Pat Utomi narrated the thoughts, the people and the circumstances that persuaded him to run for the Delta State governorship election under the platform of All Peoples Congress, APC. Utomi was rightly warned by his friend, Dr. Asoluka, who prophetically described APC as a political party with “a flock of scoundrels.”
In this episode, he learns that under the political party, the shady people that constitute it, and the mendacious ways they have structured things, it will be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a good person, or one unwilling to be converted to ‘a scoundrel’, to win election in Nigeria
ONE of my favourite prayers, I further offered, in self-defence, is the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi asking God to make me an instrument of his peace; where there is hatred let me sow love, where there is injury; pardon, where there is discord; union; where there is doubt; faith, where there is despair; hope, where there is darkness; light and where if I offered all up in this ultimate prayer of humility, why should I fear reputation loss. Who said I was worth anything, beyond just being among the fortunate in a world of ordinary people?
Still, it was not the easiest of choices. I always wanted to change the direction of things in Nigeria. But what was the acceptable cost of this commitment? Why does this have to be my cause? Had I not done enough through the years? If truth be told, I was looking for a good excuse to give the groups putting pressure on me to run so I could continue my life of trying to use my work in social enterprise, academia and commercial ventures to have impact culminating in the change that I had proselytised for a generation.
Nonetheless, there were even more reasons why I should not run for office of Governor of Delta State. The view had been offered that my terrain was national, not sub-national. Even Chief Bisi Akande, pioneer Chairman of APC, my father’s colleague from their days working for BP in the 1960s, who I had visited to inform of my considering a run as a result of pressures, had wondered if moving down to state level did not diminish the potential of my contribution.
He said he would have preferred a more federal or national role for me, given my antecedents. Closely related to this was the growing criticism of identity politics.
I had lived most of my life in Lagos. Why should I go to Delta to run for office? Femi Falana even suggested I make a bid for a position, such as the Senate, from Lagos. This, he figured, would show a path away from the tradition of identity politics that sends people back to their homestead which they had not spent much of the present time in. Olisa Agbakoba, the civil rights activist and former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, had supported same. One group of non-indigenes had even come to me and urged me to run for Governor of Lagos Slate and that they had enough votes of non-indigenes to make it work.
I had defended against those suggestions by making the point that I was so depressed by the conditions in Delta and I wanted to be remembered for making a difference there. This was a goal I had pursued through my work with young people, the Church as well as social and commercial enterprises. Besides, I had made a fair contribution to Lagos by supporting the work of every Governor of Lagos since 1999 and had a deck full of awards to prove it.
I thought, therefore, that in this autumn of my life, it was inappropriate to open a new kind of front, even if it made sense. True, a run in Lagos would fit into what I had, for generations, tried to get Nigerians to embrace so that our country could be a true melting pot that could give dignity to the people of Africa. Perhaps that should be the task for the many I have mentored. Maybe, just maybe, that could be one mountain too many to climb in one lifetime.
As if these reasons being advanced for me not to run were not enough, several others were on offer. One came from a very cosmopolitan northern lady who was very senior in the public service. She ran into one of my protégés, Ubong Essien, who had offered her agency professional services. She said to him that my being a candidate would have redemptive value for the party and be pure salvation for the people of Delta State. She, however, feared that the leadership of the party at both state and national levels would be uncomfortable with an ethical person of Pat Ulomi’s standing because they would fear that it would be difficult for them, as is the practice to call on the governor for money that wasn’t for the public interest. States like Delta, Rivers and Akwa Ibom were even seen more as cash cows for such. In conversation with me later, she gave an example of a certain randy former president who each time he wanted to reward a “hard catch” would call upon the then Governor of Rivers State.
Some of the women were “assisted” to set up businesses that bled the state of more than hundreds of millions of naira.
If they know that you cannot do that, they would openly support you but behind your back, do all it takes to stop you from getting in the way of their “gravy train”, she said, suggesting the reason for me not to run. I found the statements reasonable but the logic behind my reasoning to run more stimulating. Why should citizens not object to such abuse of their common wealth and go in search of candidates with courage that they can call their bluff and break this yoke?
But could a people be such masochists, such suckers for suffering that they allow themselves to be so abused? On the other hand, can these so-called politicians really hate their own people to the extent that they deliberately inflict on them such ways that even if they get some instant material gain from their politicking, their people continue living a “cursed” existence? And their consciences not be troubled.
