PETER OBI/DATTI YUSUF CANDIDATURE : The Convergence of Virtual with Physical & Demystification of the Old Myths
GUEST COLUMNIST BY EKE AGBAI
We cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it and move forward with renewed purpose and hope. The victim in a qualified situation of distress, pain, anguish or indeed deprivation, being rational can make a conscious and conscientious decision to walk away from the established cause of misery. This preceding paragraph from Viktor E. Franklin’s “MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING “sets forth the tone and context of this discourse.
If my memory serves me well, it was May 1st, 2022, or so that I travelled to London from Abuja international airport. After going through immigration, I saw Prof. Bart Nnaji, chief Olisa Metuh, and two other gentlemen that I knew of only faintly.
As old friends with Bart and Olisa, we exchanged pleasantries and discussions ensued. One of the other gentlemen was obviously unhappy with the other guy over what he described as unfair use of his Abuja based newspaper to blackmail his university unjustly. The other guy attempted unsuccessfully to explain the context and circumstances. We jokingly said a court will be set up and Olisa was appointed the Judge. The university proprietor narrated his case and the newspaper owner put up his defence. At the end, Olisa delivered a humorous judgment in favour of the university owner. As a scholar myself, what struck me with this young university proprietor was his impeccable and succinct articulation and intellectually guided presentation of his case. His presentation reminded me of doctoral thesis with a well thought out statement of the problem, followed by well researched literature review. He got my attention and we exchanged phone numbers. When he keyed in my phone, he quipped that he had my phone number already in his contact. It turned out we had met back in 2009 when I was Special Adviser to the then Federal Capital Territory (FCT) minister. This revealed another aspect of his character -keeping records, not one who use and discard. It turned out l had assisted him with land issues back then.
This London trip was on the eve of the primaries of different political parties in Nigeria and Prof Bart Nnaji himself was in that exercise at his home state of Enugu where he was a candidate for the governorship race. Curiously on board my flight I soliloquized on how this university proprietor could make an excellent candidate for a political high office in Nigeria because of his youthfulness, brilliance, confidence, debate skill and good understanding of public policy.
Fast forward, when Peter Obi announced his choice of running mate, it was Dr. Datti Yusuf Almed, the president and pro- chancellor of Baze University, in Abuja Nigeria, same man I just narrated the story of our encounter at the airport.
The first test of the mind and decision making capacity of a presidential candidate is his choice of a running mate. Peter Obi was on point and I knew he would overcome major odds with this guy on his side.
The 2023 presidential election will define the course of history in Nigeria. It is not going to be about Labour Party, All Progressive Congress (APC), People Democratic Party (PDP), and other political parties. For me, this election must be about individuals’ antecedents and their performance records. Nigeria is at a cross-road, the killings across the country by various criminal gangs have made mockery of the work of our security agencies like police, army etc. The level of division, hatred, demagoguery, religious bigotry, and distrust among the different ethnic nationalities are deep, the economy is in coma, the education sector is terribly in bad shape with universities closed for well over eight months. The health sector is nothing to write home about. Hope can’t be Kept alive. There seems to be an overwhelming capitulation of the citizenry spirit, yearnings and aspirations to evil forces.
Then came Peter Obi and Datti Yusuf, in what has become known as the OBI-DIENT movement, a revolutionary youths driven struggle of a dimension unknown in this country and outside the control of Peter and Datti themselves. Now, everybody is involved, old, young, mothers, fathers, educated, middle class and upper class. Even the diasporas are not left out.
About three decades ago, I was involved in an academic research on the popular success idea behind leadership culture of Nigerian pioneer leaders, with special focus on Northern leaders. This study was provoked after what Prof Dan Richie, former President cum Pro-chancellor, university of Denver (DU), Denver, Colorado, USA (my alma mater) described as one of the most impressive State visits to the White House by an African leader. Prof Richie was referring to the state visit of the late Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria in 1961. Incidentally that was when Peter Obi was born.
