Opinion pieces are meant to be intellectual engagements, which usually mirror the maturity, depth and inclination of the writers. Some end up educating; some even entertain; some pontificate; while others analyse with or without proffered solutions.
Alas, one of the tragedies of the Nigerian communication environment is that some fine, illuminating writers find themselves, now and then, being sucked up into pulling people down in the name of politics. This is when the otherwise good writers are in a personal conflict, striving vainly to justify the unjustifiable. At this time, even when their prose remains florid, one painfully observes them writing without depth and rather inelegantly.
How do we place Mr. Sam Omatseye’s piece in the “Nation” newspaper of May 9th, 2022 entitled “Obi-nomics?” For those who possess the analytical depth to appraise so vast a writer – whose pen has sometimes elevated opinion pieces to the sublime – how do we rate the said piece? In “Obi-nomics”, has Sam written in his usual style or as a willing tool for a knock-out blow: the utter destruction of Mr. Peter Obi, whose acceptance among Nigerians is encompassing and complete?
One of the opening phrases in that piece, where he described Obi as a “megaphonic presidential hopeful” betrays the hidden purpose of the write-up, suspected to be an act of conscription. We shall take the dead issues he tried to raise, by magical incantations, seriatim.
With a pen dipped in acid, Sam summarized his mission in this line: “The governor had an office at 7, Aerodrome Avenue, Apapa, and he had instructed an aide and one or two others to deposit about N250 million there.” Elsewhere, Sam also : “Many are calling him to be president but they are not asking for N250 million in 2009 value of the sum.”
When the issue of N250 million arose, Mr. Peter Obi, in a gesture of a man sure of himself, cancelled the South-East Governors’ Forum meeting billed for that day, called the Accountant-General of the State to go to the office and furnish him with all the papers pertaining to that transaction. Heavily fortified with every handy detail, he personally travelled to Lagos. At the office of the then Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Marvel Akpoyibo, he tendered the documents detailing the entire transaction. To make matters clearer, the investigating police officer (IPO) requested to see the Managing Director of the company involved in the transaction- Gliz Automobile, Lagos, probably employing the element of surprise. Astonishing to them, still, was that the MD turned up shortly with corresponding papers, matching number of cars and amount involved. Faced with the possibility of a planned deal gone awry, the police went to Gliz office the same day and counted exactly equal number of cars parked in their premises and ready for delivery to the Anambra State Government. The explanation of preferred cash transaction that reduced costs for obvious reasons was clearly proved and understood.
Moreover, Mr. Peter Obi, understanding that the set-up was initiated then, as now, by elements that wanted to aid him to sin a little and use it to campaign against his second tenure or his presidential quest as they now do, promptly wrote to the then President Musa Yar’Adua, he set aside his immunity and requested full investigations. For days, officers from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Police were in Anambra State, questioning and ruminating over documents. Following the directives of the then Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mike Okiro for a thorough job, the investigating police team even came with forensic experts!
The foregoing was exactly how Obi reacted, but with the aim of wrestling him down, Sam cryptically wrote that he reacted thus: “The matter roiled Obi, cut short a trip, put together some media men to hush the story. But some reporters craved it like shark sniffing blood because it was a pip of a story.” Was Sam Omatseye writing about the same media that were put on notice such that the story was broken almost as it happened? They said this writer was involved even when I was not there.
Criticizing the Anambra State House of Assembly, for “foolishly” failing to indict Obi at all costs, which would have been a handy campaign manual against Obi’s present quest, Sam writes: “Olisa Metuh berated the State House of Assembly for hiding their tails behind their cowardly backs, implying that the rubber-stamp legislators had sold their souls to the puritan Obi”. This was the same House of Assembly that celebrated the incident as a strong rope the puritanical Obi had provided them to finally hang him. One recalls how they asked probing questions but were disarmed by their findings.
Roaming further, Sam, as if he wanted to provide a sort of “comic relief” to his spree, wrote about Obi accepting m, with righteous indignation, the fact that he invested Anambra money in Obi’s family business on the reason that “he did it for the good of Anambra, not for his family.” How does this sound to a person with clear focus? Could Sam and those that commissioned him read that again! How on earth would an Obi say he invested Anambra money in his family business? Is this a case of determined purpose blinding one’s reason? Could he go on and tell us the family businesses he meant?
The businesses we know Obi invested Anambra money are International Breweries, Shoprite at Onitsha (equity contribution), Anambra Independent Power Project, Orient Petroleum Resources, E-Force Limited, Anambra State Independent Power Generating Company Ltd., among others. How Obi’s family businesses were convoluted into the list is perplexing.
It is widely known and acknowledged that prior to Obi becoming a State Governor, he was a very successful business man. He earned his money through the strength and astuteness of his business ideas. He was the Chairman or member of the board of over 10 quoted companies in Nigeria not due to political patronage, but by the leverage of his investments (shareholdings).
