongers

On Wednesday, 12th April 2017, operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), acting on a tip-off, found $43,449,947, £27,800 and N23,218,000 hidden inside an apartment – House 6, Apartment 7B – at Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos. Before the EFCC could issue an official statement, a number of stories about the ownership of the money had rent the air. The first story was that the money belonged to Esther Nnamdi-Ogbue, a recently retired Managing Director of the Petroleum Products Pricing and Marketing Company (PPPMC), a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). When her lawyers, Emeka Etiaba & Co, made a release refuting the story, the rumourmongers shifted their stories to the ownership of the towers. The innuendo communicated to the public was that Ahmadu Adamu Mu’azu, the former National Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) alleged to own the tower, must have some connection with the money. Thus, most of the occupants of the towers became popular figures in no time. One resident whose biography made her a prime material for the rumourmongers is Mrs. Patricia Edo-Osagie, a daughter of Chief Tony Anenih – the former Chairman, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Board of Trustee.

Whereas the rumours concerning Esther Nnamdi-Ogbue, Ahmadu Adamu Mu’azu and co fizzled out as quickly as they had materialised, the verbal mugging of Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transport and former Governor of Rivers State, and the allegation that the money belongs to him still persists and sticks even after Ambassador Ayodele Oke, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), is said to have laid claim to the money, and the Director-General of the NIA has been suspended from office and is being probed on account of the money. Now that it concerns Rotimi Amaechi, some funny characters – even lawyers, like Mike Ozekhome, who are trained to rely only on admissible evidence to make their cases – are now experts of conjectures and conspiracy theories. To them, the suspended NIA Director-General is putting his career, job and reputation on the line to cover up for Ameachi. Femi Fani-Kayode even claimed to have warned the embattled DG of the NIA against covering up for Amaechi. As laughable as such a weird and irrational or illogical claim is, Amaechi’s traducers want the public to believe that he is a superhuman who can cause lesser humans to lay down their lives or stake their jobs for him.

The scenario has generated a number of questions begging for answers:

Why are these people scapegoating Rotimi Amaechi? Why is he number one on the Peoples Democratic Party’s list of most hated politicians? Why does the PDP want this young man dead?

The answers to these questions are simple. Scapegoating Amaechi has many goals. In the first place, Amaechi is a symbol of progressive politics. He is not bound by such conservative allegiances as tribe, religion or region. He is pan-Nigerian in outlook and deeds. He is considered as a traitor of the South-South region of Nigeria, whose son, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, he helped the APC to oust out of power. Amaechi’s state, a very rich state, is under the control of a Governor who, having sworn to bring Amaechi down, is ever ready to spend the cash to see him disgraced out of power and political favour. Amaechi is, therefore, the perfect subject for the machinations of the opposition.

Amaechi also comes across as a bold, valiant, fearless, self-assured, self-driven and assertive young man. His role in the defeat of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the rise to power of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was too crucial and telling to be ignored by the opposition. There are many people out there who would choose go to their graves with eternal grudges against him. The first point of attack against Amaechi is the image of an incorruptible patriot. By sacrificing Goodluck Jonathan for Muhammadu Buhari, Amaechi is seen as a patriot who cares more for the values that hold together corporate Nigeria than the selfish aspirations of his region. The effective method of the opposition – as personified by Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, Governor Ezenwo Nyesom Wike of Rivers State (Amaechi’s successor) and Femi Fani-Kayode (conspiracy theories exponent and regional ideologue) – is to contrast Amaechi’s patriotic image with the image of a serial wrongdoer who is just as bad as any other politician out there. By constantly impugning on the image and personality of Amaechi, the opposition believes that it will not only make the public to see him as a moral degenerate but will also be able to recruit from the larger public an army of people to look askance at Amaechi. They are convinced that the more people they can mobilise to adversely scrutinize him, the more they will be able to erode his image and make him look infernal and less heroic. Unfortunately for him, Amaechi doesn’t seem to have any protective armour with which to shield himself against the barrage of false accusations against him coming from the PDP.

Secondly, attacking Amaechi is a very effective way of obfuscating the eventual official story, and thereby making it less credible. With the chronic mistrust that the public has for the Government, it is easy to distract the public with even an outlandish, outright false story. By supplanting the official story with their own tendentious slant, the public is forced to deal with two versions and may fall for the false story – sexed up and made more attractive.

Thirdly, it is an effective use of that traditional technique of turning the table against the table-turner. In other words, it is a convenient way of discrediting the war against corruption since it will make the point that even President Muhammadu Buhari’s key ministers are neck-deep in corruption. It also falls in line and on the trajectory of the singsong of Nyesom Wike, Ayodele Fayose and Femi Fani-Kayode that Amaechi is corrupt and that he used Rivers State’s money to finance the campaign of the APC – a story that was manufactured to bring home the point that Mr. President is also a beneficiary of corruption or sleaze money.

