AFTER the leaked audio conversation allegedly between Peter Obi, the Labour Party (LP) presidential candidate for the 2023 presidential election, and David Oyedepo, the founder of Living Faith Church (Winners Chapel), The ICIR has observed conflicting rebuttals from Obi’s team.
A Nigerian media platform, Peoples Gazette, had published an exclusive report and audio conversation alleging that Obi solicited the support of Oyedepo to get votes from Christians in South-West ahead of the March 25 presidential election.
“Daddy, I need you to speak to your people in the South-West and Kwara, the Christians in the South-West and Kwara,” Obi said in the audio reportedly obtained by The Gazette.
“This is a religious war,” the audio quoted Obi to have told Oyedepo.
The leaked phone conversation, which was published on April 1, caused a stir among Nigerians, with a large number of people expressing outrage over what they perceived as Peter Obi’s undisclosed religio-political agenda. Some people also doubted the leak, arguing that it was created with Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Peter Obi, who secured third place in the recently concluded presidential election, has consistently presented himself as an open-minded candidate who was running not on the basis of his ethnic or religious background, but on his commitment to promoting national progress.
While some Nigerians are speculating that the leaked audio may have been generated using AI that can be used to mimic human voices, others have pointed out some inconsistencies in the conversation as evidence that the audio is not authentic.
However, an analysis using Deepware, an AI tool used to detect alterations in audios and videos doesn’t reveal any alteration in the audio but the effectiveness of the software is still under question.
In addition, some individuals raised doubts as to why the recording began before Oyedepo answered the call, as well as why Obi stated Onitsha as his polling location instead of Agulu, his place of origin.
But findings showed that Obi was actually in Onitsha two days to the March 25 presidential election, lending further credence to the audio’s potential authenticity.
I've just arrived in Onitsha for several engagements, including my meeting with the United Nations Team visiting Nigeria.- PO pic.twitter.com/5yFa8ZYDH0
— Peter Obi (@PeterObi) February 23, 2023
Controversial rebuttals: Private audio conversation or deepfake ?
Rather than debunking the purported leaked audio, the spokesman for the Labour Party Presidential Campaign Council (PCC), Kenneth Okonkwo, quickly weighed in and said Obi was simply asking Oyedepo to help him pass a message to voters.
Okonkwo, who described the audio as “a private conversation between the duo”, said Obi was merely asking Oyedepo to mobilise support for him ahead of the election.
His statement read, “Our attention has been drawn to the publication of this audio tape of private conversation between Peter Obi and Bishop Oyedepo. It is not surprising that these political criminals are trying to spin the conversation as if Obi was making a religious statement.
“Firstly, the context of the conversation was aptly put by Bishop Oyedepo when he said, “All Nigerians have equal stake in this nation; nobody has the right to claim that he is dashing something to someone.”
“Peter Obi was simply urging the Bishop to help him push this message of equal stake of all Nigerians in the Nigerian project to his people and the christiandom because the politicians of the other party is carrying on this campaign as if it is a religious war.
“To drive home this point, he informed him that he visited the traditional ruler of Offa, the Olofa of Offa, who is a Muslim, but who advised Obi to get the support of Oyedepo and be assured of his own support. No politician has ever visited the Olofa of Offa. It is clear to everybody that the APC political party that has a Presidential Candidate, Vice Presidential Candidate, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, National Chairman of the Party all from one religion at a time the CJN is a Muslim is the Party that has declared religious war on Nigerians, and we must all rise up together to fight this unconstitutional act of religious intolerance of other religions by APC.
“I went around with Obi on campaign train and never saw him discriminate against any religion. Of course, he can’t because his Vice is a Muslim, unlike APC. I resigned from APC because of their religious intolerance. Nigerians should disregard any insinuation of religious bigots about this tape.”
Following his rebuttal, many Nigerians who were doubting the authenticity of the audio saw Okonkwo’s rebuttal as confirmation of the viral leaked audio.
Despite the fact that Okonkwo has spoken in defence of Obi on numerous occasions, his rebuttal appeared to be met with resistance from some Labour Party supporters, prompting the campaign team to disassociate itself from Okonkwo’s position on the matter.
Contrary to Okonkwo’s position, another spokesperson for the Peter Obi, Datti Baba-Ahmed Presidential Campaign Council, Ndi Kato, in an interview with Arise TV, explicitly debunked the conversation describing it as “doctored”.
Kato’s position was supported by a statement signed by the Head of the Obi-Datti Media Office, Diran Onifade, on Sunday, the team described the leaked audio as a deep fake and a plot by the APC to smear Obi’s reputation.
Part of the statement read, “While we are toeing the constitutional path to retrieve our mandate, those who have truncated the wishes of the majority of Nigerians have recoursed to mischief and endless subterfuge to continue to hold on to what they know does not belong to them.
“From the show of shame in Portharcourt to the drama in the Ibom Air aircraft, both of which they contrived, they have now moved to the circulation of a deep fake audio file aimed at promoting religious tension in the country.”
Oyedepo denies involvement
Reacting to the allegation today while addressing the congregation at his church’s headquarters in Ogun State, Oyedepo distanced himself from the purported leaked audio.
Oyedepo said he never spoke to any group of people on behalf of any politician.
His words, “Nobody had ever told me what to say in this world. No. I have never campaigned for anybody or speak on anybody’s behalf and I will not do that till I go to heaven.
“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, they see results; those who said no, they are going about it (laughs). If you still come again, I will still tell you, it doesn’t change.”
Note: This report was updated to reflect Ndi Kato’s position.
Nurudeen Akewushola is an investigative reporter and fact-checker with The ICIR. He believes courageous in-depth investigative reporting is the key to social justice, accountability and good governance in the society. You can shoot him a scoop via [email protected] and @NurudeenAkewus1 on Twitter.