Peter Obi as Atiku’s joker

By Sunny Igboanugo on 18/10/2018

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Atiku and Obi

In 1993, I was on the entourage of the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola to the palace of the Odezuligbo Nike, the late Igwe Edward Nnaji. There, I witnessed a very interesting, but intriguing development, which, not only went to a great extent to emphasise a major aspect of that great Nigerian, but also, had one or two lessons to teach about life, regarding the truism of how past actions could influence future outcomes. What played out during that historic visit, I find quite germane and instructive, as it might be related somehow to the current political trajectory playing out in the Nigerian polity.

I shall return to this. But, first, let me digress a bit.

Recall the recent incident that took place in the palace of the Ooni of Ife, between the revered Yoruba monarch and the youthful presidential candidate, Omoyele Sowore. Remember how the young man descended on the Kabiyesi, with his anger for being kept waiting. While rejigging your mind on this, try also to reflect on the personality of the late Pillar of Sport in Africa.

I’m sure that your mind is telling you one or two things about the profile and pedigree of the late business mogul, for whom, at the prompting of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government, the entire country went on its knees to beg for the wrong done him over the unforgettable issue of the June 12 1993 election.

Now, It may surprise you to know that Abiola, also waited for several hours on end, I’m sure longer than the vivacious online newspaper guru, before the eventual emergence of the Odezuligbo from his fortress. It could not have been otherwise. Regardless, if MKO, was hurt in anyway, he never betrayed such sentiments. Of course, Abiola was a chief and a traditionalist, which Sowore is not.

So for that reason, he might have been quite familiar with the fact that it might not be a mark of respect that the monarch took his time, because in that inner recesses of his palace, a lot of things could have taken place beyond the comprehension and knowledge of the less-initiates. There could have communications and consultations far more important to make than pandering to personal courtesies and niceties, without which the palace and all it stood for could be imperilled.

By African standard and norms, no monarch worth his salt would be waiting at his doorstep to receive his guest, no matter how westernised he might want to present himself. There could be exceptions, perhaps for his contemporary - say the Oba of Benin visiting the Obi of Onitsha. In that case, both speak and hear the same language. For any lesser mortal to seek to be treated in the same manner, such as Sowore attempted to, was, in my view, a childish desire to enjoy senior joke. And what a hard way to learn this bitter truth? I’m sure that the lesson(s) learnt, as he left the palace of the Ojaja 11 that faithful, Sowore and his group, would have become more circumspect, soberer, wiser and more prudent with their ideas of managing rascality, impudence and imperviousness, especially in the homes of such beings.

I now return to that historic visit and what played out between the two late icons in their own rights. Recall that at the time in question, Abiola, was unarguably the richest man in Nigeria, at least by public perception. Don’t forget that he was also an employer of labour, with hundreds of thousands of people on his payroll directly and millions of others, indirectly. Remember that by that time, he was already the Aare Onokakanfo (the commander-in-chief of the Yoruba Armed forces). Don’t forget his clout, nationally and internationally and his fulsome connections, wealth, power and influence. I particularly recall, how many of the people at the Enugu Airport on that day of his arrival, were practically taken-in by the size of his mint private jet. The picture comes flooding in right now.

Yet, despite his long waiting, Abiola, in spite of who he was, his flowing agbada, notwithstanding still went down to prostrate before the monarch of Nike. He neither complained of being kept waiting, nor played on his own personality as a national and international figure. Those were secondary.

But, that is not actually the story. First the asides. Igwe Nnaji, I’m told, spoke perfect English, like his visitor. Yet, there was an interpreter that translated the conversation between them, as he would choose to communicate only in Igbo, to everybody’s amusement, if not delight. Now, the gist. It came during the introduction. It was then that the interpreter, ‘informed’ the monarch that this was the same man that undertook to completely repair his palace when it was gutted by fire, several years back. Ahh! That did it.

That particular information, practically got many in that huge hall completely enthralled, if not transfixed. This was an incident that took place several decades before Abiola began his real quest for the number one job of the country. Your guess is as good as mine as to the rest of the story.


Image result for peter obi and atiku abubakar

Why do I recall this? Since the emergence of Mr. Peter Gregory Obi, former Governor of Anambra State, as the running mate to former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar for next year’s presidential election, many permutations have cropped up in an attempt to determine the political capital he might be bringing to the table towards making the task of returning the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to power next year possible.

