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Peter Obi: An exemplar of public service By Dan Onwukwe

 

•Former Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, was on Monday, January 20, 2020, honoured with the “Governor of the Decade” Award during the THISDAY Silver Jubilee celebration at Eko Hotel, Lagos. Photo shows Obi (middle); assisted by his wife, Margaret Peter-Obi, receiving the award from elder statesman, Chief Ayo Adebanjo.

You needed to have been at THISDAY newspaper’s Silver Jubilee celebration which took place at Eko Hotels Convention Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, January 20. Beyond the pomp and ceremony, the glitz, the beautiful ambience of the set tables, the star-studded artistes who entertained the guests, the golden bubbles that were the backdrop of the magnificent stage, were the coteries of well-accomplished executive powerbrokers who were honoured. Each of them is unique.

Together, their success stories are lessons from the top, a prescription for how to do the right things right, both in business and politics. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, our chief desire should be someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be. Success does not happen by accident. It has a pattern. In today’s environment, people look toward their leaders to provide three basic qualities : direction, trust and hope. It was therefore fitting, indeed appropriate, that one of those honoured on the occasion, is Peter Obi, a former, first two-terms Governor of Anambra State, and Vice Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) in last year’s elections. Obi received the award for “Governor of the Decade.”

The award holds so much lessons in public service. In a country where politicians have cornered public resources to themselves and their families, Obi was adjudged to have used public funds for public good. According to ThisDay, part of the rationale for bestowing the award on Obi was that, “beyond our former governors, he(Obi) introduced civility to government, left over N75 billion in the treasury of the State which has been investigated and proved as correct.” There was a standing ovation from all dignitaries present. But the moving moment came when the Afenifere chieftain, Ayo Adebanjo came forward to present the prestigious award to Obi. He said, “we have watched you for years, you will go higher my son.” Some held their handkerchiefs in tears of joy.

Everybody seems to remember his glorious tenure as Governor of Anambra as if it was yesterday. It is not for nothing. Obi remains an exemplar of public service in Nigeria. The award was timely. It came at a time when few reactionary elements in his state with crippled mindsets wanted to undermine his legacy. They have failed. Adebanjo’s tributes reminds me of what the richest man in Africa, Alhaji Aliko Dangote(who won the Entrepreneur of the Decade Award) said about Peter Obi on March 8, 2014.

The occasion was Obi’s valedictory speech at the International Conference Centre, Awka (now Prof. Dora Akunyili Conference Centre). Said Dangote, “I am very proud of Obi. He has proved that people from the private sector can do well in politics. No state governor has done as much as Obi has done. It’s about his commitment and leadership to serving the people. It’s not about lining his pocket”. Dangote ended his tributes thus: “Obi, I say to you, God will sort you out, you will never lack any thing in your life.”

All agree, perhaps even his political adversaries who do not like his approach to governance, that Obi is the “true face of the Igboman”(a description used by former Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala), whose prudence, humility, hard work, intelligence, are exemplary. Many crave for public service but few know what it means. Democracy works and produces results when elected officials understand what public service is all about. Conviction is key. Leadership is critical. That was why before he passed on, November 26, 2011, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, had this unforgettable thing to say about Obi: “he is the first Governor of Anambra who is not a politician, and I have not met up to five men in my life who are as decent and urbane as Peter”. Anyone who knew Ikemba Nnewi would attest that he was not one of those who lavish encomiums on someone who didn’t deserve it. Again, which was the reason in 2009, Ojukwu requested Ndi Anambra to vote Obi for second term as his “last wish”. They obliged him.

They never regretted their decision. Unlike many politicians, Obi as Governor, saw politics as a human enterprise that must provide dividends. He sees public office as a duty to be done, not as a prize to be won. He didn’t see politics as pure science. That’s why he’s uniquely different from others. But his accomplishments which have won him many awards didn’t come easy. He was elected at a time of great pessimism in Anambra State, at a time, to use his own words, “when lunatics took over the asylum.” It was a time when reactionary elements were incharge of the State, in Igbo parlance, a season of “Agbata-ekee”, a time of loot and share. Obi’s journey in politics began at this time when despair supplanted hope in the state, when majority of the people were completely disillusioned with politicians. But he triumphed amid storms. He restored hope, trust and gave direction of how things could be done right. One definition of trust is the “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something “. Reliance on people is prudent only after they have demonstrated that they can be relied upon. Obi has always demonstrated that. It shows in all his businesses.

THISDAY Board of Directors said they saw that, verified that, and found it to be correct about him, especially in financial management. Imagine a Nigerian politician leaving for his successor an astonishing N75bn in savings. These included foreign currency investment of $155 million. Experts say the N75bn would have become N97bn today if it was not liquidated by Obi’s successor. It’s fine. Obi’s astute management style is something Nigeria would have been the better for now if the state governors during his tenure had supported the idea of savings for the rainy day. As Dr. Okonjo-Iweala recalls in her book, when other governors rejected the idea of savings, Obi followed it up by doing exactly that in Anambra. That investment has served the present administration in the state well, as the state has no problem with paying outstanding pensions, gratuities and debts to contractors and other financial obligations.

According to the Debt Management Office, Anambra is the least indebted state in the country, the first state to begin sub-national savings and investment programme, courtesy of Peter Obi. His capstone achievements included the return of schools to the Churches, thereby reversing four decades of policy that successive administrations in the state could not have the courage to do. The result was evident, as the state came first in external examinations in 2011, 2013 and 2014. What THISDAY saw in Obi is the same that Champion newspaper saw few years ago when it honoured Obi as the Governor and Igboman of the Decade (2000-2009). It was no fluke.

Beyond all these accomplishments, Obi left enduring political lessons, the harvest of which many are reaping without knowing the originator. Obi was the first elected Governor in Nigeria through the court when the Supreme Court sacked Dr. Chris Ngige, declaring that Obi received the highest number of lawful votes. When Comrade Adams Oshiomhole became Governor of Edo state through the courts, he reminisced that he was inspired by Obi’s victory to challenge his own case in court. Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, former governor of Ondo state, said the same of his own court-ordered victory in his first tenure. From whatever angle anyone may look at it, education, urban development, agriculture, road network and financial management, Obi raised the stakes in public service. His accomplishments which have been duly recognized by authentic awards, were the results of his vision, commitment and meticulous leadership planning.

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