It’s much easier swimming in a shark-infested water than to navigate the landmine-ridden path of Anambra politics. Nothing compares. Not that politics is ever a ping-pong game for the chicken-hearted anywhere in the world, but if you have to compete in a group where your opponents include those with a trailer load of money and others with king-size influence, not afraid to deploy every arsenal within reach, you would get a little sense of what I am talking about.
Unfortunately, the political fights were never about the people. It bothered on special interests which was why for many years, a state reputed to have the highest billionaire per square meter of space, much more than anywhere else in Nigeria, was held back by the cold grip of forces of darkness, till one guy showed up.
Prior to joining the Anambra state gubernatorial race in 2003, Peter Obi was already sitting on top of Nigeria’s corporate ladder as the youngest chairman of Fidelity Bank Plc. With ownership interests in multiple national and international blue-chip companies, he was having fun with his yearly pilgrimage to ivy-league business schools in both Europe and North-America. By the time he turned 40, Obi had already joined the pantheon of self-made billionaires, dedicated to philanthropy and known to embrace a life of frugal living. Such was the profile of a man Anambra elders, led by ABC Nwosu, saw and recruited to salvage this Southeastern state from the jaws of rapacious carnivores.
In the 2003 election where Obi was clearly the underdog, he staged an upset and won the election but the ruling party, PDP wouldn’t have any of that. They manipulated the result in favor of Chris Ngige who became the Governor. It took nearly three years of litigation to get justice and the stolen mandate was overturned by the court of Appeal on March 15, 2006. Obi was sworn in March 17, two days after the ruling.
His initial focus as a governor was on human capital development. He returned old missionary schools to the Church and committed over N10 billion to schools in the State, making sure that all institutions, including those managed by the religious bodies, were not only fully funded but superintended by both competent and dedicated staff. The Kenneth Dike Library he built and equipped was adjudged the best public library in Nigeria and when Regina Pacis School students at Onitsha conquered the world in Technovison Competition, it was traced back to Obi’s vision and investment in education.
As governor, Obi quickly cleared all the outstanding workers’ salaries and arrears as well as pension and gratuities upon assumption of office. With his frugality, he was able to provide every community in Anambra state with an access road finished with asphalt, though this came at a heavy price. Obi was impeached by the state legislators in connivance with special interests, for no good reason other than refusing to appropriate state funds in a manner that lined the pockets of politicians and hence was given the name, the “aradite” governor, which was to suggest that he was too stingy. He later was reinstated by the court.
By the time his tenure expired as a Governor in March 2014, he left N75 billion in the state coffers, with all the bank details clearly shown in his handover note. Obi won the ThisDay Newspaper award as the most prudent Governor of his time in 2009. This is the profile of the man Nigerians want to be their president.
A few months ago, my family and I set out on a trip to Atlanta from Houston, Texas. The purpose was to renew our expiring Nigerian passports in readiness for our upcoming home visit. Years ago, my wife and I had made the conscious decision to visit home every year with the kids as a way of bringing them closer to their roots.
Prior to embarking on that trip, we tried unsuccessfully, like many before us, to secure an appointment with the Nigerian consulate in Atlanta, for something that is so basic. After paying for the passport through an online portal, we were told that the consulate no longer offered appointments and that the only option left was to bring in a money order to cover an additional $200 per applicant and show up as walk-ins. That meant an extra $600 for my wife and two kids on top of the passport fee already paid for online. Of course, we also had to take care of our round-trip flight tickets, hotel accommodation and car rental expenses.
Despite all the odds, we finally made it to the consulate that Monday morning. Since all appointments were walk-ins, the whole place was fully packed with people that came from all over the United States. Typical of most things Nigerian, the scene was quite chaotic. We got there by 5 a.m. that morning and left a little after 6 p.m. Now seven months after that trip, we neither have our new Nigerian passports nor the old ones. Each time we tried calling the consulate to find out what the issue was, no one cared to answer the phone. After so many trials and with no luck, we simply gave up. This was a trip that cost my family a little shy of $3000 and that is without counting the lost man hours.
