By Tunde Akande
The Yoruba says a man could have blood on his inside while he spits out white saliva: “ka fi eje sinu, ka tuto funfun sita”. They are saying that man is hypocritical, that his heart is deceitful. Men may not even know their own hearts. They are very fickle. What you see or hear is not what you get. This is why politicians must be examined critically. They trade in promises, the voters depend on their promises to make their electoral decisions. Those who will live by the consequences of the actions or inactions of the politicians had better watch that they are not taking a plunge into the dark. “Shine your eyes”, as they say on the street in Nigeria.
Nigeria is in another election cycle. We were here four years ago in 2019 and four years before then in 2015 when Nigerians rightly felt the 16 years reign of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP regime had been nothing but a disaster and must be terminated. The economy was sick, insecurity in the Northeast region was kicking in, many people were being killed by Boko Haram insurgents and stealing of public funds had become second nature in Nigeria. Political dealers headed by Bola Ahmed Tinubu, now presidential candidate of ruling All Progressives Congress, APC packaged Muhammadu Buhari, former head of state and military general as the messiah Nigeria needed at that crucial time. Bola Tinubu told Nigerians a few months ago that he persuaded Buhari not to give up as he wanted to because he had failed the contest thrice and that he would personally lead the war if Buhari joined the fray again.
Elections are not fought on ideas or principles in Nigeria. They are do-or-die affairs; you win, your finance is enriched, you lose, you go hungry or join those who won for crumbs. Elections are fought on ethnicity and religion. But in this current election cycle, one man, Peter Gregory Obi, academically vibrant, and his running mate Datti Yusuf Baba Ahmed, who is a UK-trained economist seems to be changing the pattern. Obi is spewing out ideas and principles. When he started his razzmatazz of statistics, reeling out figures off-hand, not a few Nigerians were dazzled. At the onset, he wanted to be the PDP presidential candidate, he stood before a group of the party’s elders who were screening all candidates, reeling out figures off hand. Those older men who had mismanaged Nigeria for donkey years looked bored. They were dazzled but uninterested in Obi’s statistics. No politician since Obafemi Awolowo, the leader of the opposition in Nigeria’s first republic has done what Obi is doing. The youths caught the frenzy and formed themselves into groups organizing for Obi’s campaign, especially after Obi left PDP for the Labour Party to fulfil his dreams to become president.
Obi has emerged from relative obscurity, he was accused of lack of party structure, into a prominent contender that none of the old guards can ignore. Now that Obi has been campaigning, and speaking to the media, it is time to examine candidate Obi at a very close range just as it is necessary to examine all others, especially the three front runners. Who is Gregory Peter Obi? What is his heart? Obi is not being helped by his followers who took on the appellation ‘Obidients’. More than anybody else, his group of followers made more of sympathisers of IPOB, has given the most headache to Obi revealing him in their rabid and caustic abuses of opponents and commentators as a candidate of Biafra. Biafra is a section of the county in the East that has been angling to separate from the rest of the country. Most of them are youths. What the Igbo want, has been the question on the lips of political observers. A separate nation of their own or the presidency? Since the end of the civil war, even before it, the Igbo had wanted a shot at the presidency. That quest became stronger when the military bequeathed to the nation a very powerful centre contrary to the federal state negotiated by those who started the nation at independence. In this regard, the president distributes all favours, and his influence is felt everywhere in the nation. He holds the power of life and death.
I know an Igbo man who complained that since independence, no Igbo man has been director general of the Customs Department, no Igbo has been minister of works or other federal ministries considered juicy in Nigeria’s parlance. Juicy in Nigeria means a ministry or department of government where there is the opportunity for grand treasury looting. Professor ABC Nwosu, former health minister and a veteran of the civil war and frontline politician joined this train of opinion in a recent WhatsApp video where he called on Bola Tinubu to step down and allow Igbo to be president. Professor Nwosu literally bemoaned the inability of the Igbo to clinch the juicy offices over the years.
In the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, the Igbos played a very prominent role. Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala was not just the Minister of Finance, she was effectively the prime minister. She took decisions for the nation on the economy. Anyim Pius Anyim was the secretary to the government of the federation. President Goodluck Jonathan rewarded the Igbo for overwhelmingly voting for him. Goodluck Jonathan is Ijaw from the south-south region, but he bears an Igbo name, Azikiwe, a magical name among the Igbo because it is the name of the most prominent Igbo politician and titular president of Nigeria’s first republic.
