I have always despised those who call him “her excellency.” No one is masculine like Peter Obi. Look at his intense eyes, carriage, stride and sometimes visceral smile. His vocal output may be light, but a warrior underlies its deceptive effeminacy. The gifted ear can filter the man from the female sigh.
But that is the former governor of Anambra State. He abides his own contradiction. See, for instance, the story of his encounter with a journalist when he was Anambra helmsman. He wanted to insert a newspaper ad and he turned not the aloof, superior state chief executive. Rather, he became a sort of broker. He negotiated advert commission with the journalist on behalf of the state. He had to save money for development. For him, to be frugal was a canon. You may even say cannon.
That scenario haunted me until the story that few know or want to know about the former Anambra chieftain and now megaphonic presidential hopeful. It occurred in 2009, and he was Anambra State’s number one citizen. The story goes thus. The governor had an office at 7, Aerodrome Avenue, Apapa, and he had instructed an aide and one or two others to deposit about N250 million there.
Someone in his inner circle was probably not happy with Obi. So, the police followed a tipoff and top cop Marvel Akpoyibo – remember him? Former CP and DIG? – organised his men and intercepted the vehicle headed to Obi’s office. The matter roiled Obi, cut short a trip, put together some media men to hush the story.
But some reporters craved it like shark sniffing blood because it was a pip of a story. Under Akpoyibo, the report landed in the office of the inspector general of police. PDP top brass cried. Olisa Metuh berated the state house of assembly for hiding their tails behind their cowardly backs, implying that the rubberstamp legislators had sold their souls to the puritan Obi. They yelled impeachment. PDP thought the time was ripe to cut down the APGA mango. Even Obi’s party disowned him on the scandal. But the man would not go. Mango would not go. Obi glowed lush, round and proud on Anambra’s tree.
The IG and those after him have not released the report, and no house member has had the courage to browbeat the fellow. In 2013, Olisa Okechuckwu of the APC reopened the wound, and asked the police to unearth the findings. He worried because Obiano, his account officer, was taking over from him.
No dice. The soft-voiced merchant was more warrior than his macho pursuers. He wrestled them to the floor. Men with throats of bass, soprano and treble could only tremble before Obi’s audacity, or what novelist Joseph Conrad calls the “bravado of guilt.” Just wonder how charmed Obi is. Many are calling him to be president but they are not asking for N250 million in 2009 value of the sum.
I envy the man. When he was running as Atiku’s deputy, tv hostess Kadaria Ahmed asked him why he invested Anambra money in his family business. With a rueful smile, Obi did not deny but put on a toga of righteousness. He did it for the good of Anambra, not for his family. No one capered over that act of impunity and audacious corruption. How did he do it without due process. How come billions of naira left the state coffers without question or alarm in the system?
Then when off-shore scandal broke last year, his name came up again, lodging money abroad while governor? Then we recalled that he owned the biggest mall in Abuja, which unfortunately fell to tongues of fire. Reports say it was built when he was in office. Who is asking him those questions?
Indeed, the Bible says blessed are those whose sins are covered. It may be that Obi is God’s son, because King David applauds those, like him, “whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is not deceit.”
But I am not sure of the deceit part with Peter Obi. He may even be a version of the Biblical Peter the rock. He is the man who says he loves to be frugal, but opens state coffers into his company’s account.
And again, he says he was a great governor. I will not be unfair to him. I will say he was a good governor, which in Nigerian history does not mean much. He appropriated what Ngige and his predecessor Mbadinuju did into his museum of achievements. What a clever man. I envy him for that. The blessing of the former is taken by the latter. Obi must know his Bible well. Never mind the roads Obi did in an age of concrete were mere laterite, only surface deep and washed away by the generous malignancy of Anambra floods.
Some say, his great achievement was bequeathing N75 billion. What a claim. In a state that still had debts at that time. I think his view of money is to keep rather than do. But the task of governor is to do. We don’t hail a father for having a lot of money but for doing a lot of good. He was miserly to the state, magnificent to himself. No one expects a person to save money when there are lots of schools to build and lots of hospitals, et al. The man has what I call “pouch economy,” like those our beloved mothers who keep their pouches beneath their navels and hide money there. They don’t have grand designs for the money. It’s security. You can call it “Ogbele economy.” Former Katsina state governor and president Umar Yar’Adua did same in Katsina. It is what was called pound foolish. Money for money’s sake, or a sort of ‘financialism.’
If as governor he did not leave a grand vision that endures, then we may be looking at the hype called Obi. Onitsha, Nnewi, et al, make billions by the day, yet when he was governor, he could not wax that to tax. But he left those markets to operate a 20th century fashion when a 21st century beckoned. That is the vision for the new governor. Obi thinks like a trader, not statesman or visionary. A friend of mine calls it Obi-nomincs.
I understand why the southeast clutches at Obi, because they want the president this time. But the east must learn to earn from our geo-politics. In politics, we don’t always get what we deserve but we get what results from how we play clock and men. The southeast has not forged alliances with the other zones. They have miscalculated with tensions and alienations. When a Kanu inspires home support in one breath, and the same supporters of secession want to be president, the matter becomes complicated. You cannot say, “To your tents O Israel,” in one voice, and “Support us to lead you,” in another. It has no rhyme or rhythm. Politics is the art of the possible. It’s time to play a politics of realism in the southeast. It may be right to co-opt than coerce, but it is even more profitable to cooperate than co-opt. See how Sinn Fein saw margin was error, and now are on the verge of getting first minister for Northern Ireland.
That is an issue for the Igbo to chew. Even at that, an Obi as frontline candidate is a broken proposition.
NB: Omatseye is a respected columnist with The Nation