In 1961, Prime minister Balewa visited President John F. Kennedy, in what many research scholars and historians have described as one of the best State visits by any African head of state, except Nelson Mandela. In brevity, the basic findings of our study was that, what brought the success, popularity, charismatic culture and near mythical profile of old northern leaders was their deliberate focus on formation of character, ethics and development of set principles/values like integrity, conservativeness, courage, compassion, responsibility, Justice, service, humility, altruism and veracity.
These enduring values were the hallmarks of their success. This explained why they enjoyed popular general acceptance and loyalty by their people and high recognition and accolades in terms of how they were received outside their region.
Today, following many societal forces and the atrophying of our cherished core values, there is a paradigm shift from that character ethics to what I will call the anomy of personality ethics by present day northern leaders, who now focus, like their counterparts in the South, on narrow parochial self-serving pursuits of style, image, posturing, ostentatious indulgences characterized by pronounced interest in excessive self-aggrandizement at the expense of the common man. The noticeable agitation by the down trodden in the north against their current leaders today which has eroded public confidence in the new progressives of highly educated younger generation is simply because there is emphasis on appearing to be, rather than to truly be by these present day northern leaders. Imagine how Saduana, Aminu Kano, Balewa etc. will feel if they were alive today. Their legacy appears to have been tainted by their successors in a labyrinth of amnesia, leaving their posterity in the doldrums of misery.
This brings me to this young, charismatic and progressive intellectual call Datti Yusuf. After his announcement as Peter’s running mate, I decided to do an in-depth study of him and Peter Obi, as I was deciding on who to support among the presidential candidates. Antecedent is a pattern of behaviour over a period of time. It reveals one’s philosophical approach to life, reasoning and how you managed affairs left under your care. In all the businesses he was involved with, I saw astute management, compassion, discipline, conservatism and seriousness. Importantly for me, was that foreign and local people spoke highly about his performance at Baze university and the high standards he set there. In that process, he is involved in this conscious molding and recruitment of future leaders of Nigeria, to see each other as one.
I want to believe he agreed to be Obi’s running mate not because he loves his Hausa/Fulani extraction less, but because he loves Nigeria more. Condoleezza Rice wrote, in her memoir “No Higher Honour”, History is made in advance but written in retrospect.
For long there has been deliberate attempts by politicians with ulterior motives to portray the narrative that Igbos and the Hausa/Fulani are at war. That they hate each other. Fact is from time immemorial, Igbos live, trade and invest massively in the north. Igbos and Hausa/Fulani share many common values, historical accounts, few of which I shall enumerate.
In 1956, the mayor of Enugu city, in south east Nigeria was a man called Mallam Umaru Altine. He was elected twice and his records of great achievements remain unquestioned.
In 1959, when the eastern House of Chiefs was constituted, Mallam Umaru Yushau, the Sarkin Hausawa (the Chief of the Hausa) in Onitsha was elected a member of the Eastern House of Chiefs.
In 1957, in Kano, Chief Felix Okonkwo was appointed special member of the Northern House of Chiefs. Obi and Datti have this unique opportunity to give us back that Nigeria again, which seems elusive now. Needless to mention that Nnamdi Azikiwe of NCNC, first Nigerian President was in political alliance with Tafawa Balewa of Northern Political Congress (NPC), former Nigerian Prime Minister, during the first republic.
When they do so, it will be the demystification of the old myth that Igbos and Hausa/ Fulani cannot work together, hate each other. It will be a triumph of friendship and diplomacy over fear, lies and ‘divide us’ tactic. It will be triumph of Competence and merit over entitlements.
Easterners who lived in the North in the 1940s, 1950s and shortly before the infamous Nigeria civil war would attest to how their Hausa/Fulani neighbours gave them back their abandoned properties when they returned after the war. Some have the tendency to choose bad side of history. But men of goodwill driven by positive energy don’t. And I refuse to.
Datti has a chance now to provoke the consciousness of all the youthful progressives of the North to join him in this clarion call. He is a successful educationist, entrepreneur and has served his people in parliament. He comes with excellent pedigree and understanding of what’s at stake and the imperatives of the urgency of now.
