By Yushau A. Shuaib
It has taken me more than six months to finally write this article on Peter Obi, a former Governor of Anambra State and the Presidential Candidate of the Labour Party (LP) in the oncoming 2023 general elections, for some personal reasons.
I have written the profiles of virtually all the major presidential candidates and strangely I was surprised that despite having had a few memorable encounters with Peter Obi, I had only merely mentioned his name in passing as a bridge-builder across the Niger in an article I once wrote in June 2017, which is titled: “Between Nigerian Igbos and Biafran Agitators – A Northerner’s Perspective.”
I recall writing “Between Obasanjo, Atiku and the Media” [Office1] in August 2003 on the current presidential candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, on how the press had fuelled his altercation with his then principal President Olusegun Obasanjo.
On the presidential candidate of New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Musa Rabiu Kwankwaso, I wrote “Between Jonathan and Kwankwaso” in November 2013, in which I disclosed the hallmarks of his administration as the governor of Kano as the provision of scholarships, entrepreneurship skills and massive housing to the people, while equally embarking on ambitious road building projects throughout the state.
On the African Action Congress (AAC) presidential candidate, my article, “Sowore of Sahara Reporters for President?” written in April 2018, highlighted how he not only supported but equally protected me during a very difficult period in my life. I further emphasised in the piece how Sowore was in the habit of utilising his media platform, SaharaReporters to promote human rights and fight against corruption, coupled with the dictatorial tendencies of people in power.
And just last year, precisely in January 2022, before the primary election, I wrote a tribute to Ahmed Bola Tinubu, who subsequently became the presidential candidate of the APC, “2023: Bola Tinubu and his ‘Loyal Boys’ in Government”, in which I underlined his dogged and fighting spirit, alongside his strong reputation for building people by affording them unusual opportunities to succeed in the public space, which in turn informs their unwavering loyalty to him.
It was two months after that article on Tinubu, in March 2022, that I had encounters with two respected spymasters at different times and in different locations: one of them is currently serving as an intelligence chief and the other, a retired security czar, with both of them surprisingly from Northern Nigeria. Our discussions were on potential presidential candidates from the South-East. In addition, we discussed the activities of the self-acclaimed leader of the proscribed secessionist movement, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, who had then suddenly emerged as the most adored and prominent figure in Igboland.
Kanu is so revered in Igboland that when he issued orders, his followers and the generality of the people in the South-East ‘obediently obeyed’ this. Apart from ordering sit-at-home actions on what should be working days, Kanu, who called Nigeria a “zoo” in his online broadcasts and regularly insulted other ethnic groups in the country, championed a secessionist campaign for an independent Republic of Biafra, by inciting violence and promoting vile anti-Nigeria sentiments.
When he was first arrested on the 14th of October, 2015, on a charge bordering on terrorism, he was later granted bail on health grounds on the 25th of April 2017. However, he breached the bail conditions and fled abroad. While in self-exile, Nnamdi Kanu intensified his subversive campaigns against Nigeria, using the online Radio Biafra to instigate violence and incite members of IPOB to commit violent attacks on civil and democratic institutions and personnel in Nigeria, particularly officials of security agencies, in addition to those of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and civilians. The Eastern Security Network (ESN), an armed wing of IPOB, continues to carry out “subversive activities” against the Nigerian State till date, under the moniker of unknown gunmen.
During the EndSARS protests in October 2020, apart from inciting his followers to assault security personnel and facilities, he threatened some Yoruba leaders, after which mobs desecrated and looted the Palace of the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, who had to be rescued and evacuated from the palace by security agents.
To the joy of many Nigerians who believe in peaceful coexistence, were deeply disturbed by his violent rhetoric and instigation of insurrection against Nigeria, Nnamdi was successfully intercepted on Sunday, 27 June, 2021, through the collaborative efforts of Nigerian intelligence and security services and brought back to Nigeria to continue his trial in court.
During my aforementioned encounters with the security chiefs, we discussed the likely aspirants who could emerge as presidential candidates from the then anticipated primary elections of the political parties. Meanwhile, two platforms that I run, PRNigeria and Economic Confidential, have weekly and monthly security and intelligence reports that we submit to clients which include the security services.
The analysis of one of these platforms reveals that politically, Peter Obi and Professor Pat Utomi appear as highly acceptable faces to Igbo youths and a host of other Nigerians at the moment. The significant rise of Peter Obi to national political reckoning, with the possibility of a real shot at the presidency, certainly has the capacity to assuage the feeling of many Igbos pertaining to their deeply perceived marginalisation in the country, while also promoting political inclusiveness.
