Peter Obi and the Moment of Truth


Innocent Okoye

A few days ago, the Presidency acknowledged that a former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, was illegally impeached for refusing to inflate the state budget as demanded by the then State House of Assembly. That report was not elaborate; as the same Presidency should have taken Nigerians behind the scenes to reveal those who pulled the strings for the conspiracy and what they desired to do with the expected excess public funds. Among other queries, was it a patriotic initiative to provide more projects that would benefit the people of the state? Or, did they want it as part of the old order, where powerful vested interests regard public funds as booty to be shared?

Interestingly, the revelation by the Presidency anchored by President Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu – is coming over a decade after the event. It is also instructive that some of those who recall how the entire madness played out have been speaking out.

Confirming the statement, Chief Stephen Okeke, a highly-respected community leader in Anambra State, drew attention to some national newspapers like Vanguard, which published the presumed reasons for Obi’s impeachment. According to him, “Aside from the demand to accommodate their interests, the state legislators accused the then governor of not implementing the budget as approved by them: that he used N43.2 million to repair the burnt Government House against the N298 million already appropriated; and also spent a paltry N81 million for the reconstruction of the destroyed Governor’s Lodge for which N486 million was appropriated. Having failed to get him to play ball, they told him point-blank that the appropriated money was for ‘sensitive interests.”

Describing some other reasons given in the notice to impeach Peter Obi as incredible, Chief Okeke said: “Would you believe that the third item on the notice was that Governor Obi was saving money for the state without their approval – savings that came to over N75 billion as at his hand-over to his successor? They also accused him of degrading the Office of the Governor by using Peugeot 406 and purchasing furniture for government establishments locally.”

Continuing, Chief Okeke regretted the selfish involvement of some people close to Obi in the impeachment plot; and expressed gratitude to the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Alfa Belgore, for standing firm in his refusal to lend the imprimatur of the Judiciary to that reckless act.

On his part, a former Information Commissioner in Anambra State, Chief Joe-Martins Uzodike in a press release noted that the Presidency and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were not part of the impeachment. He asserted that the plot was localised; having been hatched by some self-seeking state legislators and predatory politicians that had in the past been raiding the public treasury through inflated budgets, inflated contracts and largesse. For such people, he said, a savings culture was unacceptable.

Expressing satisfaction that Obi has been vindicated completely, Chief Uzodike submitted that: “If he had buckled when the House members were harassing him for saving money, he would not have been able to leave over 75 billion Naira for the state when he handed over in 2014. If he had agreed to award outrageous contracts, Anambra State in his tenure would not have been named the Best State in road network, in health and education.”

The fore-going provides some insights into the modus operandi of predators in Nigerian politics. With his famed focus and solid fidelity to the common good, Peter Obi took on the predators head-on and subdued them; leaving a governance record acknowledged locally and internationally.

Obi’s political history is turbulent simply because he is bent on leaving a new order of responsibility and accountability in the conduct of public affairs. Human society has a blend of the good, the bad and the ugly. While there are those who make sacrifices for enduring positive change, there are also antagonists who aim to frustrate progress. However, it is instructive that in the long-run such antagonisms often highlight the efforts of builders of nations.

A clear case of such antagonism is the predatory conspiracy against Peter Obi in the last Anambra State governorship election. Barely a year after, the conspirators are in disarray because their cause was not a just one; while their prime target has since moved on to more edifying pursuits. With his increasing national visibility, acceptability as a man of integrity and a track record of good governance, many Nigerians are wondering why he is not indicating interest in higher public office.

Before his tenure the manufacturing sector – not to be confused with commerce was comatose. The few operators that hung on groaned under the debilitating effects of an uncongenial environment of bad roads, low patronage, excessive (and mostly illegal) taxation, insecurity, no government support, among others. The Obi administration resuscitated this critical sector not propaganda, but by practical steps including development of an Industrial Policy for the state, consultations with operators and concrete enablement for them which yielded tremendous results and boosted the socio-economy of the state and environs. Link roads, other relevant infrastructure and logistic support were provided for such vibrant manufacturing outfits as Innoson Vehicles, Chikason, Cutix Cable, Juhel Pharmaceuticals, Krisoral, Orange Drugs, Ekulo Group, and many others. The administration also attracted giant manufacturers like Intafact, INNOSON, Neimet, and Distel.