I suggested to the lady that what was required was either a revolution of a violent type, to force a rethink, a revolt of non-violence like the Mahatma Gandhi movement in India, or a campaign of education that ultimately leads the politicians to realise that they were working against their own long-term self-interest and required an enlightened sell-interest reconstruction of reality. Whatever the choice, it should not be a reason not to run but precisely the reason for a run to change a world steeped in serfdom. How could these politicians he blind to this obvious fact?
The conversation would be from 18 years hack. I had arrived Ibusa for a thanksgiving event. Standing in the company of my friend and colleague from the Lagos Business School, Chris Ogbechie, the man who in 2018 was senator from my district, Peter Nwaoboshi, stopped to say hello to us. He was then a commissioner in the State Government. In the course of exchanging pleasantries, he raised a subject of bother to him.
He said one of his colleagues in the state cabinet had run to his office a few days before in great discomfort. The reason for his discomfiture was in the newspaper he had open before him. The other colleague had asked Peter what problem his brother, that is me, Pat Utomi, had with corruption. Why was I always complaining about corruption? Can you imagine? He said his colleague then went on to say that there was now speculation.
I would be appointed Minister of Finance. “Can you imagine him in such a position? He would just block ways for people. In Jesus name that appointment will not come to pass!” Peter Nwaoboshi then pleaded with me to be less critical of corruption. As he left, I turned to Chris and said; poor Jesus, can you imagine His name is being invoked to make way for corrupt plunder of the public coffer.
Discouraging me from running because the corrupt who rule the parties would block the process seemed to pump up the old juices that made my early life one of protest. Should we accept that the Nigerian tragedy was irredeemable? But how do you prosecute a revolution without a strategy? Or, where are all the overly pessimistic? Did Adams Oshiomhole not work to have reformer technocrat, Godwin Obaseki, as Governor in Edo State? They cannot all be that stupid, surely?
It was Leo Stan Ekeh, the ICT Entrepreneur, who put it well. I had checked in with him for his impression of my considering the run and if I could draw on his strong network and some financial contribution as well as keep him and a few others posted on what I was considering. I had briefed Aliko Dangote and one or two other friends from big business circles. But Leo Stan caught on quickly and stated that APC’s salvation journey would be elevated if they could find a few high-quality people of integrity. “If you are available, with your following in the country and reputation, if they have enough sense to embrace you and two or three others like you, that will reshape their fortunes.”
So, is that good motivation to take this pressure to run more seriously? But how did it all start?
Traveling the Path
HOw did I find myself here struggling with the choice of whether or not to run for Governor of Delta? Evidently, many were troubled by the tradition of governing Delta with little progress. It was not hard to see why. The corporate exodus from Delta State can be seen on the streets.
When Shell decided to leave Warri, it seemed the public officers were more interested in acquiring the assets Shell would be leaving behind than providing incentives for it to stay and keep the many jobs that would be lost directly and in support services, not to mention taxes.
Many projects in Delta State were abandoned or in stages of revision and there seemed to be no vision propelling it in a particular direction like its neighbours – Anambra and Edo States – that only received a small fraction of what Delta was allocated, as a major oil-bearing state, under the derivation principles.
I have been open to be judged most of my adult life. To be fair, people have been kind and generous in their evaluation, perhaps much better than I deserve. I have also heard some incredible judgments that made me wonder, ‘Could that be me?’ Some comments have also come from extremely ignorant people. Tired of being judged and convinced I had enough to justify my claim to humanity with due solidarity to the race and certain audacity about pursuit of the common good, I thought I could justify to myself and my creator, a pacing down.
I was also worried about legacy. In 1991 I had given an interview that would define how I see my purpose. It was not designed to be a philosophical journey. One of the reporters I had mentored from his undergraduate days wanted what I presumed was a lifestyle interview. It was to be published in a magazine for men, Mr. Magazine. But Paul Arinze asked a question about purpose, about what motivates one to be so passionate, especially about Nigeria. Almost flippantly, but with a bit of thoughtful reflection, as I had just come out of weeks of hospitalisation after an automobile accident in which I was feared clinically dead at some point, I replied in words that captured my essence, thus:
The purpose of being was the pursuit of immortality. Man was created to seek to live forever. The true reason for existence is for man to struggle to establish his personal purpose and live it such that long after his body had returned to dust, he would still be alive.
He could live in the heads and hearts of men for his works, which I called material immortality, or he could attain spiritual immortality, which for most people of faith is to see God face to face and get the welcome, good and faithful servant acclamation from the Creator.
