You need not lead a corporation or country for your capacity to lead to become manifest. A leader is always a leader even when he is leading his primary school mates. This is the lesson I learnt during our one-day recent trip to an African country. We travelled to one of my favorite destinations and returned the following day.
Mr. Peter Obi had notified me about the trip after which I saw myself included on a WhatsApp group for the journey. Do we need the roll call? Not at all, because it has nothing to do with politics.
What struck me was the fact that like Mr. Peter Obi does, Mr. Atedo Peterside, as common a name in the Nigerian financial world as Obi has become in politics, was personally directing affairs. He was posting most of the time; telling us what to do. He would always emphasize the importance of communication through deeds: he communicated each step he took and encouraged us to do the same.
After associating with him, my belief in the power of communication as my boss always emphasizes became many times magnified. Indeed, like Obi, Atedo is among the rare breed of Nigerians that can only be found on the pages of the classics. Every step in their lives is a vital leadership lesson that would assist any sedulous observer in climbing the rungs of success.
The moment I encountered some challenges, I communicated that to our group; and pronto, he assured me he would get his contact to take it up. I did not know what happened, but the problem was expeditiously solved. In our private chat, Atedo told me he would not have been happy if I were left behind. This is another leadership lesson: carry everybody along with understanding, patience and kindness: no paternal omnipotence. It is generally a question of inequality recognized but not abused. Some other persons would have ignored me, saying to himself, “Who knows why he got into “trouble”, let him sort himself out.”
In each of his communication, I detected a parallel between him and Mr. Peter Obi. I silently said to myself, that if Plutarch were alive today to write lives by parallel, he would have chosen Obi and Atedo on leadership models, simplicity of life and the philosophical inclination of not taking this life so seriously. Recall that when Tsze-Loo
asked Confucius, “what constitutes the Higher man?”, he replied, “the cultivation of himself with reverential care.” Obi and Atedo are indeed higher men. If gentlemanliness is measured by living a life consistent with virtues, both men are richly endowed.
In the airplane, I observed Her Excellency, Mrs. Margaret Obi engaged in discussion with Aisha Yesuf and others. Mrs. Obi is Peter Obi’s wife, a woman as beautiful inside as she is outside, with a surfeit of a mother’s tenderness and surpassing kindness. That woman can wear her entire life out while trying to help others. She is worried, very genuinely so. She says to Aisha that the hardship in the land is getting out of hand and that she is daily engrossed in thoughts about how Nigerians survive. She knows, like every other Nigerian that whoever wins the presidential election would have a herculean task stabilizing Nigeria before talking about progress. She realizes that her husband’s victory would come with great expectations from weary and over burdened Nigerians. She is, however, very optimistic that a husband she has lived with for over thirty years is quite capable of out-performing Hercules. “Aisha”, she said mellowly, “Peter is an amazing human being. He teaches us that whatever a man’s mind set out to achieve could be done with commitment, hard-work and remaining focused at all times. Knowing him full well, I am optimistic that he would turn the country around for good if offered the opportunity. He is consumed by the condition of the country that his daily ritual is now predictable: wake up at 4am, do his prayers and exercise and thereafter become engrossed in the thoughts of how to pull Nigerians out of poverty, how to solve the energy problem, the marshal plan for education and the desiderata for a progressive Nigeria.”
Indeed, the support Obi is enjoying among Nigerians is borne out of the discovery that he means well for the country. If he did it in Anambra State, he could replicate it nationwide. It is, therefore, not about Peter Obi, Margaret, Atedo or Aisha, but about Nigerians. It is about striving to reclaim a country that has been heartlessly battered over the years. My old teacher, Rev. Fr. Dr. Collins Okeke would have put it differently, “striving to make a country mercilessly immersed in disequilibrium to be at an equipoise.”
In the past, Nigerians were apathetic about electioneering, thus exposing the electoral space to easy and criminal manipulations. We carried on until things got very bad. What is happening today is that Nigerians want a better Nigeria. For the first time, Nigerians, forced by the degeneration of their country beyond compare, are determined to take back their country. They are no longer enamoured by the appeal to tribalism or religion, which has remained the elite tool of subjugating the people. This is why Nigerians are searching for that Nigerian with proven mental and physical capacity to deal with the myriad of problems confronting her. On this, Obi’s message resonates: ”It is not the turn of any particular person; it is the turn of Nigerians. It is about time Nigerians woke up from political slumber and take back their country. We have lost it and cannot afford to bequeath anarchy to posterity.” The way things are, if Nigerians get it wrong, we can as well sing a dirge for the nation. The candidacy of Mr. Peter Obi is, therefore, relevant to Nigerians who seek greater things for the country.
