It was Professor Chukwuma Soludo, the renowned economist, who made the point that Mr Peter Obi circulated poverty in his eight year reign as Governor of Anambra State. While Mr Obi’s media aide took to name – calling in response, the former CBN Governor backed up his submission with poverty index figures from the National Office of Statistics. It is becoming glaring to even ordinary people of Anambra State that Obi’s development efforts were defined by deficit of standards and quality. In projects and staff remuneration, the former Governor displayed an addiction for the cheapest categories even as he tirelessly propounded theories of wealth creation. Mr Obi saw no contradiction in paying workers survival wages while he supposedly saved billions of naira for the State. Although the regime boasts of building over 800 kilometres of roads but in reality these are of very poor quality and are gradually being reconstructed by his successor whereas the roads built earlier by Senator Chris Ngige are still intact. But it is not only in economic management that we encounter the poverty of Peter Obi’s vision. The severe limitation of his politics is finally proving to be a cul de sac.
Former Governor of old Anambra State, Jim Nwobodo, at a press conference sometime in 1981 read out from a document he claimed to be the product of a research by the rival NPN into the party’s shallow presence in the State despite the big names paraded as members. The report questioned the commitment of these members of the party and went ahead to describe them as ‘Ekwueme – in town- politicians.’ It was said of these members of the party that they hardly attended party meetings nor lent hands to building the party in any tangible way and were only to be seen asserting their presence only when the Vice President was visiting the State! This political thought, if it can be called that, has useful relevance in the discussion of Peter Obi’s politics.
Notwithstanding the fortune fate placed on him to play a leading role in Nigerian politics, Obi could not rise beyond incidental politics in the twelve years of his membership of APGA. Where is the programme of emancipation for the people of the south – east that Obi championed? Where is the plan Obi put up for alliances with other parts of the country? What vision had Obi for uniting the people of the south – east behind a common cause? What agenda for national dialogue did Obi ever set? Did his leadership style permit consultation and consensus with the critical constituencies?
Had Obi the prerequisite leadership qualities, they would have shown even before his assuming office. The circumstances which the denial of his mandate in the 2003 election threw up were such that would have produced a great opposition leader. There was abundant goodwill to be tapped from the outcry against the daylight rigging of the state’s governorship election. The crude and egoistic display of power by the PDP cabal was resented by Ndi Anambra who would have readily embraced an organized advocacy to demonstrate their contempt for these wreckers of society. No one fitted the bill better than Obi to assume the role of an opposition leader, aggregating public opinion and proffering superior alternatives to the gyrations of the resulting government. As it turned out, Mr Obi filed his petition and for the most part went on with his trading.
Not unexpectedly, the eight years of his governorship had no underlining political or economic transformational objectives. In the absence of a defining mission, Mr Obi resorted to a policy of ‘my relationship with the President.’ Thus, one of his first acts was to ingratiate himself to President Obasanjo. It was with consternation that many watched Governor Obi courting the friendship of the same Obasanjo under whose superintendence, the state had been destabilized and her people traumatized. To underscore the extent of his involvement with Obasanjo, when the impeachment axe dangled over Obi, it was to the sly civilian dictator that Obi ran to for survival strategies rather than to his party leadership. It was only when the same authority that provided the impeachment legislators with police protection advised Obi to lock up the assembly complex that Obi counted his teeth with his tongue, as we say in Igbo.
The raw experience in Obasanjo’s hands notwithstanding, Obi continued with the personal relations with the President policy when the late Umaru Yaradua became President. It was on account of this unusual closeness to Presidents who were of the PDP that analysts at this time began to project that it was only a matter of time before Obi defected to PDP. The obsession was such that even when the late President had been incapacitated by sickness and well meaning Nigerians harped on the need for the Vice President to become acting President, Mr Obi opposed this line of action. Contrary to the demand of overriding national interest, Obi proposed that the ailing President should be let alone to be in office and yet inactive; arguing that there had been examples of state leaders with prolonged illness.
The same man who was so enamoured of Yar’adua’s presidency quickly moved to cozy up to Jonathan once the latter ascended the throne. Obi’s choreographed collaboration with Jonathan is very much fresh in our minds that there is no need boring the reader with the details. But while a Governor Obi maintained a fawning relationship with each PDP occupant of the Villa, what was his attitude to the gestures of his constituents and the fortunes of the party that brought him to power?
For reasons best known to him, Mr Obi largely shielded himself from the people he was supposed to be preoccupied with matters of their wellbeing. Perplexed by the perceived aloofness of his state Governor, Mr Okey Ndibe later described him as ‘self absorbed.’ Obi was wont to ignore cheers from the masses, obviously regarding them as intrusive and hardly went out to engage with the people except when forced by circumstance. Shortly after taking office in March 2006 he jolted a group of APGA supporters he used to call incessantly to carry out services for him that they should not be seen hanging around Government House; that he would send for them whenever he had need for them!
It has been suggested that the reason Mr Obi created a distance between him and the people was to ward off requests for monetary and other forms of assistance. Some others say the behavior goes beyond that, reasoning that the nearly three months it took Obi to constitute his cabinet was a strong indication of someone who would have run Government with just a few aides if he had his way.
This view gains significant substantiation in Mr Obi’s awful distrust of people whenever the subject was money. The trader – turned politician had developed the uncharitable mindset of doubting that other people could be trusted with judicious use of money. And since only he could be trusted with honest and prudent expenditure, he had to oversee everything resulting in the snail speed for which his administration became notorious. Government machinery was in some cases crippled by this pathological aversion for collectivism. The Awka Capital Development Authority would not be constituted and inaugurated lest public fund enters private pocket. It was much for the same reason that local government council elections were not conducted until he ran out of excuses and public pressure forced his hands.
As for APGA, Peter Obi could not be bothered about its state except at the approach of elections. Even at that, the fate of APGA outside Anambra State was out of the question. Mr Obi would neither shore up other state chapters of the party nor leave Anambra to campaign for APGA candidates – for fear of hurting his PDP governor friends. At such election periods, it was a different, humble and friendly Obi who had time for APGA officials in Anambra State and ordinary folks. Subsequently, the people learnt to exact as much as they could from him at election season before he became incommunicado once more.
Given that Mr Obi has no stomach for opposition politics; and has more or less become addicted to Presidential Villa politics, what will he do now that a Pharaoh who did not know Joseph is at the doorstep? With his recent trip to South Africa to check on his business investments, Mr Obi may have begun his retirement leave from politics.
Okonkwo, a community leader, wrote from Agulu, Anaocha Local Govt of Anambra State.