Chuks Ileogbunam | Yes! There’s nothing they haven’t said of Peter Obi. They have charged that he is not a god. They have said he is no more than a political opportunist. They have ridiculed his promise to change Nigeria from consumer to producer.
They pooh-poohed as unfounded the statistics the man churned out on successes abroad that could be replicated back home.
Those who alternate between reading newspapers and staring into the skies understand that, like other humans, Peter Obi possesses a bag of foibles. All told, he sculpted in the granite of national consciousness an enduring self-definition.
“I am a trader,” he often asserts, without the novelty ever wearing off. Well, here is a gem from the trader-politician: “Who among us would lose their car and, on discovering who made away with it, allow them to keep the vehicle because it was scrupulously maintained?”
Any reader who would rather the illegal confiscation of his property stays unchallenged because it is forever kept tidy may discontinue reading because this article is themed on halting looters and worsting impunity.
Now, the stolen automobile and seized mansion are understated anecdotes for estopping wantonness. Here is a newspaper’s May 5, 2023, story: “A total of 137 persons were killed, and 57 abducted during the 2023 general elections, a report by the Incident Centre for Election Atrocities (ICEA) has shown.
The report entitled: “Ethnic Profiling, Hate Speech, and Endemic Violence: A Preliminary Post-Election Statement on the 2023 General Elections in Nigeria,” obtained by Saturday Vanguard in Abuja, said the most prominent forms of atrocities noted through the electioneering process were the weaponisation of voter suppression through violence, hate speech, fake news, and ethnic bigotry.”
To recraft the understated anecdotes.
A princess would be betrothed to a community’s crown prince. Once the ceremony is underway, a bandit storms the public square with sword and bludgeon-wielding mercenaries. The king’s head is separated from his torso.
The crown prince’s bloody entrails are flung and scattered in all directions. The bandit abducts the would-be spouse. A reign of agony and bedlam ensues. A season later, the bandit returns with his abductee and their son, claiming entitlement to the community’s throne.
Except inflicted by bastardy, which Nigerian community will heartily crown the murderous criminal because, straight from their violation, a bouncing baby boy was born?
This is the atrocity that impelled Peter Obi to step into the breach. And, like the tree by the footpath, what he represents is the subject of much buffeting and battering.
He has been viscerally bathed in malignity and curses. One social media profaner even called him an infidel. Yet, he is neither bloodied nor bowed. Having long banished the fear of fear, he is proceeding with the breastplate of truth and the belt of righteousness. If a sane society decided on an ”infidel’s” leadership, why should interlopers discountenance their democratic choice? Wasn’t a similar outrage what threw up the June 12 imbroglio that almost sundered Nigeria?
Doesn’t it strike as significant that a man much maligned for championing the people’s cause has not for once served his adversaries with a dose of their own medicine? Peter Obi was a teenager when First and Second Republic politician, Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim, espoused the philosophy of Politics Without Bitterness. He is today that creed’s prime exemplar. He has demonstrated an abiding faith in the ballot box as the democratic instrument for elective office. He has invariably turned to the judiciary each time the need arose to redress political waywardness. He acts in boldness, knowing that he will never walk alone.
Some theoretical formulation is apposite. The sum of Nigeria’s intractable challenges was always known. Chinua Achebe placed a finger on it. In The Trouble With Nigeria, he said: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example, which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”
Reacting to Achebe’s thesis a year or so before he perished in a mystifying 1996 plane crash, Professor Claude Ake, the eminent political scientist, submitted that national failure was equally blamable on followership. If docility informed followership, he argued, there was little point in expecting or envisaging altruistic and visionary leadership.
On the surface, Achebe and Ake had argued from antipodal zones.
But examined critically, their postulations are, in fact, in tandem. The confusion only rears its ugly head when leadership is seen from the opaque prism of political authority. Except impliedly, Achebe didn’t blame Nigeria’s trouble on political leadership per se. And when Ake lanced followership, he didn’t articulate a chasm in the bonds of responsibilities devolving on the leader and the led. Therefore, it boils down to this: Leadership cannot be sentenced to the political and the apicular. Of course, leadership is pyramidal. But it exists and thrives at the levels of political distinction, economic potentialities, geographic demarcations, religious stratification, domestic particularities, etc.
In effect, a school principal is, in comparison, a follower of the education minister. But inside his college, the principal is the leader. A carpenter on a building site follows a foreman. But back home, where he is the breadwinner, his leadership position ought not to be in doubt. The class prefect and her classmates are subject to the headmaster’s authority. Yet, she leads her cohorts. It is in this classification of diverse and varying leadership levels that the postulations of Professors Achebe and Ake should be inserted. This, then, is the critical question: What is the quality of your leadership at your own level?
That’s the juncture at which the Obidient Movement manifests because it represents an uncompromising affirmation of political morality that abjures class, ethnic, or religious parochialism. Obidients show leadership at whatever level circumstances place them. In apt apprehension of their civic responsibilities, they not only participated in voter registration but also encouraged broad swathes of the population to follow suit. They disdained violence. On election days, they trooped out to vote, even in the face of harassment, intimidation, violence, and INEC’s perversity.
When election results were called that raised eyebrows, they disdained the template for “the dog and the baboon (to) all be soaked in blood.” They hearkened to the invitation to “go to court.” That is the new Nigeria. Such is the nature of life that the man after whom Nigeria’s redemptive movement took a name is not the issue. Had Peter Obi gone into the presidential ballot flying other than the Labour Party flag, it is unlikely that the movement now symbolically coalesced around his personality would have come to be.
•Iloegbunam is the author of The Promise of a New Era, the biography of Mr. Peter Obi