2023 election, Peter Obi of Nigeria and Nnamdi Kanu of Biafra
It has taken me more than six months to finally write this article on Peter Obi, one-time bank chief, former governor of Anambra State and the 2023 presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), for some personal reasons.
I have authored the profiles of virtually all the major presidential candidates and was surprised that despite having had a few memorable encounters with Obi, I only merely mentioned his name in passing as a bridge-builder across the Niger in an article in June 2017 titled: “Between Nigerian Igbos and Biafran Agitators – A Northerner’s Perspective.”
I recall writing “Between Obasanjo, Atiku and the Media” in August 2003 on the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, on how the press had fuelled his altercation with his then principal President Olusegun Obasanjo.
On the presidential candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Rabiu Kwankwaso, I wrote “Between Jonathan and Kwankwaso” in November 2013 wherein I disclosed the hallmarks of his administration as the governor of Kano as the provision of scholarships, entrepreneurship skills and massive housing to the people, while embarking on ambitious road building projects throughout the state.
On the African Action Congress (AAC) presidential candidate, my article “Sowore of Sahara Reporters for President?”, in April 2018, highlighted how he not only supported but equally protected me during a very difficult period in my life. I further emphasised in the piece how Sowore was in the habit of utilising his media platform to promote human rights and fight against corruption, coupled with the dictatorial tendencies of people in power.
And in January 2022 before the primary election, I wrote a tribute to Bola Tinubu who subsequently became the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Titled “2023: Bola Tinubu and his ‘Loyal Boys’ in Government”, I underlined his dogged spirit, alongside strong reputation for building people by affording them unusual opportunities to succeed in the public space, which informs their unwavering loyalty to him.
In March 2022, I had encounters with two respected spymasters at different times and locations: one of them is serving as an intelligence chief and the other a retired security czar, both from the North. Our deliberations were on potential presidential candidates from the South-East. We discussed the activities of the self-acclaimed leader of the proscribed secessionist movement, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, who suddenly emerged as the most adored and prominent figure in Igboland.
Kanu is so revered in the region that when he issued orders, his followers and others in the South-East ‘obediently obeyed’. Apart from ordering sit-at-home actions on what should be working days, Kanu, who called Nigeria a “zoo” in his online broadcasts, regularly insulted other ethnic groups, championed a secessionist campaign for an independent Republic of Biafra, by inciting violence and promoting vile anti-Nigeria sentiments.
First arrested on the 14th of October, 2015 on a terrorism charge, he was granted bail on health grounds on the 25th of April 2017. However, he breached the bail conditions and fled abroad. While in self-exile, Kanu intensified seditious campaigns against Nigeria, using Radio Biafra to instigate violence and incite IPOB members to commit violent attacks on civilians and government personnel, particularly military and paramilitary officers and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The Eastern Security Network (ESN), an armed wing of IPOB, continues to carry out “subversive activities” against the Nigerian State, under the moniker of unknown gunmen. During the EndSARS protests in October 2020, aside inciting his followers to assault security personnel and facilities, Kanu threatened some Yoruba leaders, after which mobs desecrated and looted the Palace of the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, who was rescued and evacuated by security agents.
To the joy of many Nigerians who believe in peaceful coexistence and were deeply disturbed by his violent rhetoric and instigation of insurrection against the country, Kanu was successfully intercepted on 27the of June, 2021, through the collaborative efforts of Nigerian intelligence and security services and brought back to continue his trial in court.
During my aforementioned encounters with the security chiefs, we discussed the likely aspirants who could emerge as presidential candidates from the then anticipated primary elections of the political parties. Meanwhile, two platforms that I run, PRNigeria and Economic Confidential, have weekly and monthly security and intelligence reports that we submit to organisations and institutions, including security services.
The analysis of one of these platforms reveals that politically, Peter Obi and Professor Pat Utomi appear as highly acceptable faces to Igbo youths and a host of other Nigerians. The significant rise of Obi to national political reckoning, with the possibility of a real shot at the presidency, certainly has the capacity to assuage the feeling of many Igbos pertaining to their deeply perceived marginalisation, and also promote political inclusiveness.
