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Simon Kolawole: The Peter Obi Testimonial



One of the best compliments I’ve ever received came from Mr. Peter Obi two weeks ago. He was rounding off his eight-year stewardship as governor of Anambra State. At a dinner for some media executives, he recalled an article I wrote in August 2003 with the title: “The Man They Call the People’s Governor”. I still remember the article. I highlighted how Anambra State was blessed with some of Nigeria’s greatest brains ─ as well as the biggest rascals. Obi had won the governorship election on the platform of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) but the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stole his mandate and gifted it to Dr. Chris Ngige in one of Nigeria’s most audacious electoral robberies, even by our standards. I made a passionate plea that justice should be done. I urged Obi to pursue his case all the way.

At the dinner, Obi confessed that he hardly knew me, did not ask me to write the piece, and was further surprised that I did not make any contact with him thereafter to draw his attention to my article “or ask for something”. Looking in my direction, he said: “Simon always writes according to his convictions. You don’t have to agree with him, but he believes in whatever he writes.” I considered that to be a sweet compliment. We live in an environment where journalists are viewed with suspicion for everything they write. “Somebody has paid for it” is an all-too-common accusation. For years, I suffered loads of personal insult for the way I took the Obi case “on my head”. I was called names. I was glad Obi openly confirmed that he did not “commission” me to do any job for him. Come and see me grinning!

One thing Obi never knew, though, was that I also loved Ngige. I loved Ngige because of the way he broke away from his godfather, Chris Uba, after playing the fool to be made governor. On getting to power, Ngige called the bluff of his godfather and decided to work for the good of Anambra people. (A similar scenario is playing out in Abia State where Governor Theodore Orji has also called the bluff of the “tin god” and “Mother Excellency” ─ and you can notice the result in several infrastructural projects which I saw with my very eyes). Thugs abducted Ngige and claimed he had resigned, but he fought them to a standstill. President Olusegun Obasanjo withdrew his official security, but Ngige refused to surrender. Cold-blooded hoodlums set the Government House, Awka, on fire but Ngige remained unshakable. My God, I will continue to respect this guy for life!

However, while I always supported Ngige in his battle with the Obasanjo-backed rascals, I always pitched my tent with Obi whenever the issue was about who truly won the 2003 election. We kept urging Obi not to give up ─ as if he needed any prodding anyway. Obi was a resolute man. He was determined to recover his mandate. He was faced with many inducements ─ including a reported offer to be a minister or be refunded his electoral expenses ─ but he remained stubborn. He was rewarded when after nearly three years of tensed and backbreaking litigation, the courts ruled that he actually won the election and should be sworn in. There were insinuations that state agents deliberately hung out Ngige to dry just to get back at him, but the fundamental fact was that Obi won the election. Ngige had a stolen mandate. Simple.

A fortnight ago, I was in the crowd in Awka when Obi held a farewell “town hall meeting” to render account of his stewardship. I was more than impressed. Speaker after speaker after speaker commended him for the way the state had changed in eight years. Clerics and respected figures such as Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Alhaji Aliko Dangote and Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala all commended him with facts and figures. One recurring fact was that Obi had tarred over 800 kilometres of road across the state. There is no part of the state that does not have roads now. There were encouraging testimonies about Obi’s achievements in education, health, water, security and several indices that define development. I was not too pleased with the look of the environment, though, because a green and clean environment is also key to development.

Over all, I was more than proud of Obi. I am very glad that none of the attempts to scandalise him ever succeeded, because I remember him swearing to me on three different occasions: “If I ever steal one kobo of Anambra money, may God kill me and my children!” I felt those words were too strong, but he was obviously very sure of himself. He said he never borrowed one kobo throughout his tenure. Rather, he left N65bn cash (local investments, N27bn; MDAs’ balances N28bn; FG-approved refunds N10bn) and another $156.5m in investments. “Other states that issued bonds are owing Anambra,” he said. “We bought their bonds. Some will mature in another 20 years. We can be spending the interest for now but the future generations already have savings.” Borrowing is not a sin ─ but neither is financial discipline.

