Peter Obi, between Southeast and Southwest

Dec 17, 2018

Mr. Peter Obi

By Jude Atupulazi

With some two months to the almighty presidential election in Nigeria, one cannot but feel encapsulated in the frenetic build up to that day. Although for now, there seems a situation that can be likened to the calm before a storm, political watchers know for sure that it is all about the calm before the final push. But despite the slow motion build up, things have been happening, right from the moment the identities of the major gladiators and their running mates were known.

See the source imageThere is no doubt that one which caused ripples across the country, was the announcement of former Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi, as the running mate of the presidential candidate of the People's Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.

The ripples that announcement triggered were twofold. The first was pure excitement at the choice of Obi by Atiku by the generality of Nigerians who have been following the exploits of Obi, both as governor and as a resource person. The other kind of ripple was what appeared to be a strange reluctance by Obi's brother governors in the Southeast to accept his choice.

Of the five governors of the Southeast, three are of PDP, Obi's party. One is of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA; while the remainder was then of the All Progressives Congress, APC.

While it could be understood why both the APGA and APC governors did not show any sort of excitement at Obi's emergence, being that they had and still have their own presidential candidates, the response of the remaining three governors who were/are of Obi's party, was difficult to fathom.

Indeed, one of the Southeast PDP governor's chief press secretary had rushed off to congratulate Obi on his boss's behalf, believing that his boss would naturally be happy that somebody of Obi's calibre had been nominated. But the CPS suddenly found himself staring down the barrel of a gun and having to explain his action to his boss who strangely enough did not share in his employee's enthusiasm. So what then could account for his boss's action and the actions of the remaining two Southeast PDP governors?

What they told Nigerians in the aftermath of angry reactions to their lukewarmness to Obi's nomination was that they were not consulted by Atiku before Obi was nominated. On one hand, it could have meant that they had someone else in mind and were therefore jolted by the choice of Obi. On another hand, it could mean that they were envious of not just Obi, but of the fact that Anambra had seemingly been enjoying the lion's share of big offices, especially regarding the office of the Vice President.

In the Second Republic, an Anambra man, Dr Alex Ekwueme, was the Vice President under Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Much later, another Anmabra man, Chuba Okadigbo, was chosen by Muhammadu Buhari as his running mate, although that ticket did not work out. And now, another Anambra man, Peter Obi, has been nominated as the running mate of Atiku; something that the naysayers can't seem to swallow.

Indeed, while the above sentiments were not openly canvassed by the Southeast PDP governors, it is an open secret that some people view Anambra as unduly dominant, even when those occupying whatever position are well suited to it.

This seems to have been well exemplified by Obi. There's little doubt that in terms of qualification, suitability, influence, acceptance and popularity, Obi, without doubt stands out among his peers from the Southeast Zone.

As governor of his state, Anambra, he acquitted himself well, developed his state and left billions in the coffers of the state while leaving office. Indeed, in terms of development indices, there's little doubt that Anambra has developed the fastest these last 12 years and it's all down to Obi's Midas Touch and legacies. And this was when his contemporaries handed over near empty treasuries to their successors.

Even outside of office, he remained very relevant, certainly more relevant than any other ex-governor in recent memory. He is seen by many Nigerians today as an example of a good leader. This is why he is always being invited to speak at one forum or the other. Thus when his name was announced as Atiku's running mate, Nigerians went into hysterics; the first time the choice of a running mate would elicit such a celebration. Interestingly, those celebrating him are not limited to his geographical zone. The celebration simply cuts across the entire country.

But while others were ecstatic about the development, discordant tunes were emanating from Obi's very own people because of issues that can be said to be more laughable than serious.
Now, let's take the example of Ogun State in the Southwest. This state has produced and is producing many people who have occupied exalted positions in the country or contested for big positions, including the incumbent Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo. Before him had been the likes of Obafemi Awolowo, Moshood Abiola, Olusegun Obasanjo, Babatunde Osotimehin, Dimeji Bankole, among others.

The rest of the Southwest states never protested each time any of the above names came up. What sufficed for them was that they were their people. But then, when it was the turn of the Southeast which has been almost boring the rest of the country with cries of political marginalization to produce their own man, they changed the cry from marginalization to non-consultation.

I'm sure the rest of the country must have been both shocked and puzzled, especially when the choice of the personality being debated was as good, if not better, as could be found anywhere.

One wondered what manner of consultation was needed when it is the prerogative of an aspirant to choose a person they feel they could work best with. Atiku, perhaps, only owed his party, the PDP, explanations over his choice, at least because of the political dynamics of the country such as the zone to produce the Vice President and the person's religion. These two are ever present in any political calculation in the country.

For the Southeast leaders to therefore raise any kind of objection based on non-consultation smacks of political naivety. Perhaps, the village from which any of the governors chooses an appointee will tomorrow lead a delegation to such a governor to protest against the governor's choice, knowing that a governor has the right to appoint anyone based on qualities they see in the person.

Maybe it would have been understandable if Obi was some unaccomplished personality or some crook who cannot be trusted with public office. But when Atiku's choice is somebody who has proved himself in the business world, politics and leadership, any objection based on such trifling matter as to the state he is coming from certainly portrays the complainants as mere rabble rousers.

No doubt, the events following Obi's nomination may seem to have been overtaken by time, but there is a need to remind these Igbo leaders as often as anyone can that they shouldn't play the spoiler role in a deal that will benefit them and their people.

What they should do is to rally round Obi and ensure that he gets into Aso Rock. Obi proved as governor of Anambra, that he is not parochial when it comes to leadership and governance. His home town of Agulu did not get anything more significant than other towns just because Obi was governor of the state. Indeed, it appeared as though Agulu was faced in the twilight of Obi's administraton.

That was why the Agulu Lake Resort Hotel, now Golden Tulip, was only started in Obi's second tenure. And it was sited in Agulu because of its location and the tourism potential inherent at that location. I recall Obi's reply each time he was asked why he seemed not to corner projects to his town as many in his position are wont to do. His answer was always that he wasn't the governor of Agulu but that of the entire state.

So if Obi could rise above primordial clannish interests as governor, is it now that he will become clannish and forget other parts of the east when and if he becomes the country's Vice President?

Perhaps, those behind the cry of Anambra domination of the rest of the East do not fully appreciate the man, Obi. If they do, they will realize that there's hardly any better person at the moment than he to occupy the nation's Number Two seat.

Like their brothers from the West, the East should quit being pedestrian and place merit above all else.



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