Again, the Peter Obi mystique has come alive. His bid for the presidency is unearthing the intricate details of his intriguing personality. He ventured onto the Nigerian political scene in 2003. But not until he was sworn in as the governor of Anambra State in March 2006 did he become a subject of exciting discourse. His journey to the Government House in Awka was rough. But he weathered the storm.
You could say that he happened upon the Nigerian political landscape like a comet. Little was known of him before then. But his coming heralded a new day and a new order. He did not want to step into anybody’s shoes. Rather, he ambled gingerly into his own shoes. He had his own ways, and he pursued them with astonishing conviction. For the Nigerian political scene that rests largely on received norms and conventions, Obi’s out-of-the-way disposition to politics was a jolt. It was received with consternation and disquiet in political circles. A few daring ones around him contemplated a revolt. But their wings were clipped by the originality and depth of his convictions. Many resented him quietly. But their resentment amounted to nothing. The new kid on the block knew his onions.
Where was this man coming from? For a man whose material comfort, even before he became governor, was reasonably high, Obi’s simplicity and disdain for primitive acquisition baffled many. He was something of an ascetic in Government House. At first, some were tempted to imagine that he was a flash in the pan. But his steely disposition endured beyond their imagination. But then, the system would not allow itself to be run over by this strange man who played a strange brand of politics. And so, from the very beginning, he fought wars, the type that would sweep many off their feet. Significantly, he won spectacularly on many fronts. That was how he became a phenomenon in Nigerian politics. By the time he was stepping out in 2014, he had established a formidable political ideology founded on transparency, accountability, and due process.
Two months after Obi left office, I had a cause, in this column, to reflect on what I called “The Peter Obi Legacy Notes.” Aspects of the reflection published in The Sun on May 29, 2014, reads thus: “One of the major reasons for which Obi got a national acclamation was his prudent management of the scarce resources of the state he presided over. We were told as the man was leaving office that he saved over N75 billion for Anambra State. That sounded like a story from a book in a country where state governments live and operate with borrowed funds. In today’s Nigeria, bonds have become the live wire of nearly all the states of the federation. States float bonds freely in order to finance infrastructural projects. The revenues that accrue to them either through the Federation Account or via their internally generated revenues are never taken into account. Nobody has been told why states cannot survive with these revenues. The fashion now is to go to the capital market to borrow. But the real tragedy is that most of the funds from the bonds are ingeniously diverted to other unwholesome uses. The true story of our situation is that these bonds have thrown many states into a debilitating debt overhang.
“Significantly, Obi, as governor of Anambra state, did not join the borrowing fray. Rather, he dutifully ran Anambra State like a business venture, resulting in the huge savings we are talking about. As I said earlier, such a record does not sound real in Nigeria that you and I live in…We are encouraged the more by the fact that the financial institutions, which are in the custody of the over N75 billion saved by Obi for Anambra State have provided proof of evidence to back up Obi’s claim. They have put the matter in the public domain and anybody who is in doubt is free to verify from them.
“A glance at Obi’s handover report shows that local investments as of March 14, 2014, stood at N27 billion, foreign currency investment (US$156m) or N26.5 billion, and certified State/MDAs balances (N28.1 billion). However, the sum of N5 billion covering the state’s estimated liability, including March salaries, pension, and gratuity as well as approved certificates of already executed projects, was deducted from this, leaving the state with a net balance of N76.6 billion. This figure is covered by investment mandates from Access Bank, Diamond Bank, and Fidelity Securities Limited, showing details of the investment instruments. With these mandates from the aforementioned financial institutions, those who are in doubt as to the authenticity of Obi’s claims may well contact them.
“This is an uncommon achievement, which other state governors should try to emulate. If Obi had just saved money for the state without embarking on development projects, we would query the essence of the savings. But it is gratifying to know that he bequeathed many landmark projects to the state. With this all-around achievement, those who are genuinely interested in improving a lot of their states but who may not know how to do it should feel free to take lessons from the Peter Obi model.”
This was the situation by the end of May 2014. Curiously, Willie Obiano, Obi’s successor, out of nowhere, strutted out with some disputations. He was obviously ill at ease with the fact that the surpluses bequeathed to him were made public. Then he began to struggle, rather vainly, to discredit Obi’s figures. Even though Obiano’s denials did not stick, he succeeded in spewing some bad blood in the process. This eventuated in a strained relationship between him and his predecessor.
Eight years after, Obiano left office. But his footsteps were immediately trailed by disrepute. Hours after leaving office, he was nabbed by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission over allegations of sleaze and corrupt enrichment. The story out there is that Obiano mismanaged the resources of Anambra State in a most horrendous manner.
The anti-graft commission was still questioning Obiano when the newly sworn-in governor of Anambra State, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, made public the financial situation that he met. Soludo announced that he inherited about N400 million in cash and a debt of over N100 billion. With this huge debt overhang, Obiano has created a problem of smooth financial takeoff for his successor. This is in sharp contrast with the rosy financial state that Obi left for him.
Obi, you would say, has been vindicated.
But even with Obiano’s pettiness, Obi’s stature remained on the upward swing. Eight years after leaving office, Obi has stepped out to run for the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. A lot of goodwill is trailing his quest. His bid for the presidency is being received with wide acclaim. His legacy in Anambra State remains his selling point. You could say that his fame precedes his aspiration.
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