My decision to dedicate this column today to former Governor of Anambra State and Vice Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last presidential election, Mr. Peter Obi, and globally acclaimed Nigerian novelist and public speaker, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is deliberate. This essay is my humble way of acknowledging their recent merited awards as Governor of the Decade and Woman of the Decade, respectively, by This Day to mark its 25th anniversary.
The two great Nigerians happen to come from Anambra State, the gateway to the eastern heartland. While Peter Obi is a businessman, entrepreneur, politician and philanthropist, Chimamanda Adichie is a writer, a committed feminist, public speaker and cultural activist. Both of them are advocates of an ordered society where things work. Obi’s politics is inclusive while Adichie’s writings yearn for a society where men and women will live without inhibitions or a feeling that one gender is inferior and therefore should be an object to be toyed with by the dominant male gender.
Her novels and essays are peopled by responsible men and women characters. Also, her fictional universe contains male and female characters that fall below the expectations of the society. Although women are more prominent in Adichie’s literary works, there is a bold attempt to ensure gender equity in her fictional representations of human experience. She loathes the notion of a single story. Like her mentor, Chinua Achebe, Adichie believes in duality of human experience. According to Chinua Achebe, “wherever something stands, something else will stand beside it,” or ife kwulu, ife akwudebe ya. Adichie has also confronted post-colonial tensions and racism in her works.
While I have met Peter Obi on many occasions in the course of my work and other engagements, I have only met Chimamanda Adichie once. It was a chance meeting at Lagos airport in July last year on my way to Enugu. It afforded me a rare opportunity to meet and talk with the great writer whose works I have used in my postgraduate studies. Before then, I have encountered her in almost all her books except one, We Should All Be Feminists. As public speakers, Obi and Adichie speak truth to power. They are deep thinkers. They are role models and mentors in their specific vocations.
What drew me to the Peter Obi persona was his will power to fight for justice as well as his simplicity and austere outlook, unlike many of our politicians that hug ostentation and even wear it as a badge of honour. His many struggles to regain his stolen mandate through the courts made him a favourite theme of my column on many occasions. I think as I was later told by my friend and his media aide, Val Obienyem, Obi became fond of my writings and the rest in the usual Nigerian parlance is now history.
Both in and out of office, Peter Obi has remained not only a reference point in the nation’s political discourse but practically the main issue in Nigerian politics in terms of prudent management of state resources and running a lean administration. His tale of having one pair of shoes, one suit and one wrist watch at a time has almost become an epic. Based on his achievements as a governor, Obi has been deified and mythologized.
His philanthropy to schools, hospitals and worthy causes in Nigeria and outside has been applauded. Like the former Governor of Akwa Ibom State and Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Godswill Akpabio, Obi knows how to keep friendships. Both are great achievers and transformational leaders.
Obi is a leader of men and astute manager of both human and material resources. He loathes opulence and squandering of public funds. He travels alone or with one person to save money for the government. He carries his luggage and does not move about with heavy security or move with siren-blaring vehicles. Obi does not know why state governments should borrow money. Obi detests politicians who go by the title, ‘His Excellency’ and lack excellence in their words and deeds.
In his eight years in office, he did not borrow any dime. He left billions of naira in the coffers of the state to his successor, Chief Willie Obiano. Those aspiring to leadership positions should look in the direction of Peter Obi. Apart from knowing exactly why he wants power, he has a vision of where he is going.
This accounted for his success in Anambra State where he redefined the art of governance and laid the foundation that other governors in the state would neglect to their own peril. Unfortunately, the tribes of the Obis are not plenty in our peculiar brand of politics where cats eat cats. We have politicians that lack conviction of why they are in politics and who have vowed to inflict maximum pains on the people they promised to salvage from man-made bondage and servitude.
On the other hand, Chimamanda Adichie is one writer I have come to admire so much for the power of her writings as well as her feminist and humanist visions. She is gradually stepping into the big shows of our literary patriarchs such as Chinua Achebe and others. Achebe’s endorsement of Chimamanda earlier in her career is worth quoting in full: “We do not usually associate wisdom with beginners, but here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie knows what is at stake, and what to do about it. She is fearless, or she would not have taken on the intimidating horror of Nigeria’s civil war. Adichie came almost fully made.”
I believe that this endorsement by Chinua Achebe plus Adichie’s writing ability and consistent vision propelled her to global attention. Adichie is indeed a happy feminist who regales her readers with the danger of a single story and other memorable tales. Let me also quote from Adichie’s Dear Ijeawale, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, to give the readers a glimpse of her feminist vision; “That a woman claims not to be a feminist does not diminish the necessity of feminism. If anything, it makes us see the extent of the problem, the successful reach of patriarchy. It shows us, too, that not all women are feminists and not all men are misogynists.”
On difference, Adichie offers the following instructive advice: “Teach her about difference. Make difference ordinary. Make difference normal. And the reason for this is not to be fair or to be nice but merely to be human and practical. Because difference is the reality of our world. And by teaching her about difference, you are equipping her to survive in a diverse world.”
There is no doubt that Adichie’s feminism is dynamic and engaging and at times obstructive. At times, her feminism exhibits radical tempers. However, like others before hers, it has sharpened and deepened the feminist discourse in more ways than one. For these two great Nigerians, and global citizens, the sky is still their limit.