In fact, political observers have said the motivation for Nnamdi Kanu’s aggressive and violent separationist agenda was because Goodluck Jonathan was not returned to power in 2015. Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, a non-violent resistant group led by Ralph Uwazurike was a supporter of the Jonathan government because it favoured the Igbo. Uwazurike and MASSOB of which Nnamdi Kanu was a prominent member had mounted a non-violent resistance to Igbo separation. As soon as President Jonathan left power, Nnamdi Kanu began his appeal for guns to take up arms against Nigeria. He broke away from MASSOB and formed the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB.
Nnamdi Kanu became a terror to the Buhari administration which had truly ostracized the Igbo because they gave him five per cent of their votes as Buhari said publicly. Kanu had such a big clout among the Igbo until Peter Obi showed up eclipsing everything that is IPOB. Obi appears to be a sympathiser of IPOB. He was seen pushing the wheelchair of Professor Ben Nwabueze, jurist and politician to the courtroom where Nnamdi Kanu was being tried for terrorism. One thing that is evidently clear is that the “Obidients” took their aggression and caustic language developed in IPOB agitations into the campaign of Obi, abusing and cursing everybody that dare criticize their candidate. Obi has defended them that they are only angry at the situation of the country, but it is more than that, they are very eager to crush anything and anybody that will stand in the way of Peter Obi becoming president. An Obi presidency is not anything they want to miss. Obi has tried hard not to present himself as an Igbo candidate but it’s an effort that is not yielding fruit. Igbo are everywhere in the country plying their trades and everywhere they are they make huge noise wherever Obi goes giving the impression that Obi is well accepted everywhere. It must be admitted that Obi has made some incursions into other areas of Nigeria, especially in the Christian North where Tinubu has angered them by picking a northern Muslim as his running mate. Obi has some following among the Yoruba too, especially the youths.
Furthermore, Peter Obi allegedly put Nasir El-Rufai, now governor of Kaduna State, under house arrest in his hotel room while El Rufai was in Anambra to monitor the 2013 gubernatorial election for his party CPC while Obi was seeking a second term as governor of the state. El Rufai brought the allegation up at a recent meeting in the Arewa House in Kaduna where he told the audience that he would have revenged with an arrest of Obi as he was also in Kaduna on campaign except that “we northerners are civilized people.” That statement is pregnant with innuendo. “We Northerners are civilized” may mean “the Easterners are uncivilized.” Obi has strenuously denied the accusation, but this writer once watched Peter Obi on Channels Television. saying ” “They (the North represented by El Rufai) have come to stop us. We (meaning Igbo) are the most hardworking in Nigeria and they want to stop us.” Okey Ndibe, a proficient academic and writer in some of his past articles while Obi was governor in Anambra had accused Obi of tribal insensitivity. Obi had accused some Igbo who worked with the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, the party of Bola Tinubu, as belonging to the “Yoruba party.” Obi’s prism for seeing politics was ethnicity. Okey Ndibe said Obi then was unmindful of the possibility of playing politics on the national stage at a future time.
Okey Ndibe was very accurate. Obi now wants to be president at the centre and this baggage of tribalism is becoming too burdensome for him. Obi now present the air of detribalized Nigerians but not a few non-Igbo think Obi is another ‘Ojukwu’ in the waiting. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu was the 33-year-old Lt. Colonel that led the Igbo into a civil war against Nigeria between 1967 and 1970. Many others have faulted Obi’s statistics saying they are not accurate. Ex-minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun is one of them. Obi has also not been able to satisfactorily explain the source of his wealth. He claims to be from a family of traders, but some say his mother was just a petty trader. In an environment where people just rise suddenly with questionable wealth, Obi need to say more than he has said to convince Nigerians that his wealth has a clean beginning. He has said he’s too rich to dip his hand in Nigeria’s treasury. Nigerians do not believe in Atiku Abubakar, nor do they believe in Obi, especially outside of the Igbo enclave. Would Obi turn out to be the president that will build Nigeria and develop its economy or one that will use the tribal scheme to take care of his Igbo tribe and further plunder the economy by corruption or help the Igbo out of Nigeria? The days ahead will reveal.
Tunde Akande is both a journalist and pastor. He earned a Master’s degree in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos.