Peter Obi, Akunyili and Political Folly

by Okey Ndibe

It’s sad to see how Governor Peter Obi of Anambra has made himself a bewildering figure. That a man whose political stock was once solid would so abjectly fail to rise to people’s expectations is – there’s no other way to put it – a matter of profound tragedy.

Mr. Obi rose to the nation’s admiration when he rejected all entreaties to forego the gubernatorial mandate that the people of Anambra had given him in 2003, and which the PDP and its candidate, Chris Ngige, had usurped. Spurning misguided pleas to “leave everything to God,” he sought the reclamation of his mandate with a stubbornness that was refreshing to encounter in a Nigerian politician. In the end, he (and the people of Anambra) secured victory. His profile rose even further when he persuaded the Supreme Court to dismiss Andy Uba, a former presidential aide, from Government House, Awka. Mr. Uba, thanks to Obasanjo and Maurice Iwu, had been enthroned as Anambra governor.

Given his history, Mr. Obi’s political currency ought to lie in how jealously he guards his reputation as an espouser and defender of electoral integrity. Instead, with former Information Minister Dora Akunyili as his accomplice, Governor Obi has all but wasted this particular currency. And he has squandered this resource, paradoxically, in pursuit of power by all means. This particular obsession has magnified the governor’s shockingly small-minded statecraft.

For a man who has been a victim of electoral fraud, Mr. Obi’s conduct in the April 9 National Assembly elections is, quite simply, appalling.

Let’s begin with the campaigns. Mr. Obi and his team of handpicked candidates had entered the campaigns on a huge deficit. The governor’s political crisis was self-inflicted.

First, the governor’s party, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), had alienated party faithful by handing its tickets to elements that had just landed – expediently – from the PDP planet. As I wrote here a few weeks ago, Mr. Obi (along with APGA’s chairman, Mr. Victor Umeh) betrayed Anambra when he invited Chuma Nzeribe, an unpalatable political figure, to take one of the party’s senatorial tickets. Mr. Nzeribe was a prominent – and to this day unapologetic – member of the cabal that was empowered by former President Obasanjo to turn Anambra into what I once called a theater of absurdity.

It was bad enough that APGA fielded the likes of Nzeribe. That treachery was then compounded by the fact that, before choosing the PDP turncoats, the party had collected steep fees from longtime party members interested in the various elective posts. Is it not repellent conduct to collect fees from would-be candidates when the party’s plan was to embrace an all-PDP slate?

What’s more, Mr. Obi’s political capital in the state had become terribly meager. In the state’s governorship election of February 2010, many Catholic priests had made the deplorable blunder of proclaiming from the pulpit that Mr. Obi was the beloved political son both of God and the Pope. But soon after the election was concluded, many of Mr. Obi’s ecclesiastical supporters began to regret ever championing him. They suddenly beheld a man who is in the main self-absorbed, with scant concern for the well being of the governed. As I write, medical doctors as well as judiciary workers in the state have been on strike for several weeks. Yet, a governor who was sold to voters as commissioned by God and the pope has not deigned to enter into serious negotiations in order to resolve issues. Does the governor derive perverse pleasure from watching patients go through agonizing pain and even death because he’s too preoccupied to talk with striking doctors? How about the fact that he’s treated with disdain the state workers’ demand for the implementation of minimum wage standards?

If his nonchalance towards striking workers is ghastly, the way he conducted the campaigns for his legislative candidates was unbecoming of a man and governor. In fact, I was so ashamed of the governor’s reported utterances that I made efforts to ring him up and tell him that he ought to know better.

Several witnesses told me how, at campaign stumps with Mrs. Akunyili, Governor Obi told his audience not to vote for Mr. Ngige because the man is too short. Then he permitted campaign posters to be circulated in which the image of Mr. Ngige, a medical doctor and candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), was aligned with those of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and former Governor Bola Tinubu. By contrast, the governor’s candidates were lined up with the late Owelle Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ikemba Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. The sordid idea was to portray Ngige as belonging to a “Yoruba team.”

It beggars belief that a governor, any governor, would see fit to make his opponent’s height a campaign issue. Such an untoward focus on somebody’s physique is utterly immature and speaks to a bankruptcy of ideas. Does it mean that Mr. Obi believes a person’s height to correlate to ability? Does he consider himself more intelligent, more capable or morally astute than everybody who’s shorter than he? For that matter, does he believe himself to be inferior to all taller people? For if height is a criterion of stellar leadership, then we must wonder how Mr. Obi became a governor. Alas, Anambra boasts many, many men and women who are taller than he is.

It is similarly appalling that a governor who reportedly has ambitions for higher political office could not restrain himself from disparaging Mr. Ngige as a Yoruba candidate. Even if we accepted the silly argument that the ACN was a Yoruba party – so what? Is the governor allergic to forging political alliances with the Yoruba? Is he not aware that such appeals to base, ethnic sentiments would return to haunt him if he ever seeks to be a political player at the national level? At any rate, was Mr. Obi not chastened by the fact that the ACN is sweeping the southwest and making inroads elsewhere in the nation, while he and his cohorts have left APGA bereft of electoral prospects anywhere? If any proof is needed, it suffices to see how Andy Uba trounced Obi’s man, Chuma Nzeribe.

Campaigning for Mrs. Akunyili, Governor Obi often reached for cheap blackmail. He threatened to deny, or pull projects as political appointments from communities that failed to vote for his candidates. In making these threats, he forgot that the people hired him for the job – and that he serves at their pleasure.

Apparently, the people of Anambra were determined to take the risk. Most of the governor’s candidates were thrashed. Many people in Anambra are certain that Mrs. Akunyili, the candidate most after the governor’s heart, was also decisively defeated. The haste with which she’s seeking a re-run of the senatorial race with Mr. Ngige suggests that she knows, deep down, that she was roundly beaten on April 9. It would amount to a monumental injustice to the voters of Anambra to revisit an election that became competitive only after the shameless manipulation that took place in Anaocha Local Government Area. The APGA team should not be rewarded with an undeserved re-run. INEC chairman Attahiru Jega should insist that the investigative panel he set up deploy forensic technology to probe the votes in Anaocha. I believe such a test would unmask a narrative of stuffed ballots.

It’s odd and disturbing that Chukwuemeka Onukaogu, the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Anambra, would appoint Charles Esinone, a professor of pharmacy, as the new returning officer for the Anambra Central senatorial zone. The fact that Mr. Esinone and Mrs. Akunyili were colleagues in the same department at the University of Nigeria casts serious doubt about the returning officer’s impartiality.

Mr. Obi&#8

217;s less than inspiring performance as a governor is, ultimately, responsible for his candidates’ electoral misfortunes. Rededicating himself to the service of the people of Anambra – rather than gubernatorial threats to his employers and obtuse politicking – is the only way to rebuild his tarnished political career.

You may also like

Leave a Comment