By Jude Eze
Every meticulous students of global history must come across certain informal cliche that all Popes who left remarkable impression and brought enviable reforms to Christianity and sublimely impacted our world were either those who were never desperate to be elected, or those who were not popular among the electoral college prior to conclaves. The examples of Cardinal Angelo Roncalli who became Pope John XXIII and Karol Wojtyła, (Pope John Paul II) stand out in this regard. They were the underdogs in the buildup to October 1958 and 1978 conclaves respectively. None of them was seen as popeable. But upon emergence, each of them redefined ecclesiastical and secular leadership configurations.
The rest became history.
Don’t be lost at how this analogy fits into the topic of Mr. Peter Obi and his presidential aspiration. After all, the ‘sacred’ politics of papal election which was designed to be theocratic is totally different from the chaotic political babeldom we call election, and which we have kept on feigning to be democratic.
Since his declaration, to contest in the upcoming presidential election, Mr. Obi has been cutting the images of the two prelatical figures described above. Once his topic is raised, every Tom Dick and Harry becomes an emergency cynic and cheaply points to the augury of his ‘unpopularity’ outside south east.
He has also seen massive criticism from career politicians, including his predecessor in office, (who stole his mandate for three years, until court restored it), and current Minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige. Many a typical politician, detest his insistence that drastic reduction in the cost of governance and anathemization of the despicable culture of “share the money” will be a way to go, in saving Nigeria from herself if he becomes president. He has also been under heavy attack from fifth columnists working round the clock to discredit him, or at least dim his electoral credibility that is widening at every campaign session.
His erudition and mental acuity astounds average minds. Some mercantile politicians who command the terrain are feeling challenged already. He is picking incriminating holes in our system, and making some discomforting revelations to Nigerians, like his recent exposé on the unconstitutionality of security votes. A prudent bird has perched on the nest of our power brokers, and the centre can no longer hold. The decision is the electorates’ to make at the 2023 polls.
Still, some public affairs analysts see him as not having the national spread that can guarantee him the constitutional requirement of 25% of votes cast in at least two-third majority of the 36 states.
Three week’s ago, a certain Fredrick Nwabufo, a journalist from Mr. Obi’s home state who goes by the moniker, “Mr. One Nigeria” in an article titled: “Peter Obi, and other presidential jokers” derogatorily threw a jab that Obi does not have the requisite community network and he remains suspended on the fringes of political relevance.
He even went further to conjecture an unfounded allegation that “Obi is using the presidential quest as a gambit to negotiate for a vice-presidential position in the PDP – because he may not get another chance like in 2019 when he was the running mate of Atiku Abubakar, PDP presidential candidate, in the election.”
I had expected an outright rebuttal from Obi’s media circle, but none came until he personally came out few days ago with confutation against the falsehood.
But, long before that, (as if in a response to Nwabufo), Barr. Ezugwu Okike wrote: “The greatest challenge Peter Obi is facing is not the so-called peculiarity of the Nigerian political environment. Nor is it his lack of “structure and spread”, as it is dishonestly peddled. PDP can market him if they want, and to a sweeping victory. Obi’s greatest challenge, to me, is what he appears to stand for. Party stakeholders and big boys would not like him. He can stop or at least limit their access to public funds. Obi would firmly demand accountability. They don’t want that. His reputation for probity, frugality and discipline is the sole albatross around the neck of his ambition. This is what they won’t say publicly but that is their fear. “If the land is bad, it is to the benefit of the elders”, so ran an Igbo proverb. Those who are feeding from the fat of the land want it to remain as rotten as it is or to even get worse. And, quite unfortunately, they wield enormous influence in determining who gets what.”
The fact is that Obi has positioned himself as the conscience of Nigeria’s modern politics, and it’s not going down well with cartelists. His time as Anambra governor was a testament that government can be used to serve the people and drive positive social changes. His frugality in public office threatens the greed of our potbellied politicians who are obligate parasites to our common patrimony.
In fact Dr. Austin Tam-George, a former Commissioner for Information, in Rivers State, captured it well in his article “Peter Obi and his popular imagination” where he argued that “in this election season that has brought all kinds of people to the market square, Mr Peter Obi, appears to have seized the popular imagination. In an era of vulgar political exhibitionism, Mr Obi projects himself as a frugal, disciplined and thoughtful contender for the high office he seeks.”
When he talks about public policy, Peter Obi speaks with an infectious earnestness of purpose that is not only rare in Nigerian politics, but in African political and developmental conversations. You could tell where he stands on the important issues, because on a sector by sector basis, Mr Obi speaks about his ideas in clear, programmatic and actionable terms.
Secondly, by most accounts, Peter Obi left a decent record of service in Anambra State during his time as governor.
I have overheard sensible people complain about Peter Obi’s soft and “ feminine” voice, and they tend to mock the ‘simplicity ‘ of his clothing. This is laughable because, like most Nigerians, I doubt that the acute security and economic problems that have beset the country would suddenly disappear because of the seductive baritone of the next President. In fact, from a communication standpoint, the tone of Peter’s voice and the consistent modesty of his physical appearance actually reinforce his authenticity.
Politics may be about a contest for power, but for Peter Obi, it is also about the ability to mobilize the power of semiosis to convey a consistent message — a message of simplicity, native intelligence and connection with everyday people.
This is why despite attending Colombia, Oxford, Harvard and other Ivy league universities around the world, Mr Obi continues to speak and present himself as Peter Obi, from Anambra State, not Abraham Lincoln lite.
Despite being a billionaire entrepreneur, Peter Obi carries himself with quiet, unobtrusive dignity.
For decades, Mr Obi has conducted his philanthropy in education with the resilience of a lonely soldier ant. He has spent billions of his own money, building schools and sending abandoned children across the country back to school.
In the coming weeks, Mr Obi’s political destiny will be decided in the party primaries, by politicians with acute allergy for good governance, in the Peoples Democratic Party. (PDP).
Is Nigeria ready for Peter Obi?
If the hypothesis of his misanthropic doubters is anything to go by, then, we can only pray and hope that the story of the two great papal personages cited at the opening paragraphs, may be replayed in his case, to register a cherishable historic upset in 2023. And that is if Nigeria is honest in her lamentation for innovative leadership. But if the people choose otherwise, then, posterity will attest that once, the nation had the opportunity of enthroning a man of proven integrity, but preferred status quo.
May daylight spare us!
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