By Tony Okoroji
It was a bright weekday afternoon, some years ago. I was at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in Abuja on my way to Lagos after an exhausting trip to the nation’s capital. As I do, now and again, before walking into the Departure Hall, I sought to buy some “kilishi” from the omnipresent dry meat hawkers in front of the airport terminal, to take to my folks in Lagos.
While haggling with one of the kilishi sellers, I felt someone tap me on the back. I was wondering who it could be. I turned and discovered to my surprise that it was the Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi. There were no airs about him. No aide was accompanying him. He was not wearing any big agbada and was carrying his small suitcase himself.
In his falsetto voice, he asked, “Tony. where are you off to?” I told him I was going to Lagos. He said to me that he was flying to Enugu on his way to Awka. The Governor waited for me to finish my haggling with the kilishi seller. We then walked together towards the Departure Hall and bantered along the way. I offered to help him with his luggage. He smiled and declined, telling me that he was still young enough to carry such a small piece of luggage.
As we entered the Departure Hall, the Governor went to the back of the line and waited for his turn to process his boarding pass. He appeared unfazed by the commotion which his presence was causing as many people identified him and pointed excitedly at him.
As we both went to board our different airplanes, I fell in love with this gentleman who clearly understands that we are all passengers in the journey of life and that on our appointed day, each of us will be at the departure hall to fly off to our maker and at that point, it would not matter whether you are an “Excellency” or a janitor.
If you think that my experience with Peter Obi was a scene for a particular day, please bury the thought. Several people have talked to me about their individual encounters with Mr. Obi which are not significantly different from mine. I have also met Obi’s wife, Margarete, a daughter of Akwa Ibom State. She carries herself with the same quiet dignity that her husband does.
My reaction to Peter Obi is based on the fact that we seem to share the same ideals. With Peter Obi, you do not find the unnecessary bigmanism that clouds the average Nigerian in a position of power. He is as simple as simple can be. That disposition makes the undiscerning to underestimate him. Peter Obi is a quiet warrior. He will fight tooth and nail, using the levers of the rule of law to establish justice. He has survived coups upon coups upon coups.
In 2003, Peter Obi contested the Anambra State governorship election as the APGA candidate. His opponent, Chris Ngige of the PDP, was declared winner by INEC. It took almost three years of battle in the courts for Ngige’s purported victory to be over-turned by the Court of Appeal on March 15, 2006 and Obi to move into Government House, Awka.
After seven months of Obi taking office on March 17, 2006, he was impeached by the State House of Assembly on November 2, 2006. That was how his deputy, Virginia Etiaba, became the first ever female governor in Nigeria’s history. Obi once gain went to court and was re-instated as Anambra State Governor on February 9, 2007 by the Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu and Etiaba handed power back to him.
Governor Peter Obi was once again forced out of office on May 29, 2007 as a result of the governorship elections said to have been won by Andy Uba. Once again, Obi headed for the courts contending that his four-year term won in the 2003 elections only started to run when he took office in March 2006. The Supreme Court agreed with him and Governor Obi was returned to office for the third time on the wings of the rule of law, putting paid to Andy Uba’s ambition to be Governor of Anambra State. Of course, Governor Obi went on to easily win a second four-year term. Obi’s legal victories have become important precedents in the rules governing elections in Nigeria.
During the 2019 election campaign, as Vice Presidential candidate to Atiku Abubakar, Peter Obi was revealed to Nigerians at a national level. He was different. His sassy grasp of issues and his confident use of data, figures and statistics to break down complex problems caught the eyes of many. In an environment, where most politicians simply hope, wish and pray, Obi plans with facts and numbers and not conjecture. He is clearly a digital leader in a digital age.
I have no doubt that Peter Gregory Obi will do very well as a candidate in the general elections. He connects well across the board: age, intellect, tribe, religion, etc. He has inspired an army of young Nigerians. His body language does not put anyone off. His big problem is with the PDP primaries. Anybody who has closely followed the party primaries in recent years knows that it is not about competence. It is a game of envelopes. Which candidate has the fattest envelopes with crisp dollar bills for delegates?
Unfortunately, if you do not make it in the party primaries, you cannot become a candidate for the presidency.
I am not so sure that Peter Obi can match Atiku Abubakar or Nyesom Wike in a dollar war! Will that be the end of the dream of many Nigerians?
There are three Nigerians any of who will become President and I will go to bed, close my eyes and sleep well. Peter Obi is one of them.
Will the dollar warriors give him a chance?
See you next week