Peter Obi and the Burden of a Fractured Legacy
If I were Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State, I would be worried about the looming verdict of history. This is because, barely eight months after leaving office, Obi's well-oiled propaganda machinery that gave Anambra people a misplaced sense of gratitude to him for mere tokenisms and things to which they should have a sense of entitlement, has finally come under a serious stress-test. Yes, with Obi's recent political own-goal which he consummated with the ill-advised defection to PDP, serious questions are being asked about the Obi years in office as the governor of one of Nigeria's greatest states and his total failure to manage the people's inheritance handed to him by the Ezeigbo Gburugburu, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. It is almost heartrending to see that Obi is fast losing his golden-boy halo under the intense gaze of history. Yes, Obi's vaunted achievements in eight whole years have been consigned to narrow margins the emerging narrative of Anambra State by Willie Obiano's eight months of solid performance. But this is a subject for another day…
Someone rightly observed the other day that Peter Obi came into office asking questions and left a legacy of more questions. He was of course alluding to Obi's earliest positioning strategy in governance which was anchored on the rhetorical question, “are we cursed or the cause?” As it turned out, Obi unwittingly accepted his own failure to free Anambra from the ills that shaped his own rhetorical question when at the end of his tenure in office; he released a pictorial book that chronicled his stewardship with the same curious title “Is Anambra State Cursed or the Cause?” That Obi was still asking this self-indicting question after two terms in office tells us that his achievements were more myth than reality. That Obi could not see the incongruity of this title for a book of such value is indicative of the lack of rigor that marked his years in office and the people's unquestioning approval of him. It was a simple admission that after eight years of administrative window-dressing, he could not provide an answer to his own question.
No wonder then, that Obi left Anambra State polarized and fractured. No wonder why the seeds he sowed with his ill-digested religious politics have forced a wedge between Catholics and Anglicans in the state with the simmering dispute over the ownership of Oyolu-Eze Primary School block in Nkwelle Ezunaka, hissing like a time-bomb at the corner. And perhaps, no wonder too, why the Frankenstein monster he created in APGA on a mere whim has sired two irreconcilable factions and spawned endless litigation. It is hard to believe that many of his unquestioning social media mobsters have yet figured out that Obi's creation of the Maxi Okwu faction of APGA to breakdown Chief Victor Umeh's resilience is one of the major reasons the party failed to grow beyond the boundaries of Anambra State. Facebook vampires like Mazi Odera, Daniel Elomba, Chris McCool Nwosu and Tai Emeka Obasi are too drunk on the cheap liquor of their paymasters to ask any hardheaded questions. Instead, Obi who realized the enormous powers of the media after the two-hundred-and-fifty-million-naira scandal; had turned these loose cannons against Victor Umeh and foisted the image of a monster on him. As it were, Umeh is blamed for virtually everything from the threat of soil erosion in Anambra State to the phenomenon of desert encroachment in the North of Nigeria while Obi continued to shimmer like the golden boy of Igbo politics…until recently. Haba!
Obi's legacy of bitterness is indeed troubling. It is well known that his regime was a largely divisive one. In his time, he effectively ingratiated himself into the affection of the church and made strenuous efforts to create a deep disaffection for many illustrious sons and daughters of the state. His divisive influence made it difficult for the state's many heavyweights to come together on the altar of brotherhood. He virtually ran his rivals out of town and loomed over the landscape like a colossus with feet of clay. Obi's trumpeted humility is usually exaggerated and phony and he deliberately fed popular imagination with his stage-managed humility by shuffling around ticket counters in the airports to get a reservation while logging his own baggage to create a perfect make-belief. In the process, he misled many people who mistook that for modesty but in actuality, Obi was dragging his high office down to a point of ridicule. There is nothing wrong in a leader having his aides do menial tasks for him. It is the standard practice all over the world but Obi made a song and dance of doing things for himself and misled the uninformed about the way leaders should carry themselves.
Now, if Obi's humility was false and announced itself, so is his legacy. To start with, it is just beginning to dawn on Anambrarians that after eight long years in office, Obi did not build any serious legacy project in the entire state. He didn't do anything monumental. True; he built roads and rehabilitated schools but these are run-off-the-mill projects that any `wimp who finds himself in power with a load of cash could have done. Obi's administration did not leave Anambrarians with landmarks in the manner that Godswill Akpabio did or even Sullivan Chime, across the border with less resources than Anambra. He left no actual touchstones to remind us that he was here for eight years, no big ideas and no enduring philosophy of governance. Managing donor funds and meeting MDG goals are mere tokenisms. Any average leader with minimum resources could have done that with greater result than Obi. What we must avoid is the usual tendency to evaluate Obi's legacy within the context of the underperformance of his predecessors. That is wrong. Obi should be compared with his fellow governors across the borders and not with Chinwoke Mbadinuju.
The Peter Obi legacy in Anambra State does not lend itself to ease of interpretation and appraisal because it is half reality, half myth. Obi's eight years of shadowboxing is extremely woolly and devoid of any seriously enduring stem that will survive the scrutiny of history. People who applaud him actually gloss over the raw deal he whimsically handed the people of Awka and Nnewi who are still smarting from his shocking insensitivity. Obi's ego is huge but his deceptive mien provides a perfect disguise for it. Nowhere else has the capital of a state suffered such scorched earth neglect as Awka suffered in the hands of Peter Obi. It was so cruel that Obi could not repair a pothole on the road leading to the Governor's Lodge in all of eight years while he blatantly lied that the people were resisting his attempt to develop the town. In much the same way, he left the Etiabas of Nnewi badly bruised and battered because their matriarch, Dame Virgy Etiaba, dared to accept the challenge to hold the state together while he fought to retrieve his mandate from the same forces he is presently cavorting with. And now, with his betrayal of Ikemba Nnewi, the Ezeigbo Gburugburu, Chief Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu, Peter Obi's many treacheries against the enterprising people of Nnewi have come to full circle.
Till date, it is still a puzzle how Obi outsmarted everyone, refusing to hold local government elections for eight long years, pocketed all allocations that accrued therefrom and still left office with an applause. Always quick to shove his innocence down the throat of others in the belief that they would not understand, Obi's hurriedly organized local government elections just weeks before the end of his tenure was an undisguised move to lay a landmine for his successor. So were his hiring of 4000 civil servants without adequate provision, the hurried award of spurious contracts and perhaps the most obscene of them all; the handing out of financial donations to different groups and organizations in the final days of his administration.
In the twilight of his administration, Obi fancied himself an Arab oil Sheik, smiling into the camera as he handed out cheques to just about anybody, insulting our sensibilities with such a thoughtless gambit that has no place in purposeful leadership. How purposeful is the approach of handing out money to people to solve the problems that Obi himself was expected to solve but failed to do so in eight long years? What measures did he put in place to ensure that the funds would be put to intended use? And yet his social media gangsters insist that Obi is Anambra's greatest leader. And indeed he is. Or isn't he?
What has never ceased to amaze me is Obi's desperation to mitigate the verdict of history. He has positioned attack dogs to pounce on anyone who attempts a balanced evaluation of his place in history and retained a well-oiled propaganda unit to foist himself on our collective memory. Why is he struggling so hard to police our memory if indeed he left us with anything of value? Pray, why is Obi reluctant to leave the stage after serving two terms in office? Why is he busy setting booby-traps for his successor? What manner of man finds morbid satisfaction in pulling down the house he has built with his own hands?
Madubuife writes from the grotto of Idoto in Ojoto