Tribute: At 58, Peter Obi is still the Main Man Next Door, By Esin Suji

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One of the saddest and indeed alarming commentaries about the management of public affairs in Nigeria is the recurring decimal of failed leadership since the formal attainment of political independence in 1960. While the country has had all manner of administrations at the local, sub-national and federal levels over the years, the overwhelming majority of the key actors have been more of potentates than leaders.

In best practices, Leadership or Management remains the most critical element in every development equation – for a family unit, group, organisation, body corporate or geo-political entity. Leaders inspire their followers or constituents not just through their words but by their actions – giving them a sense of purpose and positive direction. Whether the state of the nation or society concerned is bright or hazy, the leader is someone that the citizenry generally trust and look up to. His or her word is their bond and the people believe them. So, how many of those who have held the reins of power in Nigeria to date can we really describe as Leaders? Happily, discerning Nigerians have identified some of them and continue to hold them in high esteem – take it or leave it. It is in this light that we celebrate Peter Gregory Obi who turned 58 recently.

Accounts of Peter Obi’s career in business, politics and societal development have been recorded severally, but the beauty of his life and times is that the accounts will always bear repetition. In the process, like we do for others in his genre, we can retain our sanity in an environment where vendetta politics, mediocrity, nepotism, hate, blood-letting, among other unwholesome features, seem to have dominated the national ethos.

Let’s look at The Peter We Know: The man, Peter Gregory Obi came into public limelight sometime in 2003 when he contested the election for the Governorship of Anambra State; won, but was denied victory. Unlike the purveyors of fire and brimstone, he adopted due process, and three years later – in 2006 – the courts returned his stolen mandate.

Peter Obi’s admirers and detractors alike agree that he has always demonstrated the fear of the Almighty God in his conduct and relations with other people. Building on a family background of sound moral principles, his exemplary character, humility, grace and sense of propriety have become reference points for leadership in the land.

Peter Obi has an interesting blend of academic and professional training within and outside Nigeria. By the late 1980s, he had become grounded in policy issues, resource and business management. Among others, he headed a number of blue-chip companies, including Fidelity Bank and Guardian Express Mortgage Bank; and enjoys membership of such top-rate national and international bodies as Nigerian Economic Summit Group, Chartered Institute of Bankers, Commonwealth Business Council, West African Business Committee & British Institute of Directors. With such a string of successes in private enterprise, how would men like Peter Obi let Nigeria’s economic fortunes slide into the kind of pit it is in today? Even from enlightened self-interest, would these successful entrepreneurs watch idly or helplessly for their investments to collapse? Would an Aliko Dangote or a Mike Adenuga sabotage the nation’s highways when their several thousand trucks use those routes to freight their various goods to their customers and consumers?

Coming from a highly-successful venture into private enterprise and impactful eight-year tenure in Government House, Peter Obi has demonstrated a sound understanding and firm grasp of what management of modern economies and institutions entails. The attainments of his administration over two terms in Anambra State speak volumes, but highlights will always bear repetition; and they are verifiable. This is particularly to remind discerning Nigerians of what we should be seeking in our public office holders and those we wish to direct our collective affairs. His administration’s programme of action was tagged ‘Anambra Integrated Development Strategy (ANIDS), which incorporated the then MDGs and enable simultaneous attention to several sectors and sub-sectors; and with commendable results.

Among others, he stabilised Basic Education in Anambra State, with the effect that the State moved from 24th to 1st position in external examinations in Nigeria. He powered Governance with ICT – ensuring functional computer literacy for all civil servants in the State; making Anambra the first State to establish Microsoft Academies in schools and ICT Academies in its 21 LGAs; and going into partnership with LG Electronics of South Korea for the construction of LG World ANIDS Technical Academy & Electronics Centre. He Liberalized Procedures & Incentives for Investments; attracted significant support from the Bank of Industry (BoI), UN Children’s Fund, World Bank, British Department for International Development (DfID), UNDP, International Fund for Agricultural Development, Japan International Co-operation Agency, European Union [EU], US Agency for International Development [USAID], Shelter Afrique, Cities Alliance Group, UN-Habitat, International Finance Corporation, WHO, and African Development Bank, among others.

He promoted and strengthened collective security; and the second State in the country, after Lagos, to launch a Security Trust Fund. He strengthened the infrastructural base of the State, including giving it ate the best & most extensive road network in the country – duly acknowledged by the Federal Ministry of Works. He massively improved primary, secondary & tertiary healthcare services and training, including a State University Teaching Hospital. He instituted a state-wide Youth Re-Orientation & Empowerment Programme (ANSYREP), incorporating character development& vocational training. He neither borrowed money from any quarters, nor defaulted in his state’s counterpart contributions on joint ventures. He did not owe on salaries, Pensions and payments for work done by contractors. He left a whopping sum of over N75 billion – denominated in local and foreign currencies – a fact grudgingly acknowledged by his successor.

As Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi instilled transparency in governance. He progressively restored orderliness in the conduct of Government business; elevated & strengthened institutional structures and diminished personality cults that have been the bane of good governance across the country. He also insisted and ensured that those entrusted with the resources of the State be held accountable; on occasion revoking non-performing contracts, sanctioning public officers who approved shoddy jobs & instituting legal action to recover monies paid.

The then Governor Peter Obi was one of the three State CEOs that were invited into the select Nigeria Economic Management Team and additionally made Honorary Presidential Adviser on Finance.

Since leaving Government House, Awka, Peter Obi has been engaged in what he describes as apostolate across the land – supporting educational institutions and worthy causes to boost community development and social welfare. Among others, he has resolutely insisted that those who have gifts for him should monetise same, which he promptly directs to one value-added cause or the other.

One of a few State Governors to be conferred with the national award of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON), he has been recognised variously by several people and organisations not known to be wasteful with commendation. They include: Pope Benedict XVI; Pope Francis I; Zik Leadership Prize in Good Governance; Bill Gates & Melinda Foundation; West Africa ICT Development Award; the EU, DfID, World Bank, BoI; and UNICEF.

From his antecedents as an Industry Captain, Merchant, State Governor and Community Developer, Peter Obi has demonstrated his grasp of the fundamentals of the framework of managing a Modern Economy and Society. Like he has reminded his audience at various fora, Good Governance is not Rocket Science; but Common Sense. In the same vein, it is pertinent to observe that while discerning Nigerians identify Peter Obi and some others as worthy patriots to be given the mantle of national leadership, these men and women of vision and mission are not desperadoes for public office. Denied of the opportunity to serve their fatherland and take the ship of the Nigerian State to safe shores of economic prosperity, it is the majority, long-suffering Nigerians that will be the ultimate losers – as has become obvious.

Hearty congratulations, Peter Obi and may Almighty God help us.

Esin Suji sent this piece from Owerri, Imo State.

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