While he was Governor of Anambra state, Peter Obi says he once gave up his apartment for President Olusegun Obasanjo to spend two nights during a state visit. He had refused to build a Presidential Lodge in Awka at a cost of N1 billion and considerable millions for subsequent monthly maintenance. Going on to spend those nights in a hotel for about N100,000, Mr. Peter Obi kept true to the marks of his Spartan nature and an uncommon pragmatism in public administration.
To the initiated, Peter Obi can be vouched for with regards to lean governance, conscious supervision, and personal example, to mention three.
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Initiation to the Okwute model , for many young Nigerians, was the 2016 Independence Day discourse at The Platform where Peter Obi made the strongest case for lowering the cost of governance by any politician yet. In about 50 minutes, Peter Obi seriously and convivially (in a raw and relatable accent not seeking to impress) drew attention to the often legitimate means of wastage and rascality in public service. He made references from his first-hand experience and compared local manifestations with global realities. The main themes of Obi’s many public appearances since then have converged around the talking points from that day, whether at the Nigerian American Business Forum this February or in news talk shows such as Channels TV’s Sunrise Daily and Arise News’ The Morning Show . Broadcasting his highlight reel could feel like “self-possession” at times as Abimbola Adelakun observed in PUNCH , but to young people who listened to Obi during the crushing days of the recession two years ago, the platitudes to demand better governance struck a nerve creating a hunger that will not likely be filled with a promise of continuity.
So that when former Vice President Atiku Abubakar won the PDP’s candidature for next year’s elections, Obi as running mate seemed the natural selection as soon as the search for a round peg for the position narrowed towards the South East. No other person whose résumé suggests competence and capacity for the role has made him or herself so available and willing without expressly appearing to demand or be desperate for it. Obi’s schedule since the end of his second term as Anambra state Governor in 2014 has been shuttles between speaking calls from Lagos to Connecticut, and refreshing his public administration expertise through various executive programs. The closest he has come to political involvement is as something of an honorary adviser to Goodluck Jonathan in the concluding months of that administration. Other than these, Obi has continued to live in Onitsha, the only place in the world where he owns a home. If you see a house that someone alleges belongs to him in Ikoyi or Asokoro, he gives the go-ahead to “burn it down or take it”.
These considered, it was inevitable that the reception to him being announced as Atiku’s running mate would be electric and exuberant, with a buzz on social media not seen since Ahmed Musa scored the sensational match-winning brace against Iceland mid June. For the PDP, it is a masterstroke of a pick that “balances” a ticket scheming (with the backing of many unaffiliated but disorientated Nigerians) to wrest the keys of governance from Muhammadu Buhari and the APC in about 123 days. The brief whispers of discontent in parts of the South East about Atiku’s choice have began to die off and as they eventually fizzle, enthusiasm for the PDP’s ticket will grow.
Should current energy levels be sustained and built on in the coming weeks, the Obi factor on the PDP’s ticket could effectively kill off the chances of “third force” candidates in the elections. Of the 24 other presidential candidates running in 2019, Donald Duke, Kingsley Moghalu, Fela Durotoye, Obiageli Ezekwesili and Omoyele Sowore are among the most notable looking to pull an upset. These candidates are going to have voters who stick with them to the end as long as they do not suspend their campaigns. For Dr Ezekwesili who is unequivocal about being in the race to win and not make up numbers, the strategy for success is reaching about 40 million who registered but did not vote in 2015. She may make inroads also with many disillusioned with the present administration and see little scope for a radical positive departure in Atiku Abubakar. These voters could simply move to satisfy their personal conscience by voting away from the ‘Siamese Twins’ in the hope that they are laying the foundations for a new class of leaders to emerge.
However, those expected to turn out en masse for the likes of Moghalu and Durotoye are young people who are thrilled by denunciations of the status quo and look for a different path but many of whom also require evidence of previous performance. Many fell for Buhari, the “reformed democrat” by faith and are not willing to believe without evidence again. Such may be impressed by the fact that Obi thinks highly of both men (he credits Durotoye with organizing impactful trainings for Fidelity Bank staff and calls Moghalu his friend) but will still choose to bet on the former governor’s managerial experience. A similar sequence of judgment could apply to Duke, even as it is possible the former Cross River governor could be eventually persuaded by Obasanjo to turn the contents of his pot over into Atiku’s. And voters for whom #BackToDaura is the ultimate mission but can hardly stomach Atiku will simply focus on Obi and justify their compromise based on his presence on the ticket.
None of this is to say the election is a foregone conclusion for the PDP or that Obi’s capacity to lead on a national level should be accepted without careful interrogation. But barring any critically damaging revelation relating to National Youth Service or a cold criminal case buried for the rainy day, he brings a consistent set of values to the PDP’s aspirations that, if well pursued, could end in victory.
Read » With Peter Obi involved, 2019 has effectively become a two-horse race on YNaija
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