In fact, intelligence shows that Obi did his homework in traversing critical states, where he consulted with the right people before announcing his presidential aspiration. Apart from retired security officers, he engaged with traditional institutions, political stakeholders. It was not surprising that he picked his running mate, Yusuf Datti, from a reputable scholarly and political family in Northern Nigeria.
Before his campaign garnered formidable traction, there were suggestions about alliances as he set out on the LP ticket. Others believed he ought to have stayed in the PDP as running mate to Atiku and aspire for the presidency in 2027. Possibly, the need to avoid a slugfest with the overbearing Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State made him jettison that advice. It turned out better as he embarked on own electoral trajectory not necessarily for the February election, but definitely for the future.
And for those who have had the good fortune of encountering him, while Obi is not only stupendously wealthy and more so highly philanthropic towards good social causes, he is yet extremely simple and humble, unlike the typical rich Igbo folks and celebrities. PRNigeria has had reason to run some fact-checks that cleared a number of weighty allegations levelled against him.
I can personally testify to the fact that Obi has many enviable qualities. In 2008, as Governor of Anambra State, he attended the launch of the Emergency Volunteer Group in Awka, which was hosted by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), where I was then the spokesperson. The director of NEMA, AVM Mohammed Audu-Bida (retd) was amazed by his punctuality at the occasion, and the very unusual act of going around with a very light entourage, unlike most Nigerian governors.
I noticed the same punctuality when he arrived earlier than the organisers of the first annual conference of the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP) in Lagos in August 2017. As the guest speaker at the event, he cautioned that the borrowing spree of the Buhari administration, coming with the figurative dangerous banana peels, could drag the country further down into financial turmoil, alongside its attendant stress on the naira and national economy.
Even after emerging as the LP candidate, Obi remains modest. While going about the country in his energetic campaign, he can be described as a class act, who doesn’t insult or use foul language against opponents. Even when his motives were misconstrued, and he became a subject of disparaging comments by those in the opposition, for instance Governors Charles Soludo of Anambra and Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna, Obi is more measured and circumspect in replies.
Like one incapable of saying ill-things about anyone, he speaks kind words back to those attacking him. Obi is neither lousy nor garrulous, like some of the so-called Biafran freedom fighters and intellectuals, who engage in primitive, vicious, and violent crusades in the effort to draw attention to their need to secede the Southeast region from Nigeria, to form the Republic of Biafra.
While the Biafran agitators, especially the followers of Kanu and IPOB/ESN members glorify and adopt violence as the only form of achieving their dream of an independent nation, they continue on the less-than-noble path of insurrection, characterised by the lack of finesse and civility in utterance and actions of the unknown gunmen that insist there wouldn’t be elections in South-East.
Similarly, there is an insular strain of fanatical ‘Obidients’, who see in Obi nothing beyond an Igbo project for seeking redress to the considered marginalisation of the Igbo from the presidency of Nigeria, with their dispositions being brash, uncouth and entitled.
Despite these, Obi and his ‘Nigerian supporters’ believe in dialogue and engagement with the democratic process towards the building of a better country, whose fault lines can be healed. They are the patriotic ‘Obidients’ who are mature, responsible, and see the need for a nation where the whole will always be definitely greater than any of its individual parts, hence the democratic process is a tool towards achieving greatness for all.
As we brace up for the reality of exercising our franchise to elect a president in a few days, I am solidly persuaded that fake prophecies, social media attacks, unscientific opinion polls, religious sentiments, and ethnic bigotry would not determine the outcome of the election but the formidable appeal and groundwork of the candidate the electorate are already sold on to, and whose networks will be able to rally across different divides.
It is undeniable that ethno religious campaigns have fouled the air and unfortunately become a major determining factor in the forthcoming polls. While an Igbo from the South-East, a Yoruba Muslim from the South-West and a Northeasterner have never held the office of the President, Obi, Tinubu, Atiku are the main gladiators in the current race.
As other prominent stakeholders in the Nigeria project have declared, I enjoin our political parties and their supporters to adhere to electoral rules and be willing to embrace the spirit of sportsmanship, whenever the results of the presidential election are officially announced. Then the Nigerian people would have truly spoken.
Shuaib, founder of PRNigeria, is the author of “An Encounter with the Spymaster”