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Is Peter Obi the new ‘messiah’?

Is Peter Obi the new ‘messiah’?
June 29
15:05 2022

In the run-up to the 2015 elections as the political stock of the then-presidential flag bearer of the newly established All Progressive Congress (APC), Muhammadu Buhari, continued to rise higher and higher, those who tried to provide nuanced perspectives on the Buharimania sweeping the country found their voices drowned out.

Muhammadu Buhari was the “People’s General” who was divinely ordained to come and lead Nigeria out of its troubles which the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had led almost to a breaking point. References were made to his antecedents as a former military ruler who tried to take on the demons of corruption, indiscipline and other social vices in the country and this was the fix needed in 2015 as it was in 1984.

Here we are now in 2022, the penultimate year before the much lionized Muhammadu Buhari exits the stage to be succeeded by a new president. Against the background of the extremely dire situation Nigeria currently grapples with in virtually all sectors of life, a majority of Nigerians, among them those who felt Buhari was the ordained one, are now singing a different tune.

In this state of existential angst, many Nigerians it has been observed have once again turned into “messiah hunters” as it was in 2015. And it has been further observed that of all the political figures that have emerged as flag-bearers of the various political parties, none is cast more in “messianic” robes than Peter Gregory Obi, the former governor of Anambra state, and the presidential candidate of the Labour Party.

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Like Buhari, Peter Obi is being promoted as the new “knight in shining armour” by his core supporters on the back of his performance as Anambra governor where he set a high score in frugality (stinginess, his opponents would say) and shrewd business investment strategies. The evidence of his frugality, his supporters say, is in the over N70 billion he purportedly saved and left in the kitty for his successor, Willie Obiano. And his business savviness was in the investment he made on behalf of Anambra state in an international brewing conglomerate which is reported to have yielded dividends over the years.

His supporters also like to point out his distaste for ostentation, waste and elaborate protocol. Examples of such are found in his cutting down on official vehicles, entourage and staff at the Government House, Awka. So unassuming is he that he checks himself into flights, pushes his trollies and flies economy class like many of us. Against the fact that our public figures and politicians are known to be flamboyant and wasteful, Peter Obi with his Spartan-like mien contrasts sharply with them so his supporters would want us to believe.

Peter Obi’s supporters would also like us to believe that with his grasp and application of sound economic principles in Nigeria’s current search for economic development, he is the perfect fit. One hears very often of how as a businessman managing a business portfolio that cuts across banking, export-import, trading, and supermarket franchise profitably he can turn the fortunes of Nigeria by applying similar business strategies. But does all that make him the messiah with the magic wand that he is being touted to solve our existential issues?

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Attempts to put Peter Obi under the microscope have been met mostly with torrents of insults and name-calling by his partisans. Like Buhari in the race to the 2015 presidential race, Peter Obi’s supporters have only one way — their highway. While they delight in taking aim at the other presidential candidates in full gusto, they brook not even the slightest whiff of inquiry into what is presented to us as his finer qualities. They would not let us put him under the microscope as we and they have subjected other political figures to their delight and fulsome praise.

Of course, Peter Obi’s qualities as stated here are commendable and he is eminently qualified to run and be elected president of this country on the strength of those qualities. Indeed, if we undertake a random sample of the opinions of Nigerians generally as to who amongst the presidential candidates of the parties they would prefer, Peter Obi will likely be there among the top contenders. But much as he is being held up as the new “messiah”, we must not be deterred in asking and demanding answers to the claims he has made of himself and being made of him by his supporters.

As recently revealed in a report, as governor of Anambra state, Peter Obi maintained offshore bank accounts in tax havens from which he made several business transactions in the United Kingdom and other places. Now owning accounts in offshore tax havens is not an infraction of the law. It is also not a crime to avoid paying taxes. What is frowned upon and which constitutes a serious contravention of the law in Nigeria and many countries is to own and operate foreign bank accounts as a public officer. When Peter Obi was confronted with these findings by the media, he spluttered in answering them and indeed ended up digging himself deeper into the trench he found himself.

Without a sense of irony, he answered that he never knew it was against the law and that in any case, it was a family account. Talk about being caught with your hands deep inside a pot of soup! Peter Obi of all people with his deep involvement in corporate issues, should know that there are extant rules and regulations concerning ownership of financial instruments while holding public office. Did he not relinquish his position on the board of Fidelity Merchant Bank when he became governor in compliance with the requirements of the law? Why then will he keep an offshore bank account while holding public office?

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Secondly, the discussion is still going on as to the shares or investment in an international brewing company on behalf of Anambra state. Suffice it to say that the current administration of Chukwuma Soludo has come out to debunk some of the claims of profitable returns on that investment made by Peter Obi. And while the debate is going on, the question we need to ask is did the Anambra state house of assembly at the time approve the deal as required especially as it is an investment into a foreign venture in which public funds were committed?

One thing that seemed to have escaped the debate on the investment into the foreign-owned brewing company is that somehow Peter Obi has ended up owning a brewing company which makes a popular brand of beer along with others. What is the connection between Peter Obi’s investments as Anambra governor into the brewing company that incidentally is linked to Peter Obi’s brewing company? The findings will certainly be interesting.

Again the administration of Willie Obiano, Peter Obi’s erstwhile protégé who took over after Obi, studiously denied the purported claim of N70 billion left behind by the latter. The Obiano administration stated that only N5 billion was left and against that were humongous debts; some of them of dubious nature and value which needed to be settled.

That said, we also have to scrutinize Obi’s political and economic thoughts and actions to determine whether he is the real deal. His thoughts on economics rest on following the pattern or the Chinese model which he frequently cites. But does he know that China is a country run by doctrinaire communists? Does he know that the Chinese communist party which runs China has strict rules governing the conduct of public officials and members of the party? Does he know that were he to be a Chinese public official as he is in Nigeria, his fate would have been far worse if he was found to have owned a foreign offshore account as a public official?

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Peter Obi’s politics is equally neither here nor there. He has been somewhat of a political nomad traipsing political parties first from the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and now to the Labour Party. It cannot be ignored that he has garnered quite a following amongst the teeming youths of this country some among the elites and intelligentsia. But his critics say these groups do not matter much in the electoral stakes. It is stated that whatever power and influence these groups collectively have is limited to social media.

Unlike Buhari in 2015, who has a solid block of followers in tens of millions who had consistently voted for him in all the elections he had stood prior to 2015, Peter Obi does not command such a following. Indeed, I stand to be contradicted but I doubt very much if Peter Obi can win the majority of votes in the south-east region where he comes from; talk more of the other regions in the country.

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It is not that he is not popular or that he is not qualified. Peter Obi is both a victim of his political profile and the structure of politics in Nigeria. He is the beneficiary of a budding revolutionary fervour in Nigeria, but by antecedents politically and socially he is clearly not enamoured with revolutionary credentials. His frugality and unassuming nature are part of his innate characteristics, but that does not by any means make him the revolutionary that his supporters think will change Nigeria.

Also, Peter Obi as president will not drastically change Nigeria as his supporters want us to think of him. He is a dyed-in-the-wool believer, product and beneficiary of the rapaciously predatory system being run in Nigeria. He will probably tinker with it in certain areas but he will certainly not seek to dismantle it.

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And as happened with our experience under Buhari, in whom we invested so much confidence, goodwill and expectation, Peter Obi will end up being a spectacular disappointment to even his fervent supporters before long as the president of Nigeria.

Gadu can be reached via 08035355706 (SMS only)



Views expressed by contributors are strictly personal and not of TheCable.

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