By Prof MK Othman
Peter Gregory Obi, a 1984 graduate of Philosophy from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka is a dogged political fighter and appears to be a committed nationalist struggling to take Nigeria out of economic doldrums and developmental stagnation. His political sojourn is full of ups and downs, with each down making him a stronger and more ferocious fighter for the next round of fighting.
As written in this Column, a few months ago. His tenure as the governor of Anambra state was marred by upheavals. Obi’s victory in the 2003 governorship election of Anambra was awarded to Ngige, which was overturned by the Court of Appeal on March 15, 2006. Obi assumed office on March 17, 2006, but was impeached On Nov. 2, 2006, by the State House of Assembly after seven months in office and was replaced by his deputy Virginia Etiaba.
He was re-instated on Feb. 9, 2007, by the Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu. In April 2007, Obi was removed from office after a new governorship election was held by INEC, but the judiciary intervened again and ruled that he should be allowed to complete a full four-year term. In 2010, he won re-election for a second and final term in office as the governor.
Despite these happenings, Obi was able to perform “wonders” in Anambra. His testimony is full of fantastic stories. After leaving office in 2014, Obi became an advocate for good governance, leading to his defection to the PDP from APGA. He was Atiku Abubakar’s running mate in the 2019 election and was among the PDP’s top presidential aspirants but defected to the Labour Party (LP).
In LP, three other contestants – Prof. Pat Utomi, Mr. Joseph Faduri, and Mrs. Olubusola Tella stepped down for him to clinch the ticket. Obi seems to know the solution to all Nigeria’s problems; his head is full of statistics and churns them out when he talks. His statistical analyses are alleged to be erroneous when they are fact-checked. Obi, a 62 year old man is no longer a young man but, in a country, where the political landscape is dominated by septuagenarians, octogenarians, and nonagenarians, Obi became a symbol of youth.
Youth representation became his selling point, the unannounced political slogan for vulnerable youths and several others who crave for a change of the status quo. Obi and the majority of his teeming supporters are of Igbo extraction and his campaign should have been targeted to win support from non-Igbo people across the nation. However, his overzealous supporters did the opposite by intimidating others with foul language, intolerance, and incivility to garner support for Obi’s presidential ambition.
They missed the point because politics is about persuasion, cajoling, horse trading, and bridge-building. Thus, they made Obi act like a drowning man in a deep river, eager to catch straws of grass for survival, not minding the kind of danger harbored by the grass. He was consequently caged with a false assurance of winning the February 25th Presidential election. As the 2023 election was approaching, the Simon Ekpa-led faction of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) declared a “sit-at-home order” in a widely circulated video calling it “a sacrifice and a task that must be done by all Biafrans across the globe”. While the threat generated fear and tension in the region, especially among the non-Igbo residents but none of the political parties including the LP commented on the issue.
The next was the alleged leaked audio telephone conversation between Obi and Bishop David Oyedepo, the founder of the Living Faith Church Worldwide. In the audio clip, Obi asked Oyedepo to help spread his message to Christians in the South-west and parts of North-central, painting the election as a “religious war.” Although LP described the clip as completely fake but LP’s Presidential Campaign Council (PCC) spokesperson, Mr. Kenneth Okonkwo confirmed the authenticity of the audio and suggested a different interpretation of the conversation (Premium Times, April 2nd, 2023). Using religion and ethnicity in playing politics is the undoing of our democracy and may deny candidates’ acceptability at the national or state level.
One may recall the case of Kaduna state in 2019, a faultless Muslim-Muslim ticket was religiously painted by the opposition party as the “Islamization” of Kaduna state. A massive religious campaign was mounted against the ticket in religious places, which provoked the adherents of other religious faith to vote for the ticket and the rest is history. Recently, Reno Omokri, an author and social media influencer advised Christians “No matter the provocation, Christians must never allow future elections to be about religion. It will not serve us well!”
After the presidential election results declaration, faceless groups, alleged to be dominated by the supporters of LP staged a 10-day protest against the declaration of the winners of the presidential election. They made submissions of protest letters to important stakeholders including the Ministry of Defense, Embassies of the USA, Canada, and Britain among others. This was seen as a direct invitation for Military intervention by the losers of the election. It was like trying to bring down the roof of the house simply because their candidate(s) did not win the election held on 25th February 2023.
Before the current political dispensation, Nigeria had an ugly and blighted specter of pernicious military coups, intervention, and take-over of governments. The legacy and scars of these misadventures are still haunting us and they refused to let go. Thank God, today, the Nigerian Military is highly mature and professional, and could not be deterred from the constitutional role of defending the Nigerian nascent democracy.
With all these upheavals, how can Obi’s political venture be mended? Many of us who have schooled and worked/still working with Igbos in different places in Nigeria and outside, we know that Igbo people have special God-given endowments of hard work, tenacity & acumen. My article of Wednesday, July 21st, 2021 published in this Column titled “Nigeria-2023: Igbo undoing the Igbo presidency” articulated my opinion and respect for the Igbo race. I said “With all their shrewdness, dexterity, intelligence, and exposure, Igbo or perhaps, the loudmouths among them are failing to understand that none of the three major tribes in Nigeria, can single-handedly make it to the Nigerian presidency without the support of the other two tribes in addition to few minorities. None can coerce other tribes to extract political support to achieve electoral success at the federal level. ”With a massive dose of rapprochement and measured diplomacy, Obi and other highly rated Igbos can make it to the Nigerian presidency shortly. Obi needs to prove to non-Igbo Nigerians; he means well for them and the nation and their safety and fundamental human rights would be guaranteed under his presidency. To do this, Obi has to grow beyond being an Igbo or a Christian candidate, he has to be a candidate with a national outlook and concern, adorned with unflinching loyalty to the Nigerian nationhood. He has to distance himself from those clamoring for the disintegration of Nigeria.
Being an intellectual, this is not an impossible task for Obi to accomplish. Luckily, he has time, he can begin his preparation for the 2027 presidency today. May God guide Nigeria, its leaders and the followers, amen.
Othman, a university don, writes from Zaria.