He can rekindle the ideals of Sarduana, Belewa, Aminu Kano and many other past northern leaders. When dubious politicians pitch Igbos against our Hausa/ Fulani brethren, I remind them of many children who are half Igbos because of their mother’s origins and many who made lifetime friendship across the Niger.
Ahmed Joda, until his death was family friends to the Anthony Ukpabi Asikas. Yet, he was Fulani. I had the honour and privilege of spending many Sallah festivals and feasting at his Yola home, the last one was 2019 before his death. General Ibrahim Babangida’s children are half Igbos because his late wife Miriam was one; General Nyako of Adamawa’s children are half Igbos, my late friend Alhaji Sagir Hamidu of Zamfara, his children are half Igbos. Late Senator Adamu Augie of Kebbi State, his children are half Igbos with Justice Amina Augie of the Supreme Court. Conversely, there are many Igbo men who married Hausa/ Fulani women with half Hausa/ Fulani children.
To be sure, I pretend not to be naive, there are some actions, inactions, behaviours and activities by some infinitesimal percentage of Igbos that may fuel these suspicions, just as there are inconsequential percentage of some Hausa/Fulani people that provoke the fear and apprehensions that grip some Igbos. But I venture to say what unites us, remains greater than what divides us, if only we want to reason objectively and frankly. Yusuf must utilize this chance to underscore the positivity of our Igbo/Hausa/ Fulani bonds. This is our chance and this is our time!
Peter Obi (aka) OBI-DIENT movement reminds me of Winston Churchill’s remarks during those dark moments of the Second World War, “when great forces are on the move in the world , we learn we are spirits … not animals; And he said, there is something going on in time and space , and beyond time and space, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty. The assembly of these forces are not by accident. Even the gods support this cause”. This OBI- DIENT movement can only be described best in this way.
Peter Obi’s governance successes as former governor of Anambra state, south east Nigeria have been documented adequately and need not be repeated here.
But what people didn’t realize was Peter’s long time strategic game plan from inception and knew what he wanted to provoke. Being acutely aware that publicity is tantamount to relevance, Obi got himself engaged in public interviews, interactions and public debates with the youths on good governance anchored on conservative economic values and principles and reducing cost of running government. He spoke at every opportune time and place. His audience were mostly youths and professionals. Opponents laughed at his seemingly feminine voice, called him frugal and dismissed him with a wave of hand.
It was merely on social media platforms but he built it and like a typical investor put it on fixed reserve for a greater yield (ROI) one day.
Then came political parties’ primaries season. His former party (PDP), frustrated him out. He exited quietly and refused to pay any kobo as bribe, as he would fondly say “shishi”.
Most commentators thought it was over, possibly returning to his business. Suddenly he was announced as the presidential candidate of the workers party – Labour Party. Laughable, opponents concluded as they could not see any new party making a significant impact, enough to threaten the two known major parties in Nigeria, APC and PDP.
The question on the lips is what is it about Peter Obi that resonated with Nigerians to provoke this avalanche of OBI-DIENT movement. It’s almost like a revolution. For me, the answer is captured in his political manifesto just released. In it, his numero Uno priority is the unification of the country. We are divided. We hate and distrust one another. Each ethic nationality has one blame on another and it was orchestrated by bad politicians who trade on divide and rule.
What Nigeria and Nigerians need now is a leader who has the broad mindedness to be all inclusive and treat us all as one. A leader who will help destroy the prevailing erroneous impression and fear that most Hausa/Fulani people are bad. This is not true. Ahmed Joda was Fulani, Umaru Altine was Fulani, Alhaji Yushau was Fulani, Sagir Hamidu was Fulani. Alhaji Aliko Dangote, who is feeding many families and providing massive employment to all, irrespective of your tribe or religion is Fulani. We must resist such generalizations. Look around you, you will find Hausa/Fulani friends, neighbours, colleagues etc., who are full of the milk of human kindness. What Nigerians and Nigeria need now is a leader who will help destroy the erroneous impression that all Igbos are nothing but pecuniary oriented vultures bent on dominating and controlling the Nigeria commerce and destroying the unity of Nigeria. This is not true. when people agitate and protest against inequality, marginalization, uneven distribution of political benefits and development, that is not destroying the unity of Nigeria. We can debate and disagree on the choice of modus operandi. But fact is, no place in Nigeria you can’t find Igbos living, building and settling as homes, helping with overall development of the place and integrating themselves as part and parcel of that place. No evidence of believing in one united Nigeria greater than that. Being oblivious of this and just isolating their protest for equal treatment is unfair.