It is because of his quiet and unassuming personality that most Nigerians like Sam Omatseye hardly know that Next International Company, where Peter Obi used to be Chairman and which had existed about 15 years before he became Governor, had some franchise for over 100 first-rate companies worldwide, including companies such as Heinz, Novartis (Ovaltine), Distel (Amalura), SABmiller, Kraft food, Gold Kili, among others.
Sam Omatseye and his likes may also wish to know that it is on account of Peter Obi’s unique business ethics, that he enjoyed overdraft of millions of US Dollars from London banks.
On the Next Shopping Mall, Sam is invited to undertake a little research to enlighten himself. Next at Alakija is twice bigger than its Abuja Mall. Meanwhile, the construction of a Next Mall in Central Business District (opposite the Ministry of Transport), Abuja commenced over five years before Obi became the Governor of Anambra State. Almost completed, Next had to sell it to NNPC due to insufficient parking space and started the Mall under reference as a substitute.
The Obis are not new to such businesses. It is through the “Ogaship” of his father that many of the people from his home-town – Agulu – and their scions dominate the supermarket business today, which is presently metamorphosing into malls. In the 1950s, his father owned the biggest supermarket in Onitsha; at 75, New Market Road (now used by Mr. BIGGS).
Ranging on, Sam wrote: “Then when off-shore scandal broke last year, his name came up again, lodging money abroad while governor.” This is yet another deliberate misrepresentation of facts in line with what Sam and his co-traducers had wished. Obi’s name came up for maintaining a Trust and not for lodging any money into it. In defending himself, Obi made it clear that not one Kobo entered the Trust whilst he was Governor. He went on to name the sources of every Kobo under the custody of the Trust since it was established. Writers interested in the progress of Nigeria should have taken it up by calling other Nigerians to emulate Obi by being transparent and accountable. In the meantime, the issue is still under investigations by three agencies of the State
Reading Sam’s “Obi-mimics,” one is reminded that the prejudices of a writer become many times magnified when he has a thesis to prove. He then chooses his literature according to selective biases, at times creating non-existent scenarios. How else does one explain this line: “He appropriated what Ngige and his predecessor Mbadinuju did into his museum of achievements”. Without intending to refute this laughable thesis, an intelligent writer as Sam ought to have named one or two of those appropriated achievements even if pre-emptively. Do they not have names or are they mere constructs in a fictive world?
It was Sam’s selective bias that made him dwell on the supposed dangers rather than merits of savings. Read him: “Some say, his great achievement was bequeathing N75 billion. What a claim. In a state that still had debts at that time. I think his view of money is to keep rather than do. But the task of governor is to do.” Here, Sam made his aim and purpose as clear as crystal. On the same day his piece was published, Gov. Darius Ishaku of Taraba State revealed that the then Gov. Willie Obiano (Anambra State) told him that it was with Obi’s savings that he built the Anambra Airport. The question here is: why do people and countries save? There is something organic about the State. Like humans, States save not out of plenty but a rational decision that stands out a wise man from a fool. I am sure Sam saves even when he is yet to satisfy all his needs.
If Sam Omatseye plans to change his car, for instance, would he not, as a mark of rationality, save money for that or is he going to break a bank one day for the money? In this case, let the man that did the saving offer us the reason for that himself:
“I saved N48,629,473,469 in local currency some of which we tied to specific projects like payment of 2-year salary of civil servants we employed for him not to be encumbered, Agulu and Onitsha Hotel, Awka and Nnewi Malls and some critical roads like the completion of the dualization of the Dual carriage road over which we had got permission to do so and be paid back by the Federal Government. We also left some for him to continue what we were doing aggressively”.
On the US$156 million saved in dollars, Peter Obi explained the purpose thus: “After our study of the Chinese phenomenal achievements as we were coming to the end of MDGs, we learned that the Chinese Regional governments were able to attract a number of investments because of the ability to contribute or partner with the investors in setting up productive facilities within their regions. For example, some of them effectively made equity contributions of 10-20%, which they were able to achieve due to their robust savings.
“So, our calculation was that if the state would be able to save a particular amount (US$18-20 million) as we did in eight years, up until 2030 at the average interest rate of a little over 6%, we would be able to achieve about a billion Dollars in savings and earnings. We would then use about 50% of this amount to attract investments, considering that the average Chinese Small and Medium Scale Enterprise(SME), for example, was set up with about two million dollars. Our goal was that if we would be able to invest 25% in each enterprise, which is $500,000, we would be able to achieve 1000 SMEs facilities scattered all over Anambra State, which would jump-start aggressive economic growth within the State, especially as income from oil is coming to an end”.
