I spent October 1 in the air, but on landing I was regaled everywhere I turned with the groundbreaking speech of ex-Governor Peter Obi. I also discovered upon searching the internet, that he had given almost the same talk on at least one other occasion – in another church. The fact that this one went viral is a testimony to the potentials of Poju Oyemade’s aptly named ‘The Platform’. Well, I later found Obi’s talk online and I believe, all said and done, it deserves a commentary from me, no matter the fact that many capable Nigerians have dissected same.
I saw something slightly different. I saw Obi, as a typical Anambra man – proud, at peace with himself, driven, and traditional. He reminded me of many whom I’d met before, with his gesticulations, his proverbs, the imagery he deployed, and his approach to issues. If he was talking to you alone, I bet he would also display that tendency of poking you in the ribs while he spoke; I think it’s part of the culture where he’s from. Apart from the poking, this brand of Nigerians are compelling speakers – accent and all. They don’t even care so much about the quality of English they speak, and you would often hear them say ‘lis-ten’, very often. To them, ‘year’ is pronounced yeeh. But you better listen, these guys are powerful. As Obi rightly claimed, he is from Anambra, a state with many ‘big men’. Anambra happens to be the richest state in Nigeria per capita, according to our bureau of statistics.
Beyond semantics, I will run through some important aspects of Obi’s speech which demand further amplification. But allow me to quickly mention a proverb which he used near the beginning, in disagreeing that state governors need bailout. Said he “You don’t pay the bills of a drunk while he is still inside the bar”. Many of today’s millennials who formed the bulk of his audience on that day unfortunately do not enjoy the joy and magic of proverbs. So the joke – and the wisdom – may have been lost on them. With this singular proverb, Obi tells Nigeria’s leaders across all spectrum (executive, legislature and judiciary, federal, state and local governments), that they have been oppressing the poor and disadvantaged in this country, asking us for more and more sacrifices while they retain their profligacy. When one pays the bills of a drunk who still romances his bottles at the bar, one cannot tell how much more he will consume; in fact paying the bills will encourage him to get more inebriated. Luckily, such drunks eventually sleep inside the gutters. So maybe Nigeria’s drunken ‘leaders’ are fixing to land in some gutters themselves.
Obi’s speech was humour-laden, in such a way that made it compelling. His audience yearned for more, because he managed to say serious things in a ‘street’ way that resonated with many. The way he described his hosting of President Obasanjo sent people reeling with laughter. He also said he could not sleep at expensive hotels because he would lose sleep from the nagging feeling of having been robbed at gunpoint. Obi said when his wife told him that people are not happy with his actions, he reminded her that there were entertainers aplenty in Anambra State whose job it was to keep people smiling and happy. More laughter. His account of how a governor travels with at least 30 hangers-on on every official assignment and how those idle hangers-on have nothing to do but eat, and how he ensures that each time his vehicles needed fuel he would be in the car to pay by himself, or how he instructs his cook on how many meals to make, may pass Obi off as a micromanager.
No one is perfect. And so many will not take very kindly to Obi’s ‘pettiness’. I can imagine that he may have been quite unpopular as a boss. Sometimes, a boss has to look away and cut his subordinates some slack. But Obi didn’t come across like someone who gave any slack at all. He discharged his role as the shrewd Igbo trader that he is. That could have deleterious effects on productivity and make subordinates desperate. Well, perhaps our situation as a people is now so desperate that we need exactly such type of leaders. If one is to put Obi under even more scrutiny, one may align with his very bitter critics who say that Peter is self-obsessed and selfish and that underneath all the popular words he was mouthing, he also helped himself a little, while holding the ‘eating’ hands of those who worked with him (he admitted to benefiting Fidelity Bank with a deposit and his successor came from there). However, as a successful trader, and bank chairman before being governor, it is hard to pin him down as a common thief, unlike many other governors who were loafers until they came into untold wealth. One terrible flaw that Obi may have found impossible to get rid of is the ease with which he names and shames. In the other video I came across, Obi stated that he once had a deputy governor who hadn’t flown in an airplane before he (Obi) fingered this gentleman as his vice. He said the guy offered to come by night bus to Abuja for a meeting. I wondered whether this was necessary and why he would even choose a man without any exposure as his vice. Is Obi merely a prima donna?
Before we get carried away by the noise surrounding Obi’s speech, let us remember that this type of talk – straight from the horse’s mouth – is meant to get us to change our ways; or more aptly, to get Nigeria to CHANGE. I have always doubted whether we could get anyone – least of all Nigerians – to change just by speaking flowery words to them. Obi’s type of gritty talk takes our effort at getting our country and its people to change to another level. He told it like it is. The most important message we should take out of that speech is that all said and done, our leaders have turned themselves into our problem, and not our solution. Electing people into positions in Nigeria today has become a huge waste of time. Our leaders have become our sworn enemies and the way things are going, this nation is hurtling furiously towards a catastrophe. A class war was declared by the elite on the majority poor people. The people have been taking the pains on the chin for so long but will have to fight back shortly. This matter is even more painful given that our so-called “change” government is panning out to be a major letdown.
Someone echoed Peter Obi quite rightly by noting that if the ‘change’ government had taken 10 percent of the steps that Obi took, it would not have to punish Nigerians this badly by throwing us into recession, causing the naira to crash, inflation to rise, and increasing tariffs on electricity, fuel prices, and even daily toying with new taxes, tariffs and what-have-you that will make life even more miserable for the people. In spite of the change that we voted for, the stark reality is that all of 40 percent of the commonwealth is STILL deployed towards making our politicians more comfortable. Three years ago, there was a report prepared by Mallam Adamu Fika-led committee which detailed just how skewed the nation’s finances were, in favour of top civil servants’ perks and allowances. All of N1.17trillion was spent on a bloated structure with the guys at the lower spectrum getting by with crumbs and ‘waiting for their turns’.
What is more? There have been no remarkable changes to the structure of the civil service since the change government arrived, apart from the cancellation of the 8-year tenure of permanent secretaries by President Yar’Adua effected, which was highly unpopular in some quarters but which – in my view – at least allowed for fresh ideas and created some new opportunities for struggling careerists in a country with a burgeoning population. It used to be that permanent secretaries remained in their positions for close to 20 years and often died there. Then that changed. Then we are now back to status quo ante. Have things changed for the worse? One would have wished that the president would be the one saying the type of things Obi was saying.
Perhaps the most remarkable words uttered by Obi was that his state had saved up about $175million (N76billion) in three banks in some funds for children yet unborn. He said the funds will mature in 2050. I doubt if any other state has done this. Love or hate them, it is evident that the Igbos are among the most strategic people in Nigerians and are able to bootstrap themselves without anyone’s assistance. They may be right if they complain that others are slowing down their pace.
Obi parted on a scary note by stating: “The society we abuse today will take its revenge on us tomorrow”. No truer words have been said. This is as bad and scary as saying the ‘land’ will revenge itself. And I shudder to imagine the revenge of the ‘land’. We have sinned, our leaders and elites have sinned. I hope they can redeem themselves before the fury of the ‘land’ sets in.