Obi’s Defection: The Moral Burden of Spitting on a Heritage

For many Igbos, the recent defection by Chief Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State, to PDP sticks out as probably the worst betrayal by any known member of the Igbo political class. Although, as a geo-ethnic group in a culturally polarized country like Nigeria, Ndigbo have dealt with the bitter aftertaste of traitors, no experience, since the civil war compares, in actual significance, to Peter Obi's recent move to the party at the center. Many Igbos see it as the very height of treachery.

Not surprising, many people are beginning to doubt whether Chief Obi understood the full import of that moment when the late Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, lifted his hand up that sweet sunny day and asked Anambrarians to stand by him in the rush of things that handed him a second term in office. They wonder whether Obi realized that in accepting that his hand be lifted up by the ailing warlord, he had symbolically accepted full responsibility to align himself to the ideals that the man lived and died for. The hard fact is; in death as in life, Chief Ojukwu stands out as the greatest repository of the emotional investment of Ndigbo. He invokes, in its completeness, the core essence of Ndigbo – courage, wisdom, industry and urbanity. Since his defection, the question that has often been asked is whether Peter Obi could indeed have walked in this great man's shadow. Sadly, the believable response has been a resounding “no.” And that is why the social media is abuzz with all kinds of attacks and criticisms of what is widely interpreted as a needless desperation for relevance that has led to what could be likened to the scoring on an own-goal.

Still, there is a sense in which those who allowed their hopes to be raised by the man's early showings cannot be blamed. Obi's courageous fight to retrieve his electoral mandate in three long years was symbolic of the three years of the people's attempt to seek a safer world for themselves under the fluttering flag of the rising sun of Biafra. And though he never had Ojukwu's gift of words, he echoed the great man's independence of thought and action when he cultivated the image of a lone-ranger, refusing to submit to the raging sea of PDP and sensationally declared that once he left APGA he would leave politics for good. Although it has become clear now that his curious dalliance with the leadership of the PDP was actually a deep romance, Obi's pretense chimed in with the people's love of difference which is intricately embedded in their belief in the duality of existence; the idea that where one thing stands, another thing ought to stand beside it. In the Igbo world view, the phenomenon of having one elephantine party like the PDP with no other party to challenge it, no matter how feeble, is abnormal. And this is the reason why APGA will never die. So long as there is PDP, there will be APGA. Whatever stands alone pricks the interrogative curiosity of Ndigbo.

It would seem, however, that those who let themselves be carried away by Obi's eight years of pretense were nostalgic of the golden generation of Igbo renaissance when Igboland had colourful and astute leaders who led the people from the front. They had hoped for a fragment of the old order in the smiling young man who had made good in business and seemed poised to mark yet another mark as a political leader. They had hoped that Obi, an accomplished businessman with a pot of gold, would be as self-sacrificing as Ojukwu and that he would be able to think beyond his stomach; that the depleting cadre of quality political leaders in Igboland would be stemmed by the seeming contentment of one man who was widely believed to have amassed enough private wealth to look away from public treasury. But all that have turned out a farce.

Interestingly, those who know Peter Obi close enough have always seen him as the unlikely leader the people had hoped for. They claim that what Obi has in great abundance is native cunning and entrepreneurial drive; that he lacks the intellectual depth and breadth of vision to lead a sophisticated people like Ndigbo. There is also this belief that Peter Obi is one star that does not permit the rays of another beside it. He is fiendishly competitive and rabidly intolerant of rivalry. People who lay these charges against him point at his unconcealed disdain for his successor, Chief Willie Obiano as a good case in point. They argue that Obi is astonished at his successor's unbelievable achievements in six months which have consigned his eight years of grandstanding and media showmanship to the margins of history. This has led to undisguised resentment and outright envy which he demonstrated by shunning all attempts from the administration to bring him closer. Sources in Awka claim that he had stoically turned down all invitations to state functions despite concerted efforts by the government to position him as the man who laid the foundation for the emerging Anambra State.

However, for quite a lot of people, nothing demonstrates Obi's resentment of his successor as clearly as his inability to say a single word of encouragement, acknowledgement or approval of Obiano's widely applauded achievements in office in the past six months. On the contrary, he is believed to have instigated the endless campaign of calumny that broke out on social media in response to Obiano's soaring popularity that trailed his first 100-days in office. Obi is alleged to have held several closed door meetings with some critical segments of the press in Lagos and dispatched his media aide to Awka to instigate some influential journalists to ferret gossips from the Governor's Lodge and feed the sensational section of the social media. London based Daniel Elomba was made the arrowhead of this vicious attack machine with Stanley Chira who camouflages as Mazi Odera as a sidekick. Elomba and Chira have formed an infamous strike-force, raking up muck and eavesdropping on Obiano and his close friends for just about any act that makes them human and feeding their readers with slime. The duo must have imagined that their readers are mere simpletons and retards as they inundate the internet with asinine stories on Obiano.

For someone who campaigned vigorously for the election of his successor, Peter Obi's cold shoulder to his anointed son could never have gone unnoticed, especially in the midst of the adulation that has trailed Obiano's high performance. The growing belief is that he probably never expected much from his successor.

In much the same way, people who accuse Obi of being a vicious competitor and lacking the grace of a statesman point at his seeming reluctance to leave the stage for his successor. They argue that since he left office on March 17 this year, Obi has managed to remain in power somehow. They believe that his endless crave for relevance has made it difficult for him to let go of the limelight. He is believed to have had more media appearances as a former governor than all his years in office. People wonder if he couldn't have looked at other former governors like Donald Duke of Cross River State or even Bola Tinubu of Lagos state who have maintained a commendable level of unobtrusive grace since they left office. Duke never sought relevance through the media for one day since he left office. He knew that the greatest monuments are the ones built in the hearts of the people.

Summing up, most Anambrarians believe that with Peter Obi's defection to PDP, he has willfully dug his political grave and is now dutifully waiting for his interment. Ndigbo will be hard-pressed to continue to believe in anyone who took the mantle of leadership from their acclaimed leader and threw it to the dogs barely two and a half years after the man's passage. It is doubtful whether Obi will continue to command the broad respect of Ndigbo as he once did. As someone who wants to be taken seriously in Nigeria's political theater, Obi should know that a leader is absolutely nothing without the support of his people. And this may well be the true meaning of his defection to PDP.

Okey Madubuife writes from the grotto of Idoto in Ojoto.

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