Entering middle age meant more concern with immortality. I should be more concerned with how to live forever, and politics did not seem to be the best path, unless a Paul Kagame, Mahathir Mohammed or Inatio Lula da Silva type transformation of the lives of people were highly probable. Already, I had taken principled stands that led to active canvassing of a takeover of the Presidency when infirmity got the better part of a man who may have made a good President, Umaru Yar’Adua.
I worked with the Save Nigeria Group and others to break the cabal’s hold on the Yar’Adua presidency. That did not stop me from concluding, like quite a number of others, that the will to do right by that government was so low that the idea of anybody but Jonathan was a welcome one five years later.
When I began to feel frustrated that the government of Muhammadu Buhari did not seem engaged with the issues I had canvassed for years so we could prevent what I often referred to as the revenge of the poor, a paced disengagement from public life played high in my personal plan.
I was working on a plan to quietly stay away from public life while finding other ways of offering legacy building immortality supporting service to God and neighbour when the solicitations regarding Delta State started. They started with the visits from individuals and groups to discuss the trouble with Delta. Some of the earliest came from Anioma people. These were my ethnic group leaders who had complained through the years that I ignored “my people” and focused on the broad canvas of Nigeria.
I knew my dilemma with identity politics in Nigeria. Cosmopolitan in the classic sense of the word, in education, upbringing and places of domicile, I probably had not spent up to two full weeks in one stretch since 1968 in my place of origin I filled in all the forms I was required to complete. I cared for that identity and worked to advance the possibilities for advancement of my people. But I knew I did it also as a general part of human solidarity which I held for all men. Still, it was the basis for being sucked in and beaten over the head until my home in Lagos became the place for meeting of different groups advancing progress for Anioma or Ibusa people. Hardly did any week pass without one such meeting being held in my Lagos home.
The early conversations were around how incumbent Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, of Anioma stock was wasting the Anioma turn by not assiduously developing the area and generally by governing poorly. My first response was to reach out to Okowa and extend network and platforms to facilitate his governing much better. I facilitated a Lagos Business School initiative to bring him and his government closer to the private sector and draw investment into Delta State. The process resulted in a joint LBS/NESG breakfast briefing session for the governor.
The night before the breakfast session I hosted the governor and his team to dinner at my home and invited leading diplomats and business people. At the LBS/NESG session a young Delta State originating investment banker, Chuka Mordi, who was investing next door in Edo State called me out of the hall. Outside, he lamented that the lady from the BBC sitting by him was punching holes in just about everything the governor was saying Why can they not do a more decent job of a small thing like this, he queried. I had no answer, I just thought I was doing my citizen’s duty to expose the state to opportunity.
It was not until a non-Anioma group began to challenge me about the state of Delta that I really began to worry and to feel guilty. Then came the group that really drew the patriot in me out of the shell. They were not even familiar enough to have my contact or telephone numbers, so they had to find someone who found a person that gave them my number.
What is really more important is: why I would take such effort more seriously?
This is rooted in how I believe leaders emerge in contexts of service. I am convinced that in organisational and community settings, people can see leadership and identify leaders even when the people have no titles or authority. From the first day I read Robin Sharma’s book, The leader who had no title, I was sure I had found the tide for leadership. A person who can get things done without need for a title.
I had always been firm in my view that when groups spot such talent, they should rally around such a person to advance the common good. I had led many such efforts in my life. An example I like to cite is the most seamless transition in leadership succession of the Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
The election of the President-General of Ohaneze had become well known for the rancour associated with it even though the process had been reformed to reduce the challenges by an order of rotation in alphabetical order across states that were Igbo bearing. When the Anambra turn passed and the Anioma people were to produce a President-General I chose to make it my duty for Anioma to show example.
I began with visiting the Asagba of Asaba, Obi, Professor Chike Edozien. I briefed him on what I planned doing, outlining criteria such as making all Anioma people have a sense of inclusion. That made me give special preference to an Ndokwa or Ika person, so they did not feel that they were on the margins bothering our neighbouring non-Igbo speaking groups. I had other criteria around a strong sense of service and a certain level of personal prestige, integrity and independence of thought, so that the governors did not feel that they could pocket him with the dangling of some money.
With the buy-in of the Asagba, I began direct conversations with people like Fortune Ebie and Felix Osifo, the founder of Osiquip. Then I moved to Ralph Uwechue. I was glad that Chief Uwechue told the story himself at the World Igbo Congress meeting in Orlando Florida in 2012.
Pat Utomi explains that if he had not taken the journey he would never have come to the kind of knowledge of the possibilities of human treachery that is considered norm in Nigerian politics, a laboratory of which the processes had exposed him to