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Peter Obi and the verdict of history

By Valentine Obienyem

ON July 19, 2019, the vice-presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Mr Peter Obi turned 58. He was born without any disposition to melancholy.  As far back as can be pried into his life, it would be seen as an existence that has continued to add value to humanity through positive acts.

Obi, PDP, Peter Obi
PDP Vice Presidential Candidate, Mr. Peter Obi before the opening statements of the Chairman 2019 Presidential Election Appeal Panel, Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachawa during the opening of the hearing for the petition against the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari at the Court of Appeal, Abuja. Photo by Abayomi Adeshida

His father passed on in 1968 when Peter was seven. He was thereafter brought up by a mother who loved and cherished hard work and industry. The first task of the family is to form moral character in children and wards. This, in fact, was done best by the mother who inculcated in Peter’s growing mind a strong faith in an all-seeing God; inuring him to self-control by her stoic discipline.

Peter ventured early into business without neglecting his books. Till today, he is in-and-out the classroom to satisfy a mind hungry for knowledge. Those around him, if they care, absorb avidly the stream of ideas sprouting from the cornucopia of his mind. He has been in politics and has served as a two-term Governor of Anambra State and left in a blaze of glory.

Except to his business partners, he was relatively unknown when he became the Governor of Anambra State; but through his deeds, he sought to be worthy to be known. Today we proudly ask: Who is Peter Obi and how may history remember him? How shall we, who fret at the pin-pricks of private tribulations, understand a man who bore in his mind and person the storm and stress concomitant to the governance of Anambra State? What did he do? How has he lived his life?  What contributions has he made to the advancement of civilization and the deepening of democracy in Nigeria? Has he ruined or saved a state?  Did he inflict any tribulation on the state and how? What are those fundamental things that he did upon which history will remember him?  These are some of the questions history has started answering about him; which I term “the verdict of history”. This is different from the verdict of the “e-rats” who amusingly hound Obi on superior directives such that even when Obi breaks air in Agulu, they smell it in Igbakwu.

When we talk of the remembrance of history, we are not concerned with the remembrance of man’s follies and crimes, but the encouraging remembrance of the acts of generative souls. We are, therefore, concerned with how history shall remember Peter Obi through his positive deeds, for he is almost a man with negligible flaws. Human existence has meaning because the man put meaning into it and sometimes significance that transcends death.

Peter Obi came into politics fully made.  As at the time he joined politics, his companies were already recording over N100 billion on turn-over yearly. He could be said to have seen it all in business and was, by a concourse of circumstances, determined to play his part in contributing to the public wealth and the restoration of sanity to a society badly battered by poor and inept leadership.

Also read: Igbo and the wisdom of the west

Obi will certainly be remembered for being the first state governor to reclaim his mandate through the courts. Before him, Nigeria had elections as rigged like the last election. The common belief was that nobody ever recovered his mandate through the courts. With this mindset, all those that went to court did so for formality sake without believing in its capacity to deliver electoral justice. Flowing from his nature, when he contested the gubernatorial election, he went to court. Even when everybody else, including his party, abandoned him, he forged ahead. The moment the first judgement was delivered in his favour, they all ran back and as usual, through the press, started claiming the victory was as a result of their industry.  Peter Obi’s victory changed public perception about the delivery of justice in Nigeria. He will be remembered for this and nobody will take it away from him.

As Governor, Obi set another record by his obstinacy in insisting that governance is a serious business. It was an irony of history that the state House of Assembly led by Mike  Balonwu,  with the active connivance of those that were supposed to be Obi’s friends, got him illegally impeached. Undaunted, Obi persevered. Though discouraged from seeking his return, he was reinstated by the courts. He is always prompted by the character of his aims, helped by the fact that he knows what to fight and want to forget.  Thereafter, many people who suffered a similar fate followed his example. Certainly, history will remember him as the stubborn Governor who fought against forces massed against him and was able to return from impeachment, thus strengthening the rule of law beyond measure. In this sense, Obi is a progressive force, establishing political stability, restoring the rule of law, ending and mitigating political recklessness and re-assuring us on the beauty of democracy.