Ironically, all regions are crying out for egalitarianism too, from south-west to south-south, including some groups in the northern middle belt and even some core northern states.
Nigeria needs a leader who will not play the politics of religion, a leader focused on keeping Nigeria one, which is a task that must be done. Not a few can see that Peter Obi is the candidate who appreciates this yearning and desire of all Nigerians. Those downplaying this have no idea what this country is losing from this hatred and division.
The security situation in this country is almost beyond redemption. We are fixated on oil revenue and the devastation going on there but let me call your attention to other important areas. Nigeria has lost over $600 million in export revenue to Maritime security threats such as Piracy, sea robbery and hijack of vessels. Sea robbery has retarded economic development of coastal areas in Nigeria through the loss of $114.4 billion from 2008. In 2011, it was estimated that Nigeria lost over $7.7 billion to illegal oil bunkering (Reuchlin, 2015). These loses have huge development implications of this country. I don’t want to sound too much as a scholar here with these depressing statistics, except to say we have huge economically related security challenges.
The only candidate now who appears ready and prepared to tackle these challenges is Peter Obi and Datti Yusuf, by their numerous public statements and undoubted experience in resource management.
The level of corruption is mind boggling. The infrastructural failures because of corruption in this country makes me wonder if our leaders who travel to Dubai and other countries are normal. The Lagos- Ibadan express road has taken many years and galloping billions, yet finishing it is not in sight. Same is Enugu- Port Harcourt express way, Abuja-Lokoja express way. Port Harcourt through Warri express road just collapsed because of corruption related poor construction.
Peter Obi is not puritanical or holier than thou, but he knows the eyes of the OBI-DIENT movement is on him. Obi and Yusuf understand public policy well, how to attract funding through infrastructural bonds among rich Nigerians. Presently, we are addicted to borrowing to finance our infrastructure rebuilding. Look at our debt profile, especially with China. According to Director General of Debt Management Office, Mrs. Patience Oniha, we are about 41.6 trillion Naira in debts overall, and this shall be passed to our children. Lord have mercy!
Where in the world will you see a country having a budget of about 20 trillion Naira with only 9 trillion as anticipated revenue, leaving a deficit of about 11 trillion? Worst still, with recurrent expenditure greater than capital expenditure. Look at the amount earmarked for debt servicing and subsidy. To be sure, nothing is wrong in borrowing but what’s wrong in Nigeria is we borrow to service debts and pay oil subsidies, instead of investmenting.
Peter Obi has no monopoly of knowledge, so he must assemble a team of experts in different fields, helping him with questions as he moves along his campaign’s trails. He needs to schedule reasonable amount of time to help his governorship, senate, House of Representatives candidates campaigning in different states. He can’t win alone, he needs Labour Party senators and federal house members too. He must cut down on his diaspora/foreign visits and allocate that time campaigning for/with and supporting other Labour Party candidates with his infectious celebrity popularity.
When it comes to education, it’s obvious Yusuf and him will invest heavily. It’s unacceptably ludicrous for a country to invest only 5% of her annual budget in education. Nigeria should at least increase it to 15% or more. You build wealth through education. We need Obi who appreciates the inevitability of a strategic investment in human capital development in new areas of study like Artificial intelligence, robotic science, entrepreneurship and skill acquisition. We are in a knowledge based global economy. Obi must create an intellectual task force who will travel around the world recruiting conscious future leaders of Nigeria. Bring them together and form a strategic alignment of like minds. Let them think, create/ develop and bring forth ideas to solve our problem.