To put things in proper perspective, passport renewal in most countries of the world doesn’t even require one to be physically present. You could just mail in your old passport with all the other requirements and expect to have it back between two to four weeks maximum, if there are no issues.
How I wish that the horrible experience narrated above is just the case of one unlucky guy suffering an act of bad fate. But it’s not. Injustice is a common thread that unites everyday Nigerians at home or in the diaspora. Whether you are the little guy that can’t travel from Abuja to Kaduna without worrying about getting killed or kidnapped by terrorists, the student who was enrolled in a university but stayed home all year round or the artisan that can’t freely move from one city to another to ply his trade out of fear of insecurity, it’s the same recurring decimal. The entity called Nigeria merely exists today as a geographical space but checks off all the boxes of a failed state; a country that has woefully failed to offer the most basic citizenship rights and privileges to those holding the green passport.
And so for many of us, the person to lead Nigeria in 2023 is a clear choice between enablers of the old putrid order that got us to this pitiable place and the rest of us at the receiving end of the monumental injustice, now demanding for change. The two major political parties have already thrown up Atiku Abubakar and Bola Tinubu, both are men in their 70s and poster child of the perennial rent-seeking class. Fact is, every right-thinking mind knows that these oligarchs are not just incapable of leading Nigeria due to senility and ill-health but have zero interest in changing a system where they are among the greatest beneficiaries. Any attempt to make the system work the way it should would strip them, their friends and families of the enormous privileges which they currently enjoy.
Leading up to the 2023 presidential election, the Nigerian political space is turbo-charged and at the moment still dominated by the old brigades in the two major parties of APC and PDP. But incrementally, a large battalion of Obi-dient army are building up, deploying and displacing. They have invaded the major parties’ hitherto sacred spaces, claimed lands and took no prisoners. They are very tenacious and quite expressive about their demands. In fact, they have made clear their intentions to overrun this territory and have put on notice, those unruly gerontocrats bent on sustaining a choke-hold on Nigeria and buying their way through each election cycle.
The Obi-dient army comprises many good-sized platoons with a loosely-bound command structure, yet each group has committed to sustaining the war effort. There is the religious platoon who believes that the country’s power structure, having been under the control of a Muslim president for the past seven years, should now go to a Christian for the sake of equity. Then, you have those coming from the geo-political angle and making the case of a Nigerian President of Southeast extraction.
Though soldiers in those two platoons stated above mean well, any attempt, however, to paint Obi’s campaign in tribal, religious or sectional colors diminishes his status, dims his prospects and hurts everyone of us yearning for a better Nigeria. The central theme of their campaign distracts from what the candidate is about.
Thankfully, by far the biggest and most consequential Obi-dient army is made up of unemployed, under-employed and increasingly frustrated Nigerian youths from all over the country, who are ready to take back their country from the jaws of tyranny. What resonates with this group is not the retrogressive and primordial sentiment of the candidate’s tribal identity or whether he worships on Fridays or Sundays. They are simply inspired by Peter Obi’s previous records, his temperament and his vision for a new Nigeria that offers opportunity to everyone not just a privileged few. A Nigeria that should be made to work.
When in 1996, Imran Khan formed the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) or the Movement for Justice to upend Pakistan’s long entrenched political dynasties, people called the cricket legend all sorts of names (a clown, an idealist etc). Well in August 2018, he was elected the 22nd prime minister of Pakistan.
But regardless of the outcome of the 2023 presidential election, Peter Obi has already won in the hearts of so many Nigerians, young and old. The greatest tool of enslavement is by taking away a people’s hope and so killing their dream for a better future. Obi has given us reason to hope and dream in the face of utter despondency; the belief that maybe someday, our situation will change for the better.
A young Nigerian vividly captured this about Peter Obi and his movement recently when she wrote; “Having faith is a win, taking action is a win and inspiring others is a win.” This is why every change starts with nurturing the hope of possibilities. That, my friends, is the audacity of hope!