History records the follies of mankind; it also records the morality of the age and can tell us the worst leaders the world has encountered. Describing the morality of a particular leader, a historian conveyed it in a compact sentence: “He liked risqué stories and told them beyond compare”. History also transmitted the deeds of good leaders to us as well, including those that gave stimulating examples in morals and manners. History will certainly remind us that as the Governor of Anambra State, Mr Peter Obi shunned all manners of intrigues. He offered to Anambra people morals that were worthy of emulation. He “inherited” over 15 guest houses scattered around the state and closed all of them; only recognising the comfort of the lodge, where his wife’s reign was supreme. In the eight years of his government, we did not hear of liaisons unbecoming of His Excellency.  This essentially has to do with his moral discipline. His mind, either through nature or pressure of work has the defects of romantic imagination, but has the realistic stimulus of daily battling with ideas crying for implementation.

Against the practice of the time, which returned after he left office, Obi as the Governor did not set out to deliberately deceive the people of the state. He only said and promised what he would do and followed the dictates of his independent spirit. The propensity of men that govern the state to lie and deceive was long captured by Nikita Khrushchev. Shall we sample him: “Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build bridges even when there are no rivers”. Without compunction, some promise the people what they want to hear and thereafter engage in all manner of subterfuges to sustain the deception. History will certainly remember Peter Obi as different: he did not tell lies and soon the people came to appreciate his openness. Planning was his forte. Before he uttered a word and what he would do or not, he would sit down and examine the finances of the state. He knew the capacity of the state at all times: what was possible and what was not possible because he was orderly. You could feel it even at long range that the unity and hierarchy of his desires or those of the populace imposed a clarifying and directive order upon his ideas, actions, policies and government.

To avoid sycophancy, Obi appointed into his cabinet, men and women whose genius for competence became outstanding factors in his success. Even at that, he went a notch higher to relate directly with the people and knew first-hand the problems in his realm. During his time, we did not hear of e-rats, a bunch of misguided youths paid from the coffers of the state to give an imprimatur to the lies of those in authority and shallow-minded men too childish to understand the havoc they are doing to themselves! The way Obi operated was simple: he required from his aide’s reports and recommendations composed not of abstractions, rhapsodies and admirable ideals but of definite objectives, factual information, practical measures and calculable results. History shall certainly remember this trait about him.

Education! Every schoolboy was familiar with the decay of the education sector in Anambra State. You cannot build a nation if you do not build the people. Obi came into office not looking for what some people mouth as signature projects that often lead to misplacement of values. Some leaders, at the state and federal levels, had this in mind and ended up building bridges that led to nowhere or even monuments that one can at best describe as prompted by brave idiocy. Obi understands the place of education in the advancement of civilization. One of the tasks awaiting man is his ability to gather his heritage and transmit it to the future generation and this is part of the fruits of education. Obi met Anambra State that was bleeding, a state that always took the 27th position among other states in external examinations. By the time he finished with his educational revolution, Anambra State was taking the first position. Obi first funded education in his first and second year and did not see the corresponding result. Thereafter, he was convinced that something was fundamentally wrong. This was how he returned schools to the Church and thereafter committed over N10 billion to schools in the state, including those returned and managed by the Church.   This was how Anambra schools were the first and only schools during his time, as now, that got two buses, generators, Internet connectivity, computers, rehabilitated laboratories, improved libraries, among others. The other day, the Professor Kenneth Dike Library he built and equipped was named the best public library in Nigeria. Is it not instructive that many years after he left Anambra State, his projects keep attracting awards to the state?  When Regina Pacis School at Onitsha conquered the world in Technovison Competition; the manager of the school easily traced that feat to Peter Obi.

Obi’s educational revolution was so impressive that the World Bank commissioned the renowned Professor Paul Collier of Oxford University to come to the state to find out by what magic Obi did it. Certainly, this is a giant stride that will not escape the observation and verdict of history.

His magic was also extended to higher educational institutions in the state, both state-owned and federal institution. Using the Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu University as an example, he built many structures at the Uli campus and started the massive development of the permanent site at Igbariam. He fenced the compound running into several kilometres, built over 10 giant buildings, the only ones so far and tarred the internal roads. Perhaps while Obi saw education as a priority, others may be thinking in terms of some outlandish signature projects.