What else do we add to this pragmatic explanation? Though the tribe of Sam would add, as he did that “No one expects a person to save money when there are lots of schools to build and lots of hospitals, et al.”, but is Sam right? Under Peter Obi, Anambra State recorded the best and most strategic investments in infrastructure.
On schools Sam particularly mentioned, it might interest him to know that Obi returned schools to the initial missionary-proprietors and followed it up with massive funding. Besides the annual grant of N10 million to each secondary school in the State for massive infrastructural improvement over five years, his administration provided over 30,000 computers procured from Hewlett-Packard (HP); prompting its then Managing Director (Africa and Middle-East) to describe it as their biggest such project in the Middle-East and Africa. Anambra State Government under Obi also provided Microsoft Academies to more than 500 secondary schools, which the then Head of Microsoft in Nigeria (Mr. Ken Span) described as the biggest such deployment in Africa thus far. The State provided Internet access to more than 500 secondary schools, which the then CEO of Galaxy Backbone (Mr. Gerald Ilukwe) characterized as incomparable to any in the country. Also provided were power-generators, laboratories, boreholes (girls’ schools), and two buses to each of the schools in the State.
The Obi administration also built five classroom blocks in all the 177 towns in the State. Which other State equals these feats? Obi single-handedly developed the campus of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu University at Igbariam, fenced the vast area, erected over 12 buildings and tarred the internal roads in the institution. He also single-handedly constructed the College of Agriculture at Mgbakwu, with over 15 buildings. It is indeed a long list!
Sam Omatseye also mentioned the health sector in his grouse against Peter Obi’s tenure. Did he undertake any research at all before the degrading piece? Obi met Anambra without a single accredited health institution; and had 11, including two hospitals, accredited before he left office. He also started and completed the establishment of a teaching hospital for the State.
Beyond Government hospitals, through his partnership with the Church, St. Charles Borromeo Hospital, Onitsha; Iyienu, Ogidi; Holy Rosary, Onitsha; Our Lady of Lourdes, Ihiala; Diocesan Hospital, Amichi were rehabilitated with quite a number of new structures. Under him, over 100 Ambulances were distributed amongst hospitals in the State. With the money he won from the Bill & Belinda Gates Foundation as the best on health, he built 10 new Maternity and Child Care Centres in 10 remote communities in the State.
It was actually on account of Obi’s strides in development, that the UN Millenium Development Goals Office under Mrs. Amina Mohammed adjudged Anambra State as the first in the implementation of MDGs and subsequently invited him to share his experiences in the USA. This was a man who, through his commitment to governance attracted all the International Donor Agencies and Development Partners –UNDP, UNICEF, JICA, EU, World Bank, DFID, among others not just to Anambra State but as a Focal State in all their development support programmes.
The then Coordinator of the National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP), Prof. Magnus Kpakol would easily tell you that under Peter Obi, Anambra State was the best in poverty alleviation. The then Minister of Works spoke likewise, in terms of Anambra State having the best road network in the country. May be there are other strange criteria by which Sam carried out his own evaluation.
In the concluding part of his piece, Sam wrote that “Obi thinks like a trader, not statesman or visionary.” Those who have followed Obi in the last 8 years would agree that for the love of the country, he has turned himself into a wandering sophist giving lectures here and there to queasy audiences. During his lectures, he reduces to common understanding terms like Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Per Capita, among others, such that his speeches now serve as the very sauce and flavour by which heavy dishes of economic terms are made digestible for even the unlettered. But, the irony of it is that those simple, analytic speeches he always delivers have contributed much to the intellectual stimulation of the times. Seeing in him the understanding of the economy and society and his statesmanlike disposition, the country yearns for him as the only person that can salvage her now. If this is not statesmanship, what is?
As electioneering approaches, we must avoid “Quintus Syndrome,” especially among senior members of the press whom others look up to as role models. In one of Cicero’s campaigns, his brother, Quintus, drew up for him a manual of electioneering technique. “Be lavish in your promises,” Quintus advised; “men prefer a false promise to a flat refusal. Continue to get some new scandal aired against your rivals … for crime, corruption, or immorality.” Why should we go the Quintus way when the problem with Nigeria calls for a man whose past engagements in both private and public spaces have remained exemplary?
Obi is an alumnus variously of Nsukka, Lagos Business School, Oxford, Cambridge, Kellog, among other top business & management schools he attended for self-improvement. In an era when, even the richest States were leaving debt, Obi left N75 billion after clearing some of the State’s debts, including the over N35 billion owed pensioners. In spite of this, his achievements remain unparalleled. This should be our focus in searching for the next President and not descending to the level of Quintus by the very people that should preach objective reporting and opinions for the edification of journalism and the society at large.
Obienyem sent this piece from Abuja