Until recently, I had not paid that much attention to Dr. Patrick Okedinachi Utomi. All I knew was that he has the right mental attitude and the stuff: well-read, well-traveled, and well-trained and seem to have the kind of resume that, under the right political system, would have given him a better than average shot at the presidency. Put another way, in another time and place, his country would have courted him; or at the very least, his country would have noted and noticed his impeccable credentials for the highest national office. But alas, Nigeria is unlike most other countries; therefore, neither the political class nor the electorates are going to go in search of him asking to be taken to the land of Canaan. Oh no! He has to want to. And he must show it, prove it, desire it and fight for it.
Granted the presidency is not the be-it and end-all position, Utomi must show he truly deserve the office. He must fight for it. He must because the country in question is Nigeria. And Nigeria, we all know, is not your “usual” country with well-tested electoral laws, constitutional tenets, and with a proper political culture and climate that engenders free and fair electoral contest. Nigeria is not like the Scandinavian countries. It is not like Canada or some other slow moving and gentlemanly electoral system.
If Mr. Utomi wants to be the president of Nigeria come 2007, he needs to act like a candidate, a very serious candidate. He needs to sell himself to the people: the men and women on the street, the military and security forces, the political class, the mass media, and to the decision makers of his party and to President Obasanjo. To do the aforesaid, he must spend all his time in the country. He must remain in Nigeria visiting all the abovementioned constituents. He must play ball. Those he needs to be playing with reside in Nigeria — not in the USA, Britain or anywhere else outside of the country. Why does he travel so much spending a lot of his time and capital in foreign capitals? Why?
For a man who is gunning for the presidency, what business does he have gallivanting and traversing the globe? What can oversea-Nigerians do for him, anyways? Raise a dollar here, a yen there and euro in another venue? Oh no! Utomi should stay put in the country. He should be seen in Sokoto, Maiduguri, Kaduna, Yola, Kano and elsewhere; he should be heard in Ibadan, Ile-Ife, Ogbomosho, Akure, Ede and every where in between. He should be consulting with the Niger Deltans (the Ijaw, Itshekiri, Ogoni, Isoko, Urhobo and other ethnic nationalities). Furthermore, he should pay attention to the “competing power centers” of the Ndiigbo nation which can sometimes be self-immolating.
And so I ask: How many introductory or presidential-type speeches has he given at various Nigerian institutions of higher learning? How many Nigerian think-tanks has he visited? How many Oba and Emir and Obi and Ijaw Kingmakers has he visited? How many political rallies have he in the offing? Has he spoken to President Obasanjo and to the PDP executive council? Does he have eyes and ears within the retired and serving military establishment? How much of his own money is he willing to spend? And does he have deep-pocket financial backers? For all these and more, Dr. Utomi needs to spend 99.9% of his time in Nigeria.
Diasporan-Nigerians cannot help him; they cannot do anything for him. Nothing! We don’t have the voting right, and even if we did, we don’t have critical mass dense enough to swing the votes to the right or to the left. Therefore, Utomi’s lot and luck and destiny rest with the people and with all the various kingmakers and demi-gods in Nigeria. Yes, the Nigerian politics is not fair, but that is what we have for now. To be a credible presidential contender, he must play according to the Nigerian political rules. He must not soil his conscience, but he may have to soil his left hand.
The political battle, the heart and soul of the country is not in Obodo Oyinbo, it is in Nigeria. The sooner Chief Utomi realizes this, the better. If he is coming to America and London and Paraguay to raise money, well, that’s fine. Once or twice is enough. Nigerians who want to send money may do so through readily available mediums.
On of Nigeria’s preeminent commentator and public intellectual is Mr. Uche Nworah. Uche also happens to be one of Mr. Utomi’s campaign coordinators in London. When asked about what I consider to be a poor political strategy and poorly thought-out campaign tactic on the part of his candidate, his response was: “Professor Utomi has always maintained his strong belief that the Nigerian renaissance would be championed by the Diasporas, hence his various meetings and dialogues with Nigerians in the Diaspora. This does not mean that there is no merit in your suggestions for a more sustained ‘ground’ campaign, that is also happening and the momentum would obviously increase as we near the crunch months.”
Now, Mr. Nworah’s analysis may be correct. And indeed Mr. Utomi may as well be correct in his thinking, too. But I do not see it that way. Here is why: Overseas Nigerians are not that different from home-based Nigerians. At home and abroad, the vast majority of Nigerians still think in terms of immediate kinship, ethnicity, religion and regional politics. Nigerians in London and elsewhere are still struggling to make ends meet. Political struggle is not on their agenda. That being the case therefore, I believe Utomi should look to Nigerians at home to effect and executive his grand vision and agenda.
Most viable democracies are home grown. Most fruitful economic and development strategies are home grown. Strong institutions and constitutionalism is home grown. Political struggles are home grown. Every thing good and great about great and thriving nation-states are, for the most part, home grown. Whatever revival, transition and renaissance attitude Dr. Utomi envisages must be home grown. I am not sold on the idea that Nigerians abroad will export some magic wand, suddenly returning the country to a path of growth and development. Home is where the changes will and must begin from!
Overseas Nigerians don’t return to plant seed of progress. They don’t return to build schools and factories and hospitals and art centers. They don’t return to invest in the economy and institutions. They don’t return to do any thing out of the ordinary. The vast majority of returnees are tourists, visitors, strangers in their own country. Most spend 2-4 weeks; and that’s about it. And in fact, yearly monetary remittances are so pitiful they don’t make a dent in the GDP. It is .05% at best; whereas in some Latin American countries, remittances account for about 10% of the GDP.
His handlers should know, and he too should have known that if he wants to run, he must plan to run; if he plans to run, he must have a winning strategy. It is not enough to speak internationally acceptable language saying all the right things and seeking the approval of the international community. That’s not it. Nigeria is where the elections will take place and where also the votes will be counted, rigged, deleted or multiplied. For these and other reasons therefore, Dr. Patrick Okedinachi Utomi must start building his base, making deals, get to know and be known by all those who matter. With this particular matter, overseas Nigerians don’t matter. They don’t and won’t count and won’t be counting the votes. Good luck!