Obi understands the imperatives of market forces, capitalist principles in the contemporary concept of globalization and the new world order. Obi knows how to grow business and create wealth and jobs. He did them in Anambra state as a governor.
In making this strong case why Obi should be our next president, I saw the presence of three indices which must define a modern true leader. These indices are what Aaron Miller called the 3Cs: Crisis, Character and Capacity. Obi has imbibed these 3Cs and this explains why he enjoys the popular general acceptance, recognition and support everywhere he goes. It’s this unique humility and acceptance of responsibility that brought about this OBI-DIENT movement and it is unquenchable.
Obi must bring Nigeria at par with other comity of Nations. Nigerian foreign policy must be redefined to be dictated by core national economic interests. This paradigm shift is necessary to meet the challenges of unfolding new global alignments.
Before now, Peter Obi support base was drawn largely from youths and professionals. Now comes the lion in the forest. The great African legend, one of the most intellectually busy and cerebral Nigerian leader, our own venerable president Olusegun Obasanjo, ostensibly the father of the nation. Obasanjo is not only supporting Obi, in fact he is carrying him on his head (figuratively speaking). I know this because l am an insider but limited by what l can say publicly.
No one can afford to sit on the fence any longer because what’s at stake has repercussions for generations to come. Captains of industries, notable great men of thoughts, scholars, must all come out now to join this OBI-DIENT movement.
I remind all that poverty does not discriminate along ethnic, religious and tribal lines. The killings that are taking place in south east, is taking place in Zamfara. Sokoto, Kaduna, Katsina, Yobe, Benue and all northern states as in south west and south south. Make no mistake about it, no region is immune. If we don’t stand up NOW, WHEN?
Posterity will not forgive us if we don’t do this collectively as a NIGERIAN PROJECT. Yes politics is all about interest and every politics is local. But there is no interest greater than the collective unity of Nigeria as one nation. Peter Obi is our best chance to reunite and become one United Nigerian Family again.
No doubt the 2023 presidential election is not going to be an easy one, because we have at least two other solid and strong contenders. They have track records of doggedness, resilience, years of political experience, one in presidential contests and the other in reach and alliances, not to ignore being a candidate of the ruling party. They have deep pockets and have been in the arena for long. People are hungry and susceptible to monetary inducements. I get all that and factored them in. I don’t underestimate them but in any race where there are two or more contenders, only one can emerge first. Even Steve Wonder can see that Obi is the most prepared, favourably disposed, worked hard and competent for this job at this time in Nigerian history. Not because he is Igbo, not because he is Christian, not even because he is young, but because he is most qualified in all areas. Let me make quick to caution against complacency which normally characterizes most front runners. What the OBI-DIENT leadership movement need to do now is SWOT analysis. They need to look at their strengths and weaknesses and determine how they can leverage those to take advantage of opportunities and threats in the political market place. Obi and Datti must be totally in charge, not Abure who heads the Chairmanship of the party. The Obidient movement leadership organogram is hard to delineate. These are reasons SWOT analysis is vital now.
INEC owes Nigeria a free and fair election, one that’s transparent. When this is done, supporters of winners can go home with a thrill of victory and supporters of losers can go home secured in the knowledge that there was no ‘mago-mago’, that’s riggings. In so doing, their agony of defeat can be contained.
Those still dismissing the revolutionary force of the OBI-DIENT movement as one that cannot be translated into real political capital in terms of votes to win the presidency, because it’s just social media magnification and manipulation, I remind them of the Arab springs which was dismissed as social media noise after the killing of that market seller. What happened thereafter in the Arab world is now history. I remind those who dismissed William Rusto of Kenya as a magnified social media creation that he won and is now Kenya President.
Wherefore I say, a time comes in the transpiration of events in a country when great forces are on the move…… OBI-DIENT movement is beyond time and place. It is the convergence of VIRTUAL with PHYSICAL and Demystification of old myths.
*Dr. Eke Agbai, Executive VP, Center for Policy & Foreign Engagement, is a Strategic Communication expert, a member, Board of Trustee (BOT), Obasanjo presidential Library (OOPL), and former information Commissioner, Abia State, wrote from USA.