By Jude Atupulazi
Former Anambra Governor, Mr Peter Obi, may have won many awards in his day. But to me, of all these awards, only two stand out: the Papal Knighting and the Governor of the Decade Award he won last Monday, January 20, by This Day Newspapers. The beauty of these two is that he got them after he left office.
In Nigeria one only comes to know their true worth in the eyes of the people when they are no longer in a position of authority or influence. While such a person remains influential, delegations will come and literally beg to be allowed to bestow one recognition or the other on the person. Many public servants have not been able to withstand such ''temptations''. But one man did. That man is Peter Obi.
As governor of Anambra State from 2006 to 2014, he made it clear many times that he would not accept any title while as governor. He stood by his words. The only ones he received were awards on his performance by reputable organizations. However, because he was in office when he received them, I will not rate them as much as I have rated the last two earlier mentioned. Oh, lest I forget, he was given a chieftaincy title of Okwute Ndigbo after he left office. But I've never been a lover of chieftaincy titles. Even Obi himself doesn't seem to love that either as he still prefers answering just ''Mr Peter'', rather than ''Chief Peter Obi''. We all know how many people would rave and rant if as chiefs they did not have such prefixed to their names. So I'm still sticking to his Papal Knighting and Governor of the Decade Award given to him by This Day Newspapers.
Perhaps, it will be an idea to first share with you a report as to why This Day Honoured Obi.
Why we honoured Obi as Governor of the Decade – This Day
This Day Newspaper said that Mr. Peter Obi was honoured as the Governor of the Decade based on what it called his “salient and often overlooked epochal contributions to governance in Nigeria”, which the paper itemized thus:
1. Introduction of civility to Government
2. Investigation in the banks carried out by the paper which proved that the money Obi said he saved and bequeathed to his successor was real. The paper said it should serve as an example to governors that only accumulate debts for their states.
3. Obi's massive infrastructural development that is still the talk of the town in Anambra State and beyond.
4. His singular, earth-quaking rebuilding of the education sector in Anambra State.
5. The altering of the political calendar of Nigeria through epochal court judgements.
Reacting to the criteria, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, while speaking during the presentation of the award, spoke prophetically: 'We have watched you over the years, you will go higher my son.'
The above quotation of Adebanjo, I believe, is already being manifested. Obi has made history as the first former governor to enjoy continued relevance and even more goodwill across the country. While Obi only largely made impact in his home state during his time as governor, he is today enjoying national acclaim and is even more in the limelight than many serving governors and for good reasons.
Today, over five years after leaving office as governor, he still moves around to schools within and outside his state, donating money, buses and computers. He is the only past leader doing this. Some say he is a pretender. If he is, this kind of pretence is good. It will therefore be good if we all pretend like him. Education will only be the winner.
Anyone who has been following me will not fail to have noticed my soft spot for the man, Peter Obi. Having been in this state under many governors, I dare say that Obi is head and shoulders above all of them without exception when the topic is governance and administrative savvy.
Obi saw and still sees governance as serious business and approached it as such. He never gave room to sentiments. As a result, his government was not peopled by those from his Agulu Community. Indeed, his people initially almost revolted against him for ''ignoring'' them in infrastructural development, even though Obi adopted a holistic development template.
Obi not only developed all sectors at same time, but did so like a father by ensuring that no area enjoyed the lion's share at the expense of the other.
To him, every part of the state was one and the same. He made no distinctions. He used public money judiciously for public good and never luxuriated at the expense of the state. Whenever he travelled, it was for business and he was never known to be outside the state for more than two days during his entire eight years.
Obi was simplicity personified. He had the least number of vehicles in his convoy of any of his contemporaries. He never harassed the public with his sirens. He went to functions and had his car parked outside while he walked into the venue. In the church, if he came late, he would quietly stay at the back in order not to disturb the mass or service and sometimes, people only knew he was around when his presence was acknowledged by the priests. His security never entered the church with him too. He was, indeed, a different breed.
But when I see people in his former position doing the opposite of all he did, I shake my head. I will give one example. At the thanksgiving ceremony of Senator Uche Ekwunife at Ekwueme Square in Awka, ousted Imo State governor, Emeka Ihedioha, disrupted the interdenominational service by being driven straight into the arena with sirens blaring. He then proceeded to shake hands with those who cared to do so with him. A man sitting near me was disgusted and told me that 'Obi would never do this'.
Today, some governors will leave their states and go holidaying for over a month and while that happens, government machinery is nearly grounded as appointees also travel. Yet, no one talks. Amazingly, these same people who don't talk are the first to criticize Buhari when he does his own travelling; not for leisure, but on health grounds. See the hypocrisy of our people? Mana oburu na m ekwue, asi na m anekwuka.
Today governance in some states has been reduced to cronyism and nepotism in the name of empowerment. Today we have many aides without offices but who still get regular bank alerts. It is common knowledge that not more than ten percent, if at all, of these aides work for their pay. I'm not against appointing people, but they must earn their pay. To therefore say that it is hard to see leaders like Obi is to state the obvious.
The award by This Day to Obi as the Governor of the Decade could not have come at a better time because of its inherent lessons. Chief among them is that if anyone does well, their antecedents will always follow them. That a man who left office close to five years ago could win the Governor of the Decade Award by a reputable outfit like This Day should be a wake-up call to serving governors. Obi served his state with passion and never cared what those who lost out because of his style thought of him. He displayed a single minded approach to governance and only used those who could add value to the state.
I'm aware that in some quarters, I'm seen as an ''Obi Boy''. Do I care? I remain one who does not pretend. We all have our different apostolates. I use my profession as my own apostolate and that is to talk as I SEE IT, simple. I wept the day Obi left office because I knew even then that replacing him with his like would be difficult.
Leadership must go with humility and great responsibility. It is not an opportunity to enjoy oneself at the detriment of the people. It is not an opportunity to adopt a nepotistic approach. It is an opportunity to serve genuinely with passion and dedication, knowing that the seeds we sow today, will germinate tomorrow for posterity. It therefore behoves today's leaders to sow good seeds.
Congrats, Okwute Ndigbo! Your service to humanity is not lost on many.