The trouble with Peter Obi is that he was never able to rise above the pale of ordinariness in his eight years as governor of Nigeria’s most gifted state. He lacked the
colour, the charisma and the carriage that should come with the governor of Anambra State – land of the brave. In fact, Peter’s personality was intensely antithetical to the fire and glory that are inborn to onye Anambra. Obodo ndi odogwu! Where we are gregarious, excitable and generous, Peter is reclusive, timid and parsimonious. He lacks the oomph, the finishing touches that set us apart from our Igbo brothers.
All that Peter has is cunning, deviousness and doublespeak! Even the Ikemba Nnewi, saw that and recoiled from him. His wife, Iyom Bianca expressed horror when Peter’s cunning and deviousness finally unravelled and she was brilliant enough to describe the personage that emerged as “a food-is-ready-politician.” Peter’s transmogrification couldn’t have been better captured, really. Iyom Bianca holds the singular honour of finally peeling off the man’s hood and calling our attention to the
Real Peter Obi!
But seriously, contrary to the illusion of grandeur his handlers paint for the people, Peter Obi’s greatest undoing as a leader is his inability to dream big dreams. In all of eight years, Peter was too timid, too tentative to really push the envelope of development in Anambra State. He cut the image of a frightened animal trapped in a cage of his own foreboding; unable to step beyond his own shadows. Dazed by the flashlight of his exalted office, he looked around him and noticed that Ngige had left a few good roads. He then decided to outstrip him by building more roads. And that was it.
For him, governance does not go beyond the puny tokenism of building roads and handing out cheques to mission schools in the full glare of the camera. Peter has no capacity to dream gigantic dreams. No serious depth to project into the future and envision a place for himself, let alone Ndi Anambra. Like a petty trader selling provision in a kiosk on the corner, Peter only thought about the moment; what would sell today? So, while his peers like Godswill Akpabio were dreaming a whole new city into being in Uyo, Peter was busy stowing funds away to build
NEXT Shopping Mall in Abuja
And the more I press my mind on this subject, the more I realise that the trouble with Peter Obi is that even when providence placed him on the verge of greatness; he lacked the vision to identify it and make the most of it. Peter’s inability to appropriate the call of history took an embarrassing dimension when as a seven-term Chairman of the South East Governors’ Forum; he failed to set any meaningful agenda for the region beyond the spineless, unquestioning support for any government in Abuja. Peter failed to interpret his role as Chairman of this Forum beyond narrow selfish interest. He lacked the deep thinking to elevate the conversation beyond the mundane and was content with playing suck-up to the president at a time when history had given him the rare privilege of leading a regional party and a regional forum of governors. He failed to articulate the anguish and aspirations of the region with the vigour and stridency that would force them onto the national roundtable.
In fact, Peter never quite rose to any serious occasion in his time as the leader of this regional conclave of governors. Yet, in his time, the corpses of Boko Haram victims were ceaselessly flooding the South East. In fact, Adazi Ani, a neighbouring town to his Agulu community suffered a most horrendous loss of its indigenes in Mubi, Taraba State, to Boko Haram during Peter’s term. But sadly, not even that close call could provoke any sense of outrage from Peter. He failed to show leadership in the region in moments when people looked up to him for solutions, for assurances or even a hint of greatness. He failed woefully to use his historical position to lead his fellow South East governors into envisioning a new economic future for the region. Buying a few units of cars from Innoson is hardly enough.
The other embarrassing thing about Peter Obi is that as Chairman of South East Governors’ Forum, he could not lead his colleagues into fashioning out a regional response to the high threat of insecurity posed by kidnappers and violent armed robbers in South East Nigeria. Even when kidnappers drove out businesses in Onitsha, Nnewi, Aba, and all over Igbo-land, the Peter Obi led South East Governors’ Forum was clueless as to how to tackle the menace as a region in spite of the obvious fact that movement is fluid across these homogenous states and criminals can strike in one state and take shelter in another.
The few kidnappers’ dens that were pulled down in Peter’s Anambra were mere window dressing, conceived to give the illusion of seriousness when in fact, Peter was unperturbed by the scourge. When one considers the fact that the rest of the South East have always looked up to Anambra to provide leadership, the tragedy of having Peter Obi on the saddle as Chairman of the Governors’ Forum at a time when the region needed a strong and perceptive leader would become clearer.
Happily, his successor, Governor Obiano appears to be making up for Peter’s tragic flaws. His recent convocation of a Regional Security Conference for the South East and Delta State shows a remarkable breadth of vision that eluded Peter in all of eight years. And although Obiano is not the Chairman of the South East Governors’ Forum, he has continued to show the sensibilities of a leader who knows his place in history and what should constitute the priorities to the people. His call, at the conference, for an economic agenda that would ensure the emergence of a robust economic zone for the South East and Delta is in tune with the general mood of the region and marks him out as a perfect replacement for Peter’s uninspiring leadership.
Viewed against this backdrop, it becomes clearer why Peter Obi has recruited a band of idle youths and commanded them to tear his successor to shreds on social media? Any wonder why he should harbour such a strong resentment for a man whose performance has masterfully consigned ANIDS and the network of tacky roads it sired to a mere footnote of history in less than one year?
Let me clear my throat a bit, please. And that brings me to Obi’s “famous” frugality. Frugality is a great quality. The tragedy is that Obi does not have it. What Obi has is parsimony. Parsimony is an entirely different quality. Now, Peter Obi’s parsimony is frightening and reprehensible. He is a minimalist; stowing things away like a squirrel in a little nest – waiting for the rainy day while the land wilts with hunger. Chukwuma Soludo’s anecdote in his now famous treatise on the last general elections titled Buhari vs Jonathan: Beyond the Election lends us a perfect lens to visualize the irony of
Peter’s matchbox economics
Soludo likened Peter’s chest thumping over his disputed frugality to the funny wisdom of “a father who had no idea what to do with his resources and was celebrating his fat bank account while his children were dying of kwashiorkor.” No description of Peter’s hilarious understanding of modern governance could have been more apt than this. No leader who has a modest understanding of statecraft should indulge in self-adulation when he ran a state for eight years and left no befitting capital and no noticeable symbol of pride for the people. Such a leader should not be taken seriously if his only claim to fame is a dubious N75bn he purportedly left behind.
In conclusion, it is doubtful that he has realised it but the fact that the only legacy that Peter Obi has continued to wave in the face of the people since he left office is the empty claim of a N75bn is a sad reminder that his eight years in office lacked the force of a big idea. In other words, Peter left Ndi Anambra with no memento and no monuments. And as the rains continue to wash off his poorly constructed roads, Peter and his team of stragglers and hagiographers will continue to sweat under the pressure to find something to point at as a good reminder that his years in Agu Awka were not in vain. And like an ill prepared magician who has come to the end of his wits, Peter must find a new trick to entertain his thinning audience before he is left with only himself to please.
James Eze, Senior Special Assistant on Media to Gov. Willie Obiano