By Muyiwa Adetiba
This is not about the politics of the South-East. Or why its leaders were almost united in rejecting the nomination of Peter Obi as Atiku’s vice president. The leaders must have their reasons for rejecting the nomination of the ex-Anambra State Governor so spontaneously and so vociferously. They are yet to let us into those reasons though.
The best we’ve heard is that they were not consulted and carried along in the choice of Obi. That to me, speaks more to the character of Atiku than the suitability of Obi.
That to me, speaks more to possible ulterior motives of the leaders than to altruistic interests of the zone. And that to me, is not enough reason for a people who had been crying marginalisation all day long and seeking representation in the highest office of the land, to decide to throw the baby out with the bath water.
But, whatever the offences of Obi, or of Atiku in choosing him, they are yet to be forgiven by the governors of the zone. It was reported that they recently shunned the turbaning of Atiku in Adamawa. Whatever that portends. It was also reported that they paid a high profile visit to President Buhari ostensibly to solicit for more infrastructural provisions. Again, whatever that portends.
Political leaders advance many reasons for choosing their deputies. Some choose those who will complement them. Some are chosen for specific technical reasons. Some are chosen for their loyalty.
Many are chosen for geo/political reasons. Many are chosen because they are lightweight and therefore unlikely to upstage their principals. Many more are chosen simply because the constitution requires it.
I don’t know why Atiku Abubakar chose Peter Obi, but he seems to have made a good choice in the circumstances. In fact, were I to be vying for the Presidency and had to choose a Deputy from that zone, Obi would certainly be in my radar. He is without doubt, one of the better ones across party lines in his class of ex-Governors.
Obi became known as much for his achievements as his prudence while in government. He managed State funds with care, and was not known for flamboyance or extravagance. In the days when his colleagues went about in chartered flights and private jets, Obi was known to fly commercial. He was also known to shun political hangers on. The result was that not only did he not owe salaries, he reportedly left a tidy sum for his successor.
But much of his national acceptance came after he left government. He joined the circuit of public speakers. Much of what he spoke about was on his personal experience while in government. In doing that, he let us into the inner workings of government. We got to know the propensity of government officials for extravagance, half-baked ideas and for the promotion of selfish interests. What endears me to him however, is his desire to stay engaged on the problems of the country.
It would probably be easier to go to the Senate and earn more of the easy money that our commonwealth generously provides like many of his colleagues in the class of ex-governors. Or go outside the radar to enjoy his considerable wealth as some have also done. But he has shown concern for problems of the country by engaging in public discourse from time to time. If there is anything I have against Jimi Agbaje, the PDP gubernatorial candidate whom I consider a decent gentleman, is his penchant for immersing himself after every election and coming up for air every four years to surf the waves. Passionate and committed people don’t do that.
If he really has a better option to the way Lagos has been governed and he is not just a serial contestant, then he should have shown his passion and commitment by being more out spoken and more engaging in between elections. That was the Awolowo example.
I must confess though, that I sometimes get the impression that Peter Obi wants to be seen as someone who exited the corridors of power without touching the cookie jar. But there are no political saints anywhere; least of all among politicians in Nigeria. Therefore, I do not buy that nonsense about having only one wristwatch, or a few safari suits and a couple of shoes. Or the story of having just two houses to his name.
From available accounts, he was a rich man even before he became a bank Chairman. And no bank Chairman in Nigeria, especially one that allegedly had majority shares, has one wristwatch, a few safari suits and a couple of shoes. The point is made that he is a frugal man. The point is established that his wealth can be traced unlike those of his many colleagues. But he should not stretch the truth just to promote an image.
Doing that gives a different image, especially if it turns out to be a lie, and it is not a favourable image. Put bluntly, it makes him a fraud if just one aspect is found not to be true. But in condemning his erstwhile colleagues of profligacy, he spoke truth to them. And in advocating better, more prudent ways of running public office, he put himself a cut above his colleagues.
Another flip side to his coin, is that he is seen as an Igbo centric man. That would not endear him to other nationalities whose trust he would need to perform. Also the way he handled his successor’s second term left much to be desired.
It showed a petty, petulant side of him. Willy Obiano had performed above average, and the reasons adduced for trying to remove him were perceived to be personal. A leader and statesman has to look at the larger picture always. Obi did not in this case.
Is he better than the incumbent vice president? They are both good choices. And as a former governor who understands the intrigues and excesses of his fellow governors, Obi should hit the ground running. He would also be more respected and therefore more effective in some areas.
But in Nigeria’s political landscape, it is hard to find many people who combine hard work, intellect, integrity with loyalty and simplicity like Osinbajo. Many of his detractors especially those in the National Assembly, who are desperately trying to tar him with a corruption brush, cannot even tie his shoe laces—to quote John the Baptist—in these respects.
The next few weeks should unravel Obi a bit more. But I think he is a good choice.