As Governor, it is not for nothing that Obi won ThisDay Newspaper award as the most prudent Governor of his time. He did not have to ask his aides to compile the awards his predecessor won and deliberately started using the money to suborn the awarding institutions to win the same. Obi set out to work and had the mark of merit in any honour or dignity accorded him. Besides scrutinizing all expenses, he institutionalised as state policy, the practice of sending money directly to institutions. If he wanted to give N10 million each to schools or to build structures in hospitals, he sent the money directly to the managers to avoid fiscal accidents. Of course, those that benefited from the old order kicked and punched the air, but he insisted and got projects that would have otherwise undergone five variations, finished with just one release of funds. History shall certainly remember this; how it worked and how it may still work.

If we stretch his prudence to elastic limits, we shall accommodate the precedence he set in the history of Anambra State. For the first time, a Governor left N75 billion in the state coffers; with the banks and details too clear to admit of any doubt. Though he recruited some people into the civil service, he left their two-year salaries in the vaults to avoid encumbering his successor. Some of the federal projects which could not start off as expected because he wanted to get the permission of the Federal Government as required had the money for their completion set aside. What else shall history ask of a man?

As the Chairman of the South-East Governors Forum, Peter Obi was the rallying point for Igbo unity. While he attracted federal presence in Anambra State such as the Federal High Court, Federal Secretariat, among others, at the regional level, he championed the transformation of the Akanu Ibiam Airport into an international airport. During the flag-off of the second Niger Bridge project, the then President, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, paid special compliments to him for the way he pursued the project. He was the mask behind the NEWMAP project in the erosion-ravaged South-East. He achieved a lot because he suffers from a surplus of energy in body and mind, always restless with the ambition for achievements.

Ndi-Igbo has often been criticized for what some consider their noisy envy of one another, the bitterness of their political factions and disputes.  As the Chairman of the South-East Governors Forum, Peter Obi made it clear that the era of “Igbo enwe Eze” (Igbos have no king) should be relegated to the past. He completely deferred to the leadership of Ohaneze Ndi-Igbo on the understanding that we should not remain a nation of misanthropes. Under him, Igbo leaders met regularly to review the state of the nation and present a common front. He was fond of saying that nations must forge internal unity in order to fight external threats.

The foregoing achievements are certainly more than mere physical structures which anyone clothed with state powers can afford. When one closely studies the antics of those who shout signature projects and what they have in mind, one will discover that they are expressing their utter ignorance of what the society needs. People like Peter Obi have insights into the requirements of the time and what is ripe for development. Such people are often always great and potent forces for growth and development. History does not joke with them.

It is an incontestable fact that Obi also left his mark in the area of infrastructure. Under him, as already recorded by history, Anambra State had the best network of roads in the country. It is not the creation of the e-rats we talked about; the Federal Ministry of Works made that pronouncement and everybody that visited Anambra State under him testified to that.

Before Obi became Governor, no health institution in the state was accredited by relevant authorities. Before he left office, he had 12 health institutions accredited, including two hospitals: General Hospital, Onitsha and Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu Teaching Hospital, Awka.  The case of the teaching hospital is particularly interesting. The State University offered medicine as a course without any teaching hospital; thus could not graduate her students. Obi set up a committee headed by Professor Frank Akpuaka and they came up with modalities for the establishment of the teaching hospital, which Obi delivered within time and it is as he left it. This is one of his greatest legacies that will not evade the scrutiny of history.

Should we consider the attraction of industry a worthy cause that will be of interest to history? If we do, it is on record that the most successful industry in Anambra State since it was created was attracted by Governor Peter Obi – Intafact Beverages at Onitsha. While he was leaving, he got their commitment to build the biggest brewery in Anambra for which he had already allocated land at Anam (by Omaballa River). He also performed the ground-breaking ceremony of Distel Facility at Ozubulu as well as that of Neimeth Pharmaceuticals at Amawbia. Those projects died with his exit from government. Certainly, history shall remember these in greater details.

There are many deeds of Obi, in and out of office, which will feature prominently during the day of reckoning. He was considered for the slot of the vice-presidential candidate of the PDP because of his track record of achievements. It was during the storm that followed his nomination that people like me realised that no matter the opposition, history already has one’s deeds neatly packaged and would not accept any manner of distortion. The way Nigerians react to issues concerning Peter Obi is even a clear indication that history is already at work.

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