In fact, intelligence shows that Peter Obi did his homework in traversing critical Nigerian states, where he consulted with the right people before announcing his presidential aspiration. Apart from retired military security officers, he also engaged with traditional institutions and other political stakeholders, after which it was not surprising that he picked his running mate, Yusuf Datti, from a very reputable scholarly and political family in Northern Nigeria
Along the way, before his campaign had garnered formidable traction, there were suggestions to him about alliances and mergers as he set out on the LP ticket, besides those who strongly believed that he ought to have stayed in PDP as running mate to Atiku Abubakar, after which he could have then aspired for the presidency in 2027. Possibly the need to avoid an attritive slugfest with the overbearing Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State in the PDP made him jettison that advice, which has all turned out better for him, as he embarked on his own electoral trajectory not necessarily for the February election, but definitely in future.
And, for those who have had the good fortune of encountering him, while Peter Obi is not only stupendously wealthy and more so highly philanthropic towards good social causes, but he is also yet extremely simple and humble, unlike the typical rich Igbo folks and celebrities.
PRNigeria has had reason to run some fact-checks that cleared a number of weighty allegations levelled against him. Equally, I can personally testify to the fact that Peter Obi has many enviable qualities. In 2008, as Governor of Anambra State, he had physically attended the launch of the Emergency Volunteer Group in Awka, which was hosted by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), where I was then the spokesperson. The director of NEMA, AVM Mohammed Audu-Bida (Rtd) was amazed by his punctuality at the occasion, and the very unusual act of going around with a very light entourage, unlike most Nigerian governors.
I noticed the same punctuality when he arrived earlier than the organisers of the first annual conference of the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP) in Lagos in August 2017. As the guest speaker at the event, he had cautioned that the borrowing spree of the Buhari administration, coming with the figurative dangerous banana peels, could drag the country further down into financial turmoil, alongside its attendant stress on the naira and the national economy at large.
Even after emerging as the presidential candidate of LP, Peter Obi has neither been pompous nor arrogant. While going about the country in his energetic campaign, he can be described as a class act, who doesn’t insult or use foul language against any of his political opponents, unlike his fanatical fans.
Even when his motives were either misread or misconstrued, and he became a subject of disparaging commentary by the oppositions, for instance by his brother and his friend, Governors Charles Soludo of Anambra and Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna, Peter Obi was more measured and circumspect in his response. Like one incapable of saying ill things about anyone, he spoke kind words back to those attacking him.
Even when his motives were either misread or misconstrued, and he became a subject of disparaging commentary by those in opposition to him for some reasons, for instance by his brother and then his friend, Governors Charles Soludo of Anambra and Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna, Peter Obi is more measured and circumspect in his response. Like one incapable of saying ill things about anyone, he spoke kind words back to those attacking him. That could not be said of some ill-mannered supporters.
Obi is neither lousy nor garrulous, like some of the so-called Biafran freedom fighters and intellectuals, who engage in primitive, vicious, and violent crusades in the effort to draw attention to their need to secede the Southeast region from Nigeria, to form the Republic of Biafra.
While the Biafran agitators, especially the followers of Nnamdi Kanu of IPOB/ESN, glorify and adopt violence as the only form of achieving their dream of an independent nation, they continue on the less-than-noble path of insurrection, characterised by the lack of finesse and civility in utterance and actions of the unknown gunmen that insist there wouldn’t be elections in South-East,
Similarly, there is equally an insular strain of fanatical ‘Obidients’, who see in Peter Obi nothing beyond an Igbo project for seeking redress to the considered marginalisation of Igbo from the Nigerian presidency, with their dispositions being brash, uncouth and entitled.
Despite these, Peter Obi and his Nigerian supporters believe in dialogue and engagement with the democratic process towards the building of a better country, whose fault lines can be healed. They are the patriotic Nigerian ‘Obidients’ who are mature, responsible, and see the need for a country in which the whole will always be definitely greater than any of its individual parts, hence the democratic process is a tool towards achieving greatness for all.
As we brace up for the reality of exercising our franchise to elect a president in the next couple of days, I am solidly persuaded that fake prophesies, social media attacks, unscientific opinion polls, religious sentiments, and ethnic bigotry would not determine the outcome of the election but the formidable appeal and groundwork of the candidate who the people are already sold on to, and whose networks will be able to rally across our different divides in Nigeria.
It is undeniable that ethnoreligious campaigns have fouled the air and unfortunately become a major determining factor in the forthcoming presidential election. While an Igbo from the South-East, a Yoruba Muslim from the South-West and a Northerner from the North-East have never held the office of Nigerian president, Peter Obi, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, and Atiku Abubakar are the main gladiators in the next presidential election.
As other prominent stakeholders in the Nigeria project have declared, I enjoin our political parties and their supporters to adhere to electoral rules and be willing to embrace the spirit of sportsmanship, whenever the outcome of the election is announced. Then the Nigerian people would have truly spoken.
Yushau A. Shuaib, a founder of PRNigeria is the author of “An Encounter with the Spymaster”