Among others, Innoson Group acknowledges that the patronage of the Obi administration ensured the survival of its vehicle manufacturing company – with the purchase of billions of Naira worth of vehicles and personal introductions to the Presidency and other state governors.

Easily one of the unsurpassed attainments of Peter Obi was in education. Here, he achieved another first on January 1, 2009, with his return of schools to their original owners- proprietors – voluntary agencies, including churches – with commendable results. While the management of the schools was transferred to the agencies, the state government retained the funding responsibilities, including capital projects, staff salaries and emoluments, and other recurrent expenditures. Having thus stabilised basic education in the state, Anambra State leaped from its usual 24thplace of the 36 states in many external examinations to Number One in results of both the NECO and WAEC examinations for three consecutive years. Indeed, this revolutionary partnership and phenomenal achievements informed a World Bank study which recommended the ‘Obi Education Model’ to other Governments in Africa.
Under the Obi tenure, Anambra State was the first in Nigeria to procure and distribute over 30,000 computers with Internet access to secondary schools. Microsoft Academies were also established in those secondary schools – the biggest of such initiatives in Africa to date.

Having determined that the partnership with the voluntary agencies/churches was working, Peter Obi steadily extended the formula to other critical sectors. In the health sector, for instance, the symbiotic relationship resulted in a tremendous boost to healthcare delivery across the state with investments of grants, structures and supplies to the tune of several billions of Naira. The Obi administration also constructed the Joseph Nwilo Heart Centre at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Adazi-Nnukwu, where heart operations are now being performed satisfactorily. The grooming of healthcare professionals similarly received serious attention. By the end of his tenure in 2014, over 12 health institutions, including two hospitals, had secured accreditation for their courses and programmes. Prior to his assumption of office in 2006, no health institution in Anambra State was duly accredited.

Predictably, the achievements of Peter Obi as governor elicited several authentic, verifiable commendations and awards. Among others, he won the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation US$1 million prize for best-performing State in immunisation in the South-east, which funds contributed to the construction of 10 Maternal and Child Care Centres across the state, particularly in rural communities.

One of the acts of Obi that nobody would wish away is his ability, against the convention, to clear debts owed pensioners running into over 37 billion Naira; his consistency in paying workers’ salaries; and commitment to paying contractors on job-completion certificates generated – and yet being able to leave in excess of N75 billion in the state treasury for his successor. This is one of the features that define him from others that seek the governance of the people. How he did it will one day become a topical issue in this country. Another marvel is that even with the huge savings, he still recorded more achievements than most others that owed hundreds of billions of Naira.

Five years after he left office, the testimonials have continued to pour for his integrity in and out of government, his vast knowledge of Nigeria and its developmental challenges as well as his strong commitment to the sustainable progress of the country.

With a justified sense of fulfilment, Peter Obi has always his priority as how to change the value-frame of the people. Besides personal example of right conduct and approach to life, which made him inspire the people of Anambra State to shun extravagance and epicurean life-styles, he invested heavily in education. His administration’s massive investment in education was in realisation that education is the easiest way to change the mind-set of the people and to develop the human resources. The benefits soon began to manifest as across the country and internationally, many people and institutions started looking upon Anambra State with admiration and respect.

What is most unique about Peter Obi is his refusal to flow with the tide. In Nigeria no governor has left leaving a huge amount of money in the treasury. In Obi’s own case, he not only left over 75 billion Naira, but did that without owing any financial institution or raising a bond.

The revelation on Obi championed by the Presidency is the vindication of those who have always considered him as a man of integrity in politics. No doubt, more of such will follow even from those who are determined that he must be wished out of circulation.

Okoye sent this piece from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka