An Encounter With Governor Peter Obi In 2008

This was first published in 2008 and reproduced today without anything edited.

The journey Agulu begun with a distress call from Mrs. Anulika Obienyem. I have known her from my hay days in Abuja and she has been a faithful friend. The message from the call was simple, “my father-in-law is dead. We had to bury him immediately according to his wish.” I was dumbfounded that the Igbo man could bury his deceased relation in record time. To confirm this sad story, I got a call from Valentine Obienyem, Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State.

I have known Val. for over ten years, as far back as in our undergraduate days  in Lagos State University and a fraternal friendship is still blossoming over  since. I cancelled all my engagements to make sure that I attend the final burial rites of his father, Ozo Bonaventure Obienyem, who died at the age of 78. Apart from Val. being a reliable friend in the university, my first child was actually conceived in his house at Lugbe, Abuja.

Having put my relationship with Val in perspective; let me regale you with the journey to his father’s burial that ended up in an unforgettable encounter with the democratic phenomenon of Nigeria’s democratic experience, Mr. Peter Obi.

Valentine Obienyem, my friend and dependable SA to Peter Obi

I took off from Abuja my economic exiled base to Biafra (South East Nigeria) and anchored in Owerri. The conversation in the bus was centred on the marginalization of the Igbos in Nigeria, despite the”no victor no vanquished” declaration by the Gowon administration at the end of the 30- month civil war. As an after thought, the passengers zoomed in on the non-performance of the South-East governors. While these arguments raged, all the passengers were in agreement that the Amanbra State governor is in a class of his own and a trail blazer in the enforcement of rule of law, firm belief in the due process and integrated approach to development.
Why wont he, I belched, after all it was the judiciary that restored his stolen mandate. It should be remembered that Governor Peter Obi ran through the judiciary gauntlet to reclaim his mandate stolen by Dr. Chris Ngige of the PDP, after the former had spent 3 years in office. Ever since Peter Obi regained his mandate, he has stuck to the rule of law and due process, with little regards to whose ox is gored. Despite these pass mark given to Peter Obi in the bus, I still remained a doubting Thomas. My pinch-of-salt faith in the accolades showered on Peter Obi, sprang from the numerous newspaper advertorials by governors, brandishing what they have done during the past one year. Yet in their states, there is nothing to show for it. The dividends of democracy and good governance to their people are on the pages of newspapers and the crafty imagination of their image makers.

As though one passenger read my mind, I was reminded that the on going stalemate with the PDP dominated state House of Assembly is nothing but the governor’s stubbornness that the interest of the Anambra people must prevail against party and selfish interest. With great skepticism about reports from bush telegrams and Nigerian arm chair investigative journalists, over the super performances of the governors, I proceeded to Agulu via Ideato North.

Daily Sun, Monday July 14, 2008. Page 9.

To my greatest shock, the road from Urualla is as smooth as the Abuja-Keffi road. When I passed my Alma Mater, St. John Chrysostom Seminary Osina, pride swelled up to a bursting point in me. It was in this school, under steady hands of Rev. Sam Ilo that my faith was shaped. It was also there that my first baptism of rebellion was born. I protested the forceful banning of vernacular by Mazi C.C. our form master in Class 2B. I still have fresh memories of my brief stay in that school.

Akokwa to Ekwulobia was a pleasure to travel on and once in a long time, I was proud of the South East roads. Another interesting observation was the absence of bill boards advertising the governor. A trip round other South-East states, in fact the whole federation, you will have the faces of their governors welcoming you to squalor, unemployment and insecurity. But that was not the case in Anambra. As we cruised across the boarder of Imo and Anambra, no nuisance bill board was welcoming me to Anambra. I started feeling there is something different about the state. But my pride knew no bound when I got to Obe Village, Agulu, the venue and Val’s village. There was electricity, which I understand has been their since the seventies. One could feel the fresh air exhuming from the green trees and virgin vegetation.

I was minding my beer, discussing Barack Obama’s half chance in November, reinterpretation of Andy Uba’s empty mandate and the failure of the opposition parties to challenge the foisting of Rotimi Amaechi at the Rivers State Election Tribunal with Barrister Emeka Ikedigwe that I paid no attention when the Governor’s presence was announced by the master of ceremony. But when Peter Obi appeared, with little fanfare, my pride did a somersault and at once I longed to be a governor in the shoes of Peter Obi.

 Peter Obi came with the most skeletal security out-fit I have seen in modern times.  Coming from Abuja, where a common minister intimidates road users, it was a cultural shock for me to see a governor at close range and his security details were not over -zealous, not wearing Abacha-like goggles and scaring electorates. I cannot remember the last time I was this at ease in the presence of security men.

 To crown it all, Peter Obi ate in public glare. No special venue was arranged for him to eat. This simplicity touched me that I could not help but think, how better Nigeria will be if all governors will borrow a leaf from Peter Obi, make themselves accessible and not build wall of Jericho with Policemen around the governor.  You may also wish to know that the convoy used by Peter Obi had about four cars; there was no dispatch rider or a lorry load of Mobile Policemen. The siren was not at full blast. The governor mixed well with the people and was accessible to all who wanted to chip a word into his ever listening ears. With a wide smile and gentle voice the governor nodded to the praise singers and cheerfully made himself available to all and sundry.

 Despite the chants by praise singers, the governor did not spray money! An assistant neatly thrust wads of Naira into the waiting hands of the lead singer. I was taken aback, seeing this civilized behaviour. When I become a governor or occupy any post, Peter Obi’s calm, humility, will be a challenge to emulate.

 I had to rouse myself from this spell and look for an Achilles’ hill of this bewitching governor. Eureka! The roads. The road from Agulu to Obe, needs a facelift. Though motorable, the gully erosion eating up the road requires urgent attention. Apart from the Obe road, a good number of tributaries off the Ekwulobia-Awka express road, need rehabilitation.

 Toeing the foot step of Oga, the Commissioners that graced the occasion where inconspicuous and moved around like “ordinary” citizens, which made the people to see in them a true representative of the people. As I write this, I am still dumb founded by this humility of Governor Peter Obi.
In order to find out if this was a fluke or his true nature, I engaged Val in a tête-à-tête. But Val’s eulogy was too good to be true and I dismissed it as a servant trying to justify his pay. What do I do? I went into the field to find out an independent and unbiased report. The people agreed with Val’s submission on the governor, that many of his opponents think him weak because of his unusual humility; the governor is indeed the rock of integrity and uncompromising believer in due process.
Public office holders should borrow a leaf from the tree of humility of Governor Peter Obi. They should learn like him to make the people the centre of their policies by seeking the entitlement of the people at all times and not those of those in power already. 

© Che Oyinatumba, Abuja. 16/06/2008

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