I do not need to emphasise the point that the allegation that Amaechi owns the Osborne money is false. I have already made the point that Amaechi is a convenient scapegoat of the PDP. But I need to proffer some explanations as to why rumours, like the one associating him with the money, gain currency in today’s Nigeria.

How do rumours like this spread, and how can they become so powerful that they prompt action even when there is no merit to the claim? This question was asked and answered by Nicholas Difonzo, Professor of Psychology at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and Prashant Bordia, Professor of Management in the Research School of Management at Australian National University (ANU) in their book Rumour Psychology: Social and Organizational Approaches.

Without making any personal input to it, here is a summary of their research findings concerning why people spread rumour:

  1. People Spread Rumours When There’s Uncertainty. It’s when we don’t already have a firm grasp on how or why things are happening in the world that rumours start to spread.
  2. People Spread Rumours When They Feel Anxiety. Oftentimes, uncertainty breeds anxiety. We like to have a clear sense of the world, and we get anxious when we feel uncertainty; and anxiety on its own has been linked to rumour-mongering. Some research has shown that more anxious people tend to be the ones who are more likely to spread rumours.
  3. People Spread Rumours When the Information is Important. Across a whole bunch of studies, people are more likely to spread rumours when the information is very important to them.
  4. People Spread Rumours When They Believe the Information. Let’s face it, if you hear a rumour that you think is completely ridiculous, you probably won’t find yourself on a mission to spread that information far and wide.
  5. People Spread Rumours When the Information Helps Their Self-Image.

Countless studies have shown that people often want to feel good about themselves; but one way people can do that is through rumour spreading. This can happen for a couple reasons. One is that spreading a rumour positions you as someone who is clued into what is going on in the world. People might then come to you as the one who is especially informed.

Another way rumour spreading can boost self-esteem is when the rumour is about another group. A research has shown that putting down other groups can boost people’s self-esteem. Lots of rumours, it turns out, are about a group’s “opposing” group. These have been called “wedge rumours”; they serve to reinforce intergroup differences. Clearly, these can boost self-regard by elevating one’s own group above a rival group.

  1. People Spread Rumours When the Information Helps Their Social Status. This might sound like reason #5, but there’s a subtle difference. Reason #5 was that people feel better about themselves when they help spread rumours. There’s a little more to it, though, which is that people can use rumours to strengthen their social ties. You want to be accepted by a group? Pass along some rumours about their rival group.

The evidence for this can be seen in some studies involving people telling different rumours depending on the person they are telling them to. Specifically, the question was whether people would pass along a rumour that one group’s ranking had decreased or whether they would pass along a rumour that the group’s ranking increased.

The results showed that it depended on who would be receiving the rumour. If it was someone who was part of that group, people were more likely to spread a positive rumour about them. If it was someone who was part of a rival group, then people were more likely to spread the negative rumour.

The point is that people spread rumours strategically – to gain the respect of others.

In summary, the scapegoating of Amaechi is an attrition warfare meant to grind down or neutralise the advantages of the APC. But are Nigerians buying into this gimmick? Is the PDP regaining its lavished and wasted nationwide appeal? I do not think so.

I highlighted the early warning signs of the fall of the PDP and predicted its loss at the last (2015) election. In its feel-good attitude and arrogance, it discarded my warning and similar warnings from wellwishers. I predicted that whoever could win the Southwest was going to win the 2015 election and, in that sense, warned the APC not to lose Osun State after being robbed of Ekiti. The equation has not changed and I still insist that APC still has the edge over the PDP, recession or no recession.

I hereby make another absolute prediction. Until the PDP realizes that propaganda would not swing electoral fortunes in today’s and tomorrow’s Nigeria, it will continue to play the second fiddle to the APC and fortune will still play favourites with the APC in 2019. Amaechi is not the problem of the PDP or Rivers State. The problem of the PDP lies within the PDP. 2019 is around the corner and there is little time left for the PDP to cast the toga of its corruptive past. There is also that salient, crucial point about the performance of its Governors in comparison with the Governors of APC-controlled states. Nigerians are making their assessment and are appreciative of the fact that within the same recession period, Lagos State, for example, is working and making a persuasive case for democracy and good governance. Within the same recession era, north-western states are diversifying into agriculture. In a word, the people are watching and making a comparison between the performance of the ruling APC states and the PDP states; and there seems to be no reason why they should prefer the PDP that had squandered 16 years of underserved political goodwill.

While the PDP is wasting good fortune on scapegoating Amaechi and blaming him even for their domestic problems, the APC is marching on, away from the abyss,  and may soon return the Nigerian economy to the path of growth and development.

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