The foregoing was their discussion throughout the duration of the trip amidst punctilious airport protocols. Between Obi and Atedo, the same discussion took place. I knew this because as soon as we landed, Mr. Atedo jokingly said that most of us slept throughout the trip while he was busy with Obi discussing the problems of Nigeria and their possible solutions.
I have been to several African countries with Obi while he was seeking solutions to the problems of Anambra State. I remember our particular trip to South Africa on hydraform building technology, water issue and wooing of Shoprite, Distell and SABMiller to invest in the state. I also remember when I accompanied him to Kenya to meet the United Nations’ Habitat team.
The then trip to Kenya was part of his determination to get things right in the State. He had gone to discuss the livability of Anambra’s major cities of Awka, Onitsha and Nnewi. It was during discussions that the UN Habitat boss described Onitsha an “organized chaos.” But Obi, with the gift of repartee, quickly agreed with her, but insisted that he had come for them to assist the Government of Anambra State turn that chaos into order. Throughout the meeting, Obi spoke passionately about Anambra State that I suspect the love he showed for the State infected the UN Habitat team.
In the end, Obi not only convinced them of the need to come to Anambra, but they agreed to assist without Anambra State paying a Kobo. This was how the UN Habitat raised an international team that produced structure plans for Awka, Onitsha and Nnewi, with detailed sequential order of implementation.
Part of the plans were the reasons, in Onitsha for example, Obi desilted Nwangene and Sacamori drains, built critical roads at Okpoko, started water projects, expanded the head-bridge road, intensified the call for a Second Niger bridge which President Goodluck Jonathan started, removed some refuse that blocked major roads for over 10 years, built two massive business parks in Onitsha, built two mini stadia in Onitsha, tarred all roads in the GRA, Habour Industrial Layout and selected critical ones, completed the Ministry of Justice building, started the Onitsha Hotel and Convention Centre (since abandoned), collaborated with the federal government to deliver the Nkpor flyover, did massive erosion work at Omagba and other areas, among others. By the time he left office, Onitsha was bubbling with life. In fact, the city was reported as the fastest in Africa in terms of growth. How far was the regeneration carried on after his tenure? This is beyond the scope of this piece.
The last trip to an African country by Obi was for varieties of reasons. As a leader, he always emphasizes the complementary role of leadership and learning. As the wise one said, education comes one fourth from the classroom, one fourth from self, one fourth from experience and one fourth from travels. He has the better combination of the four sources.
Many Nigerians are not aware that as part of his preparation for the big job, he has been visiting many countries where he takes time studying what they are doing well and rightly. When he talks about the improvement in power supply, he has studied it locally and visited Egypt and South Africa to see how they are achieving results in that regard. When he talked about the incredible policies that led to the reduction of poverty in India and China, it is from the viewpoint of one that has done an in-depth study and capped it by visiting those countries. From the vantage position of having visited Bangladesh, he talks about the country and its poverty alleviation programmes and how the commitment of her leaders enabled them to migrate from a clothes-buying to a clothes-producing country. Have you imagined how millions of Nigerians will take to tailoring if opportunity opens in that regard? When Mr. Peter Obi talks about agricultural revolution, not many people are aware that he has visited the countries he cites and carefully studied by what magic they are doing it. He is certain he would turn Nigeria around because he has a sound knowledge of global best practices.
Though the trip was not because of politics, I am sure that subsequently, he would tell us one or two things he observed in that country (whose identity I would prefer he discloses himself) that could be applied to Nigeria. The world is moving on and has left countries like ours behind due to bad leadership. Any leader desirous of moving Nigeria up the notch of development must aggregate the good policies of different countries wholesale to Nigeria.
But why are some Nigerians campaigning against him, clamouring for the atavistic throwback to the old and superseded ways? It is expected. Some people that benefit from the old order are convinced that by enthroning the architects of that dreaded order, they will continue to enjoy some unmerited privileges even when the country is dying. But with Obi, we are sure of the decapitation of that old order so that Nigeria will start anew.
Obienyem sent this piece from Lagos