NEWS reports were effusive in capturing the significant moment. This was how a leading daily celebrated it: “In what could be described as a surprise to all in attendance, Governor Obiano in a most humble manner apologised to his predecessor (Mr. Peter Obi) for any wrong he may have done him, prompting the former Governor to approach him at the podium and embrace him. Together they knelt down before the altar and the Archbishop, Metropolitan Province of Onitsha, Most Reverend Valerian Okeke, prayed for them.”
The epic event was on Tuesday August 2, 2016, at Christ the King’s College (CKC) Onitsha, during the funeral mass for the late Reverend Father Nicholas Tagbo, who was the school’s Principal for 18 years – from 1963 to 1972, and from 1976 to 1985. Both Willie Obiano and Peter Obi are CKC old boys who had drunk from the well of character and knowledge that was Father Tagbo. Archbishop Okeke remarked that, even in death, the departed educationist remained a bridge builder. It is this imperative of bridge building that prompted this article. Governor Obiano displayed exceptional grace by publicly apologising in a country where high public office often transformed incumbents into deities for whom the sheerest thought of offering apologies was infra dignitatem.
But Governor Obiano did it before his fellow old boys, before a plethora of the Catholic clergy, before throngs of mourning laity and in front of a battery of television cameras. It is a distinct quality of leadership that lends itself to the rolling out of drums. It was also gracious of ex-Governor Peter Obi, to rise to the occasion and respond positively to the peace overture, which has opened up a window of real opportunity for genuine amity and concord in Anambra. There had in the past two years been acrimony between Obi and Obiano, a high point being Mr. Obi’s ditching of APGA, the political party on whose platform he was Anambra Governor for eight years. The gravity of the situation played out in believers of either of the estranged duo, some of whom embedded in opposite trenches and, with or without prompting, hurled mordant missiles with vegetable hatred. Clearly, it didn’t bode well for Anambra State.
This was why the Obiano/Obi embrace, and promise, of lasting reconciliation elicited reactions of spectacular bipolarity: some drowned in a paroxysm of grief; others exuded unprecedented hilarity. The reasons are obvious. Beginning with those palpitating at the prospect of political peace, there is a saying in the Igbo country that, A troubled society is a windfall for titled men. This is because when someone sued his neighbour before Titled Men, he wedged his petition with tubers of yam, carefully prepared meals and frothing palm wine. Even when the peace initiative was by local leaders, they still exacted fines from contending parties. Either way the chiefs wallowed in endless feasting.
The same scenario has been playing out on the differences between Governor Obiano and ex-Governor Obi. Sponsored foot soldiers, and hungry others anxious for meal tickets, aggregated, especially on the Internet, polluting the atmosphere while persuading the gullible that they were striking blows for real or perceived patrons. Some of them mortgaged broadcast stations and blared interminable outrages. The profiteers from these mercenary activities know that the financial ante would be upped exponentially with the advent of political campaigns. They belong to the clan of “nattering nabobs of negativism” currently in tears because Governor Obiano appears to have pulled the rug from under their feet. They weep because a stop to their restless run of vile propaganda can only mean that they must hop off the gravy train. Like wayward toddlers whose lips are yanked from nipples, they are in tantrums.
But, that is strictly their business. The immediate consideration turns to hailers of Governor Obiano’s perspicacity. They are in order because there is no better alternative to peace. In a sense, however, their joys should only be tentative because peace comes not only through declarations but also by the concrete actions of honest and dedicated people zealous for society’s overall good.
The year 1967, being half a century gone, may appear too distant for comfort. But it was a year of pious peace declarations that were not tied to anticipated bridge building. In January of that year, two Nigerian military delegations led by Lieutenant Colonels Yakubu Gowon and Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu converged in Aburi, Ghana, to seek peace in the wake of the bloody coups d’état of 1966 that had left Nigeria in tatters. There, they agreed the route to genuine peace. There, they repudiated the use of force in settling the nation’s political upheaval. There, they fashioned a modus vivendi that may have saved the country from the internecine conflict that followed. But, back in Nigeria, Colonel Gowon reneged on the agreement. That was the immediate impetus for the declaration of Biafra, and the subsequent 30-month civil war that devoured millions of innocent lives.
There is a lesson from Aburi that must not be lost on Ndi Anambra. This lesson commands all to push the peace option that are in a position to do so. It recommends follow-up actions to actualise the CKC peace declarations by Governor Obiano and ex-Governor Obi. In this connection, three prelates that could be at the cutting edge of the peace initiative instantly come to mind: Archbishop Valerian Okeke, Bishop Hilary Okeke of Nnewi Diocese, and Bishop Paulinus Ezeokafor of Awka Diocese. The suitability of these prelates is enhanced by the credit that they previously deployed their mettles in the efforts to lance the boil of enmity between the two prominent Anambra sons. Their job henceforward would amount to enabling Obi and Obiano to be carried along – together with their genuine and altruistic allies, just as the snail’s movement invariably is in sync with its shell. It is a task that could become easier, given the estranged duo’s public repudiation of further frostiness. Of cause, that does not necessarily obviate the contingency of daunting and time-consuming parleys. But a Nigerian proverb insists that, “A patient man will cook a piece of rock until it becomes soft and edible.”
Spoilers on either side will scheme to torpedo the search for oneness, arguing that Peter Obi deserves no concession of quarters; insisting that Obiano must be thwarted if he eyes a second term of office. But the central question is less about longevity inside Government House, Awka, as it is about the condition of Anambra State. The avoidable dissipation of energy while Anambra’s visage is a study in tremulous lips, bleeding nostrils, swollen eyelids and a harrowing groan of deep-seated anguish is clearly beyond toleration. The people want peace! They want it now!
Mr. Chuks Iloegbunam, a commentator on national affairs, wrote from Lagos.