By Jude Atupulazi
Make no mistake about this: the greatest challenge facing the Nigerian nation today is economic. With little else to rely on for foreign exchange, save her oil, which in itself is no longer the life saver it used to be, the country is teetering on the precipice of economic collapse amid high inflation rate, high unemployment rate and high cost of living occasioned by poor, visionless and inept leadership. As the country inches closer and closer to the 2019 general elections therefore, it has become imperative that only the right choice of leaders by the electorate can halt the nation's ominous slide to an ineluctable disaster.
Thankfully though, all hope is not lost for the nation as a light appears to shine at the end of her tunnel. That shining light is represented by the Atiku/Obi ticket. Indeed, to say that this ticket represents hope for Nigeria is akin to affirming that God is in heaven. The two men have what it takes to effect a real change for Nigeria, being employers of labour and active players in business.
The above is what the current occupiers of Aso Rock lack. With due respect, both men (the incumbent president and his vice), may be experts in their field but not in the management of resources. For instance, while it is easy to reel out economic theories as a teacher, it is certainly a different kettle of fish to put it to practice; just as instilling discipline in officers and men is different from manipulating figures in the business world.
Thus, most people who have a faulty car, would rather call a roadside mechanic to fix their cars than seek the opinion of a university don from the Department of Mechanical Engineering. This is the difference experience makes. But still, that doesn't diminish the Mechanical Engineer in any way. It's only that it is foolhardy to expect magic from one who neither owned a kiosk nor ran a business centre to excel in the business world, how much more when something as big and as important as reviving the economy of a nation is involved.
Therefore, in Atiku and Obi, Nigeria will have two people who are deeply involved in the business of managing finances and who have succeeded in doing so.
In Peter Obi, the running mate of Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the People's Democratic Party, PDP, the country will certainly not have wished for a better manager of the economy which the office of the Vice President is saddled with.
Before he became governor, he was a highly successful business guru and was also chairman of banks and other high brow financial companies, despite his young age.
He would go on to bring his experience in the business and financial world to bear as governor of his state, Anambra, where he led by example, transforming the state to one with a solid economic base, through prudent management of resources and a wonderful partnership with international donor agencies who swarmed the state in appreciation of Obi's economic savvy and money management skills.
While some other governors bequeathed huge financial deficits to their successors in leaving office, Obi left an astounding N75B behind for his successor, helping him to take off on a strong footing. He achieved this despite his state receiving what can be termed peanuts from the Federation Account. Even the state's internally generated revenue was nothing compared to states like Lagos, Rivers and some oil states. But he was smart to win the trust and confidence of donor agencies who helped in the development of the state, thus saving the masses from exploitative taxation.
Obi's financial wizardry was not lost on Nigerians as he became the first governor not under the ruling party to serve as financial adviser to the president and also as a member the nation's economic management team. Indeed, the imprints of Obi in governance came at a time it was considered well nigh impossible for any governor to do such. This is perhaps why a lot of Nigerians listen to him whenever he speaks today.
Even his next boss, Atiku Abubakar, is well aware of Obi's qualities in the management of finances. He was recently quoted in a Punchonline report as saying that Nigeria had not produced leaders like Obi and himself since 1960.
The report stated thus: ''The presidential candidate of the People's Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, on Wednesday said the type of leadership that he and his running mate, Mr. Peter Obi, offer Nigerians has not been seen in the country since Independence.
''Atiku, who spoke during a town hall meeting with representatives of the business community in Aba, Abia State, blamed the ruling All Progressives Congress for allegedly instigating economic regression in the country.
''According to the PDP candidate, Nigerians cannot afford to have 50 million unemployed men and women.
''He said, 'That is why there is insecurity. To be able to do business, you must have a secure environment. Otherwise, you will not even be able to come out of your house and go to your factory'.
“We have two very experienced men, both in governance and business: Peter Obi and myself. I don't think Nigeria has ever produced this type of leadership since Independence. If you are doubting us, you know what you should do? Try the two of us.
“If you're producing juice, I'm a manufacturer of beverages. If you're producing plastics, I'm a manufacturer of plastics. If you have poultry, I'm a manufacturer of livestock.
“If you're selling food in the market, I own fast food (restaurants). If you are in printing, I have a printing industry. If you are into broadcasting, I own television stations. So, what are you going to tell me?”
Still according to the report, Abubakar stated that his various companies had been spending N600m to pay for trucks' haulage until he decided to start his own haulage business.
“I sat down with them and said, 'No, we must go into road haulage. Let's have our own trucks. I can't spend N600m on mere road haulage.' And today, we're in a successful haulage industry.
“So, my brothers and sisters, the government that has tried to solve most of the challenges that the business community are facing in this country is the PDP government and here is another opportunity, so you don't repeat the mistake of bringing back this government,” he said.
Well, Atiku has said it all. The problems facing Nigeria today are basically caused by square pegs being placed on round holes. The square pegs may be good in themselves but so long as their shapes don't match the holes, they can never cover them.
Atiku's assessment of his running mate and himself came soon after Obi wowed the nation with his knowledge of figures at the last debate for Vice Presidential candidates. While the other candidates struggled to talk without looking at their jotters, Obi comfortably reeled out his points, making comparative analyses of what obtains in Nigeria and other countries and explaining why and how. There was no doubt that he was a man at home with issues, having certainly faced them head on previously in business and leadership.
Perhaps those who do not know him well may just think it was one of those things some people try to put up in order to impress. Those who think that way may be forgiven for just not knowing him. I recall during the campaigns for the 2003 governorship election in Anambra State, the people of the state, most of whom were seeing and knowing Obi for the first time, saw him reeling out figures the same way. He used figures to tell them how he intended to do what he was promising. They were thrilled, at least many of them. It was the first time anyone would be campaigning that way.
There were however some who doubted his ability to execute his blueprint to the letter as he was promising. To them, it was too good to be true. Then, for instance, while others were talking about two-point, three-point agenda, Obi was talking about not one, not two, but all-point agenda. Those doubters wondered how that was possible when those before him who gave a ceiling to theirs failed to achieve them.
But they did not reckon with the man, Peter. He came, saw and conquered and made history as the first governor who worked on all sectors and succeeded. Today, it is believed that his vast experience and connections in business helped in no small measure in the achievement of that feat. This is even as it was known by those privileged to do so, that he spent time visiting places, researching and asking questions and getting answers to critical problems facing his state, such that even before he came aboard, he already had the solutions to most of the problems in his finger tips.
Now, again, people must have seen him meeting with foreign diplomats, their parliamentarians and some world leaders. He is not doing that for the fun of being with them. The typical Peter has already gone to work, gathering information, building bridges and creating trust. Thus when he was reeling out figures at the last debate, one can now see that he didn't get his facts by staying at home and reading papers. The Peter I know has already done his home work, or most of it. He's ready to walk his talk.
There's no doubt that in Atiku and Obi, the nation is on the verge of getting leaders who fit the bill as far as taking her out of her economic quagmire is concerned; leaders who understand figures and who won't be afraid to use them.