Peter Obi and the rest of us
Ikeogu Oke, an Abuja-based communication analyst, has just written a syndicated article entitled “Peter Obi and His One Wristwatch” which newspapers have been publishing. The article seeks to exculpate Obi, the immediate Anambra State governor, of blame for claiming that he has been wearing one wristwatch for the past 17 years.
The erstwhile governor made the claim as part of this year’s celebration of Labour Day organised in Lagos by one Pastor Poju Oyemade, leader of the Christian Centre in Lagos who annually brings together different high-profile persons to speak on the Nigerian condition. No sooner had Obi made the claim that he has been wearing only one wristwatch for the past 17 years to prove that he leads a spartan lifestyle than the media began to show various photographs of him in recent years wearing at least three different wristwatches.
Oke’s intervention was expected. In fact, more of such articles are most likely to be published soon in defence of the former Anambra State governor. All the articles are organised. Obi has of late been image-driven. Having abandoned the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) just before the 2015 general elections for the then ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) where he even served as the deputy national chairman of the Goodluck Jonathan Presidential Campaign Organisation, he has since found out that the move was disastrous. Not only were Jonathan and his PDP routed in the election, the party is all but dead. Obi does not know whether he belongs to the Ali Modu Sheriff faction or Senator Ahmed Makarfi’s.
If the PDP is practically dead at the national level, it is in a worse state in Obi’s Anambra State: it can never resurrect here. Obi and one or two of his political associates may soon be the only remaining PDP members in the state.
To remain relevant in the national consciousness, the former governor now attends every function with religious commitment. And he prefers to speak on each occasion. Surprisingly, he prefers speaking outside Anambra State where he makes large claims. He carefully makes no such claims in Anambra State where the people know him better. In other words, Obi would not have made the claim of wearing only one wristwatch for a whole 17 years if he was speaking to an Anambra audience. Nor could he have claimed, as he did last October 1 during Nigeria’s 56th Independence Anniversary celebration on Pastor Poju Oyemade’s Platform, that as governor he was so prudent that he rode only in Peugeot cars.
In Anambra State, people do not remember the last time they saw Obi in a Peugeot car. He was always in big SUVs, particularly bullet-proof Toyota Land Cruisers. Even when he was leaving office, he purchased armoured-plated Land Cruisers for not just the incoming governor but also his deputy. Even the bulletproof Honda Pilot SUV used by Obi’s lovely and unassuming wife, Margaret, was purchased with state resources when they were in government. All vehicles were procured from Legacy Motors, owned by Obi’s very good friend, Okey Ezibe from Awgbu Town in Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State, whom the former governor made a member of the APGA Board of Trustees. I understand Governor Willie Obiano is working very well with him on the APGA Board. Obi drives the biggest Land Cruiser and Lexus vehicles in Onitsha but moves about in a Prado SUV in Lagos just to impress his Lagos crowd.
Admittedly, Obi did well as governor. But his propensity for garnishing his personality and achievements is outlandish. When he was departing office in March, 2014, after eight fruitful years, he asserted that he was leaving for his successor over N70 billion in cash and he was not saddling Obiano with a kobo of debt. He received a near unprecedented applause across the nation. But it soon turned out that he actually left behind N13 billion, with N2 billion already committed to contractual obligations. Even so, he did better than most of his counterparts who left only debts for their successors. Still, when it was demonstrated that he left behind N13 billion and not over N70 billion, he said it was in both cash and assets. The assets curiously included investments made by ex-governors Chinwoke Mbadinuju and Chris Ngige in Orient Petroleum as well as investments in Nigercem Company by the old Anambra State government and investments in such national programmes as the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) which every local government in Nigeria and every state made.
To repeat the obvious, it was counter-productive for Obi to claim that he had paid all the contractors before he left office. It did not make sense for anyone to claim that payments for contracts which were at different stages of execution had been paid for fully. Government contracts all over the world are typically executed on the basis of work certificates generated, that is, based on every milestone achieved by the contractor.
Obi also needs to work on his hyperactive media team which makes claims that do its principal a lot of harm.
Anambra politicians should not play politics with everything. Unfortunately, it does appear for Obi that it is now extreme partisanship all the way. His media team has gone to the extent of taking photographs of the three flyovers in Awka and claiming that the openings in the bridges which allow for expansion and contraction of the materials, as is the practice worldwide, are signs of cracks. When politicians indulge in scaremongering, they intend to damage the sitting government, but they end up driving investors away and hurting the people profoundly.
Obi has his place in history. The current effort to garnish his profile and demonise every other person, including his successor whom he drafted into politics and is doing brilliantly, will boomerang. This is dangerous for someone who wants to be the Igbo running mate of any political party at all. As every political analyst in Anambra State knows, Obi’s days in the PDP are numbered. He wants to remain relevant. But he is going about it in the wrong way.
Okechi was chairman, Anambra State House of Assembly Committee on Public Petitions.