Many people have already pointed to his immense financial war chest. It is believed in some quarters that between him and Atiku, they could split the full financing the presidential project from their pockets and feel nothing about it, just like Abiola did in 1993. Others have talked about his records in office, where today, he holds the trophy as the only governor who left the hugest amount in the coffers of the state and very minimal debt portfolio for his successor in the history of the country. There is this aspect that before he left office, he not only paid off all the debts of more than N30billion owed retirees as pensions and gratuities by previous government, but actually upped their salaries and created a legacy for paying workers by the 25th of every month, which has been sustained till date.

Yet, many are pointing to the immensity of his power of speech and ability to hold his audience spellbound, which is one of the biggest assets of politicians. That aspect, they say is already tested at different forums and on several occasions both nationally and internationally.

Or is it his wizardry in managing men and materials, such as he brought to bear on Fidelity Bank that has made the institution one of the most fortified and forthcoming even while others appear to be floundering and tottering on the brinks.   

But what many may not know is that Obi, like the late MKO, has been a silent giver and a builder of bridges in many places. The refrain everywhere is quite loud that he is a very stingy person not given to parting with money. But those stories are coming from those who do not know him or do not appreciate what the idea of open-handedness means.

Those who do, say a Peter Obi, may never be caught throwing money in the air at parties of whatever kind, no matter the occasion. He is not the type to organise lavish birthdays. You may never see him buying newspaper pages to celebrate people’s birthdays either, just as you have heard him on several occasions, even as a governor, appealing to those who wanted to give him gifts during his birthdays or buy media spaces on his behalf, to convert same into cash to be donated to the needy in the society. These are on record.

So, when you hear that he does not “spend,” you may wish to calculate how much he has spent since he left office in donations to schools, not only in Anambra, his home state or the South East, but in far-flung places in the 36 states of Nigeria to ensure the development of education. You are sure to be surprised by the figures.

Let me give you an example of what Obi does with his money.  In May, this year, Obi was at the burial of his elder sister, Lady Bibiana Adani in Ukana, Enugu State. From the story told after the event, some of the people in the rural community, went home unhappy. Why? They had come prepared for a lavish ceremony, with some of them bringing extra bags to carry home some of the goodies, while others were already imagining what they would go home with as gifts, especially now it has become a fad for items such as mobile phones, electronics and other highly-priced takeaways are now part of such events.

However, they were disappointed that no such thing happened. Now, this was not only a very rich man, but a former governor. What stinginess? Of course, nobody could blame such grumbling, given what could have been the picture in other circumstances.

But Obi explained his sentiments to reporters who took him on over the issue after hearing the complaint of the people. This was his reaction: “Sometimes I shudder on what people do for the dead as if they are marketing commodity. All the dead needs from the living is decent burial after they must have taken care of them while living. As a Catholic, what I owe her now are prayers and booking of masses for happy repose of her soul and not an opportunity to display wealth that should rather be used to add value to humanity.”
And to make good this line of thought, he has commissioned a brand new hospital be built in the community in memory of the same woman. That is Obi’s style.

Flowing from this mind-set, it is understandable his brand of politics. He is the type that may be more amenable to that recommendation by Barak Obama and Hilary Clinton that African leaders must build strong institutions rather than strong personalities.

So, you are more likely to catch him building physical institutions such as hospitals, schools, transport facilities, facilitating economic infrastructures like companies, businesses, agricultural concerns and the likes as well as social infrastructures like roads, bridges, rails, et al.

You are unlikely to see Obi investing in some structures Nigerian politicians build. He is unlikely to buy guns and other dangerous weapons to build an army of thugs that will fight for him at political rallies or undertake to neutralise his enemies, real or imagined or sponsor candidates to higher positions based only on their loyalty to him as a person, in order to build the much-advertised “political structure” that is very popular today amongst politicians.

The difference is that with his brand of politics, that partially-blind man in Kano, that well-equipped library in Wukari, that brilliant child in Abeokuta that has just excelled in his examinations, may just have benefitted from Obi’s interventions, in the same manner the five Anambra Girls from Regina Pacis Secondary School Onitsha, who became the pride of our nation by winning the Gold Medal at the World Technovation Challenge in the Silicon Valley in San Francisco, US.

Like it played out that day at the Odezuligbo’s palace, during Abiola’s visit, memories of Obi’s past deeds, may well be coming to the fore soon, now that it is most needed. People hardly forget these things.



Posted on October, 18 2018

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