By Nosike Ogbuenyi
For the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party [PDP] and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the recent vice presidential debate was a veritable game changer. Prior to the debate, there was a certain air of doubt and cynicism regarding the choice of Obi as the PDP presidential running mate. The skepticism was worsened by the initial propaganda against him by All Progressive Congress (APC) hawks as anti-north and his labeling by the eccentric Catholic cleric, Father Ejike Mbaka as stingy.
However, the sparkling performance of former governor of Anambra State and its vice presidential candidates’ debate has in one fell swoop erased all the cynicisms with Obi steadily emerging as a veritable game changer in favour of the presidential candidate of the PDP Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. In all the post debate online opinion polls conducted by government and public media organisations after the debate who regaled his audience with an avalanche of statistics, has beaten Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and three other co-debaters. The implication is that his profile together with that of his principal, Atiku Abubakar has been soaring since.
It was with the bolstered zest that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar declared that Nigeria has not produced leaders like himself and his running mate, Mr Peter Obi, running together on a single presidential ticket. He spoke at a town hall meeting with representatives of the business community in Aba, Abia State.
According to Atiku, he and Obi were both gurus in business and governance who can make the country work again. He averred that Nigeria has not had on a single ticket two experienced men that have the passion to develop and grow the economy since 1960, the country gained independence.
His words, “To be able to do business, you must have a secure environment. Otherwise, you will not even be able to come out of your house and go to your factory. We have two very experienced men, both in governance and business: Peter Obi and myself. I don’t think Nigeria has ever produced this type of leadership since Independence. If you are doubting us, you know what you should do? Try the two of us.
“If you’re producing juice, I’m a manufacturer of beverages. If you’re producing plastics, I’m a manufacturer of plastics. If you have poultry, I’m a manufacturer of livestock.If you’re selling food in the market, I own fast food (restaurants). If you are in printing, I have a printing industry…”
And true to Atiku’s words, Obi is a tested, toughened and experienced choice. Like the proverbial flower that bears the irresistible nectar that attracts sundry butterflies and mantis, Obi is hugging attention because of his strong character, lifestyle and mannerism which sets him apart from the typical Nigerian politician. He is a man of strong will and conviction who sticks to time honored principle and pattern of doing things. He is not swayed by exigencies and razzmatazz. To him, paraphernalia counts for little or nothing. He searches for inner qualities that create value and improve the quality of human life. He sees himself first and foremost as a servant whose leisure and comfort come last.
Today, there is so much controversy swirling around Obi because many people have not come to understand the Peter Obi persona and what sets him apart from the lot.
Once Peter Obi has a goal to pursue, he goes about it tenaciously. Nothing demonstrates Peter Obi’s relentlessness better than his trials and triumphs as governor of Anambra State. He holds the record of being the first person to be elected governor on the platform of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). He flew the flag of APGA in the Anambra State governorship election of 2003. He contested against the candidate of the ruling party, PDP in the state, Dr. Chris Nwabueze Ngige.
Obi and his teeming supporters adopted grassroots campaign technique in the electoral battle moving quietly and steadily from house to house, from office to office, from village to village and from shop to shop in the commercial state marketing his blueprint for transforming the state and putting on the path of sustainable growth. On the d-day, he shocked the ruling party but the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Ngige winner of the contest.
Obi never bated an eye before approaching the courts in quest of justice. What ensued were long drawn legal fireworks that lasted for about three years. For him, it was no retreat no surrender until Ngige’s victory was voided by the Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu. The Court of Appeal ruled that his election victory in 2003 was a product of electoral malpractice and therefore could not stand.
That landmark verdict took place on March 15th 2006. Two days after his triumph at the Appellate Court, Obi took the oath of office at a modest ceremony on March 17th 2006. Barely seven and half months later on November 2nd 2006, a mutiny took place and he was impeached by a faction of the Anambra State House of Assembly. Obi was subsequently replaced the next day by Lady Virginia Etiaba, his deputy. That trajectory made her the first ever female Governor in Nigeria’s history. Fought from diverse angles by the powerful apparatchiks that held the state in bondage for years, Obi stubbornly refused to yield and returned to the legal trenches once again. The political atmosphere in the state at the time became more intricate and obfuscating but he struggled harder and sustained the fight for the liberation of his home state. Again, Obi triumphed on February 9, 2007 when the Court of Appeal quashed his impeachment paving way for Lady Etiaba to hand power back to him and reverted to her original position as Deputy Governor.
Obi regained the governorship seat with only two months left before the next governorship election slated for April 14, 2007. He felt that there was no need for another election so soon and approached the court seeking to stop the INEC from conducting the exercise in Anambra State on the ground that he was entitled to a four year tenure which only began counting the year before, 2006 when the Appeal Court declared him winner of the 2003 governorship election.
INEC was in no mood to entertain such arguments and proceeded to conduct the governorship election in the state on April 14, 2007 in which the candidate of the PDP, Dr. Andy Uba was declared winner. Despite vacating the governorship on May 29, 2007 as Andy Uba assumed office, Obi pressed on with his case at the court. On 14 June 2007 the Supreme Court of Nigeria upheld Obi’s contention sacked Andy Uba and returned ‘Mr. Doggedness’ to office. According to the apex court, the office of the Governor of Anambra State was not vacant as at May 29, 2007 and that the tenure of Obi as the governor of the state was for four years and would expire on March 17, 2010. That verdict brought a sudden end to Andy Uba’s government in the state and made his tenure the shortest in history of the country spanning only 17 days from May 29 to June 14, 2007. March 2010.
For his second term in office, Obi contested the February 6, 2010 Anambra State governorship elections, where he defeated erudite Professor Charles Soludo, former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria [CBN]. He completed his second term of four years on March 17, 2014 and handed over the governorship to his chosen successor, Mr. Willie Obiano. Obi is like dark bitter leaf soup whose alluring and lasting flavor manifest when eaten. Obi is a very practical and unpretentious manager of resources who has no place for rhetoric and grandstanding. His pair with Atiku will assuredly make a difference for the better especially in the vital economic sector where Nigeria has been failing for decades. The recent debate gave an inkling of what Obi can do on the soapbox to sway millions of supporters to his party.
***Nosike Ogbuenyi, a public affairs commentator wrote from Abuja.