Years after he left office as Governor of Anambra State, Peter Gregory Obi has continued to bestride the Nigerian political economy space with the swag of a champion. Till date, he remains the only Nigerian governor who became a billionaire before public office and quietly returned to his private business immediately after office.
Last week, he was honoured as Governor of the Decade at the 25th anniversary of Thisday newspaper. Peter Obi is not a stranger to awards. He boasts a rich cabinet of garlands, both local and international. But this award should be special to the man who demystified government house and governance in Nigeria. He gave leadership a human face. In office as governor, he maintained the simplest lifestyle, led a very low-budget public life, travelled Economy class in public planes, brutally cut cost of governance and set a record in fiscal prudence yet unmatched in Nigeria’s public office.
As governor of a state, he had unlimited access to the state’s vault to charter jets, engage in lavish indulgences, fly First Class to anywhere in the world, or even join the club of governors who bought jets with state funds to enable them ‘serve’ their states better. He did none of these. He stuck to his pristine lifestyle and value of ‘zero waste’. It’s no fable. I have ran into Governor Peter Obi several times at Nigerian airports bearing his own travel bag and joining ordinary Nigerians on the queue. A Nigerian governor? Who in Nigerian government house did or does that? Well Peter Obi did.
He was not acting it. He was not seeking public validation and laudation. He was simply being Peter Obi. He was pointing to Nigerian leaders and to Nigerians that good leadership is being at home and at peace with your constituents. He was shining the light on a new pathway. The pathway of cutting cost; of leading by example; of saying it and doing it. He was redefining leadership in the same manner transformational leaders in Asia and elsewhere led their people from the precincts of poverty and backwardness to the cusp of greatness.
In office, Obi’s fiscal prudence got his state out of debt. He crashed the cost of governance which in this clime is both obscene and ignoble. He drastically cut cost and blocked the conduits deliberately created by public service ‘professionals’ to steal state funds. Of course, he made enemies doing this. Of course he was heckled and called names. But who cares? A good leader does not flinch in his pursuit of public good. Obi did not flinch. He’s not a professional politician so he really could not be bothered. He refused to share public money. He was called stingy. He refused to regularly appease the clan of deities in his state Assembly just like other governors do. He wanted to practise democracy complete with its finest ideals and values.
For insisting on good governance and serving no power blocks but the people of Anambra, he was impeached. His impeachment was disingenuous, wrought in the imperious womb of despotic men. But the conspiracy of the ungodly cannot prevail against the righteous. Never! Obi sought the face of justice. He did not rent a mob to demonstrate on his behalf. He was at home and at peace with his people. And they held their peace as their man approached the court of law. He won. The victory of the tyrants, always few in number, does not always stand the test of time and the scrutiny of just men. Justified by the judiciary, Obi returned to his office and unleashed development on his people. He answered every question of the opposition with infrastructure development and peerless openness. He won the hearts of his people even more. Awka, Onitsha, Nnewi and other far flung communes in the state got burnishes of development. He built roads and more roads. He changed the course of education in the state, equipping schools with modern learning aids including computers. Because of Obi, five girls from an Anambra secondary school awed the world in software coding, bringing honour to Nigeria. Because of Obi, Anambra which before his ascendancy to power was low in school enrolment and external examination performance became a benchmark for excellent academic performance.
And Obi as governor was promoter-in-chief of ‘made in Nigeria’. As governor, he was a standout client of indigenous car maker, Innoson Motors. He was a big client of Zinox computers, another indigenous company in the ICT ecosystem. A good apostle of backward integration. That was long before the Buhari government came on board to pursue a policy of ‘Buy Nigeria’. Obi is the chief promoter of ‘Made in Nigeria’ goods.
Long after leaving office, he has remained a reference point for prudence, integrity, decorum, respect for the rule of law, civility and accountability. He proved to Nigerians that leadership in a democracy is about the people; that leaders should lead from among the people and not junket around the globe in needless, profitless wandering. As governor, government house did not change Obi, rather Obi changed government house. He demonstrated that government house is a place to roll up your sleeves and work for the common good of the people, not a place for reveling, partying and extravagant stunts.
He proved to Nigerians that government house is a place for sacrifice not showiness; a place for planning not primitive plunder of the public till. As governor he shunned the brazen boisterous way of the siren mob; he chose the quiet unobtrusive sanity of sane men. He did not chase his subjects off the roads. Rather, he mixed freely with the people, the poor, the very masses who freely gave him their mandate. No aloofness, no standoffishness, no conceited pride and delusion in transient power. He did not turn government house to a bistro and a pub; a rendezvous of sort. No binging on the hard hooch, and sleeping on the job. He was responsible and responsive to the yearnings of his people.
Peter Obi deserves his diadem. It’s a fitting crown for a man who came to serve humanity; a leader who detached himself from the gang of despoilers and plunderers to offer hope to the poor and the broken. This award should spur him to do more. But more significantly, it should stir the present class of governors across the nation to imbibe the culture of zero waste, fiscal prudence and probity. Obi has provided Nigerian leaders a template to live within their means. He has taught us that public fund is meant for development and not a resource to satiate our flamboyant indulgences.
Congratulations to the man whose life is a portrait of humility and simplicity. A man whose pastime is to seek out the poor and the needy to give them a new lease of life. A man who even out of government is unrelenting in his devotion to service and to the development of humanity, particularly the underclass and the masses surviving on the breadline.