Obi, a very wealthy entrepreneur from a business-oriented family, came into politics by accident. His father established the first big supermarket in Onitsha in the 1950s, and also owned a bread brand that dominated the breakfast table in the East. Sometime in 2001, Obi was approached to invest in MTN, which was bidding for a GSM licence in Nigeria. He decided to invest N300 million. But on a visit to Onitsha, he changed his mind. He saw some young men being beaten up for allegedly stealing. Before he knew what was happening, two of them had been beheaded. That day, he decided he was going to invest his resources in politics to restore sanity to the society. “The inmates have taken over the asylum,” he said. He later gave a lecture that would produce his famous quote: “Is Anambra cursed or are we the cause?”

Okonjo-Iweala let the cat out of the bag when she said Obi would soon be needed in Abuja for “national service”. We started hearing rumours that President Goodluck Jonathan would make him a minister. Knowing Anambra very well, I will be surprised if its PDP stalwarts do not block him. Obi is an APGA member with apparent sympathy for Jonathan but beyond that, those who hold Anambra down will never support putting their best foot forward. The Igbo have proved themselves excellent in virtually every field of human endeavour, not just locally but also globally, yet their inability to tame their “inmates” has continued to hurt them. Of course, every community has its own “inmates” ─ Oyo people are just getting over Adedibu, Tokyo and Eleweomo ─ but the republican nature of the Igbo society means it is more difficult to rein in these elements.
Whatever next step Obi takes is not an issue for me. All I care is: he came, he saw, he conquered. I will continue to say that without any fear of contradiction. Da alu, Okwute!

“I am very glad that none of the attempts to scandalise him ever succeeded, because I remember him swearing to me on three different occasions: ‘If I ever steal one kobo of Anambra money, may God kill me and my children!’ I felt those words were too strong, but he was obviously very sure of himself”

And Four Other Things

Special Assistant to the President, Mr. Reno Omokri, was caught in a storm recently when a document accusing CBN governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi of supporting terrorism was traced to him. The document alleged that Sanusi took part in the 1994 beheading of Gideon Akaluka for allegedly desecrating the Holy Quran. While all other suspects were summarily executed secretly by the Abacha government, Sanusi reportedly escaped through the intervention of Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, whose son, Faruk, unsuccessfully tried to suicide-bomb a US airliner in 2010. I find it strange that no one has formally commented on these serious allegations. Puzzling.


In civilised societies, public officers are moved by the guilt of being unable to prevent tragedies and failures ─ quickly tender their resignations as a sign of accepting responsibility. In Senegal a few years back, the minister of transport resigned when a ferry sank, killing hundreds of people. Not so in Nigeria. Recently, jobseekers lost their lives in a poorly organised recruitment test by the Nigeria Immigration Service. What did the Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro, do? He blamed the victims for being “disorderly”. You pack thousands of applicants into one centre with no crowd control plans and then turn around to blame them? Sickening.


Increasingly in Nigeria, you are either supporting the president blindly or pitching tent with the opposition fanatically. But the reality is that some of us care more about Nigeria than these fleeting political alliances which turn enemies to friends and friends to enemies overnight. I am deeply worried that the Nigerian agenda is off the radar as the gladiators prepare for 2015. Every day, it is one politically motivated accusation or counter-accusation. There is so much desperation by the PDP and the APC for power that cheap propaganda, blackmail and outright lies daily dominate the airwaves. These guys must be called to order. Disgusting.


Something keeps amusing me about Nigeria ─ the way we politicise everything. When soldiers were deployed in Maiduguri some years ago, a group called Borno Elders and Leaders of Thought demanded that they should be withdrawn because they were inflicting pains on the people. Not long after, a new agitation started: that the soldiers were not enough, did not have enough arms and were poorly motivated. It even got more ridiculous when President Jonathan said if he withdrew the soldiers, he would like to see if the governor could spend one month longer in Government House. I insist that some issues should never be politicised. Sad.
Simon Kolawole For Nigeria’s Thisday Newspaper where article was culled from and he can be reached via Email: [email protected]


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