Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State is an epitome of pragmatism. He walks the talk; lives the lines. He is a man of scalable empiricism. He propounds a leadership theory and he gives a roadmap on how it can be achieved. And that’s because he has been in the squared arena of entrepreneurship, leadership and economic management.
He remains one of the best out of Africa, a rare company of men and women who have by dint of hard work and vision grown little pennies into a minefield of billions of naira. Professor Maurice Iwu, Africa’s foremost tropical scientist and pharmacognosist once told this writer about the business exploits of Peter Obi while he was a student at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Professor Iwu was a lecturer at the same yesterday.
As a student, Obi was already popular among the students as a businessman, an entrepreneur who loves to dare and live for tomorrow. And he became a successful entrepreneur post-graduate days. I love to listen to him. He talks from experience. As a governor, he was exceptionally transformational. His fiscal prudence is legendary.
He took Anambra from a lowly state in education to one of the best in the country. He invested in infrastructure and constructed enduring roads. He introduced a saving culture in governance something rare in this clime. He simply planned for tomorrow while dealing effectively with the exigencies of today. Peter Obi is a success both in private and public life. So, when he speaks, we should listen.
Last Sunday, he spoke in an exclusive interview published in this newspaper. It was vintage Peter Obi. He touched the right buttons. Security, economy and infrastructure. Rich in empiricism, Obi x-rayed the state of the nation. It was something every ordinary and sincere Nigerian knows: the economy is in bad shape; insecurity is high and unbearably embarrassing. Infrastructure is wonky and weary. We all know this, except that Obi, typical of him, dropped some hints on how to make things work. His therapy is scalable. It is not just mere punditry in economic jingoism. This country has a suffusion of academic economists and leadership pundits. That’s not what is needed now. The Nigerian ailment needs workable and feasible therapy. We’ve been long on theories but very far short on implementation. Enough of theories and their progenitors. Our peculiar mess requires men who can roll up their sleeves and fix things. Peter Obi believes, and I concur, that capacity to lead should be the key consideration in our leadership recruitment exercise.
One of the highpoints of the Peter Obi interview was his classical sound-bite at the Presidential debate where he said we cannot afford to close our shops and be chasing thieves. It was a witty response to the Buhari government’s mantra of fighting corruption. Peter Obi’s therapy recommends 10 percent attention to fighting corruption and 90 percent on building the future. He said: “It is not possible to have a nation of saints. Such a nation does not exist and we cannot claim to be saints. In trying to rid the society of corruption, we have to pursue the vision of building a nation. The future of the nation is far more important. You must draw a line between yesterday and today. What is more important is to secure today while gradually trying to recover what you lost in the past. If you are focused on the past, you will miss tomorrow. Our economy is getting worse because we are focused on yesterday instead of focusing on tomorrow.” Epic!
Only a retrogressive mind would quarrel with this therapy, the therapy that focuses on drawing a line between yesterday and today. This is where the Buhari government is getting it wrong. It is exerting so much energy bemoaning the failings of yesterday without minding the dynamics that define today in order to win tomorrow. When we exert all our energy on the failures of yesterday, we lose sight of tomorrow by failing to attend to the challenges of today.
Buhari government is fighting corruption. Great idea! But it is not the only government that has dared corruption. The Obasanjo government was even more resolute and determined. It birthed the two special anti-corruption agencies of our time: the EFCC and ICPC. But it did not close shop chasing General Abdusalami Abubakar and his colleagues who plundered the treasury on the eve of their departure. President Obasanjo, himself, described General Abubakar and his military colleagues as “reckless” in obvious reference to the manner they pillaged the nation’s external reserve just days to handing over to Obasanjo’s democratically-elected presidency.
Obasanjo chased the thieves but he did not devote all his time doing that. He simply assembled a crack team of endowed Nigerians who showed both capacity and willingness to get the job done. The result is a reflated economy, negotiating Nigeria out of the hall of shame of globally acknowledged debtor nations, a redoubtable telecom revolution, banking revolution, private media growth, healthy external reserve all of which conduced to wealth and job creation. Under Obasanjo, a serving Inspector General of Police was not only fired on account of corruption, he was prosecuted and convicted. Some billionaires with questions to answer at the EFCC fled the nation. Ministers and top party men including top cats of Obasanjo’s political party were jailed. So many other anti-corruption feats were recorded.
Buhari came with a different philosophy. He closed shop and devoted all his time chasing thieves and bemoaning yesterday’s failings. The end-point is massive job losses, unprecedented unemployment especially among the youths; adrenaline pumping insecurity, a comatose economy, weak and weakened naira, a prosperity of poverty among Nigerians. Nigeria is currently the poverty-capital of the world all because Buhari is fixated on the past and ignoring the grand corruption festering in his government, among his appointees including proven cases of certificate forgeries and contract abuses.
I agree. It is good to fight corruption. But you cannot cast out demons with demons. It is a case of physician heal thyself. Under Buhari corruption festers. He is surrounded by a garrison of the corrupt and the corrupted.
As Buhari prepares for his second term in office, he should re-think his strategy. He should consider some of Peter Obi’s economic management nuggets: Do not borrow to finance consumption, borrow (only when necessary) to finance production; do not close shop to chase after thieves, open your shop, do some good business while keeping an eye to ward off thieves; appoint persons with capacity not persons with filial ties to you. Do not appoint ‘yes’ ministers, people whose only competence is in reading your body language. You don’t need such deception. Appoint ministers who have demonstrable capacity to innovate, create solution and even disagree with you. Some of the ministers in your first term are the reason you failed to heal the economy, tame insecurity and secure our tomorrow. Away with them.
Above all, the President should be ruthless against the insurgents and other agents of criminality and banditry. As a retired General, he should do more than empty and fatuous assurances. He does not need to lose weight to be seen as doing well in the fight against crime and banditry.