Beyond Peter Obi: A hero for a new era, by Osmund Agbo

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The long awaited Supreme Court decision on Nigeria’s last presidential election has come and gone. The entire media frenzy about a fake Chicago diploma, forfeiting proceeds from drug related crime to the US government and everything in between turned out to be an array of tangential distractions in the course of a useless pursuit of a dead-ended outcome.

Truth is, it’s the height of political naïveté on the part of anyone to expect miracle from a judiciary that, in the words of ex-Governor Rotimi Amaechi, “is embarrassingly corrupt and largely compromised, often dispensing judgments instead of justice.”

As many Nigerians are reeling from the shock of the court decision, this week, Premium Times reported that at least four out of ten newly appointed INEC’s Resident Electoral Commissioners are individuals with ties to President Tinubu, two of whom are card-carrying members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the president’s party. Go figure! The questions many are asking are: What’s next for Peter Obi and his Labour Party? Is Alhaji Atiku Abubakar already back to preparing for a repeat of the charade in four years?

Throughout history, there has been a glaring contrast between freedom fighters and individuals of privilege, underpinned by the immense sacrifices demanded of those who challenge the established order. Those who dedicate their lives to disrupting the status quo must be prepared to, at times, forsake fundamental necessities like freedom of movement, speech, and association. Of course, it’s a profound burden to bear.

Freedom fighters frequently find themselves arrested and imprisoned, a calculated tactic to wear down their mental fortitude and coerce them into surrendering their convictions. Corrupt authorities are well-versed in this strategy and systematically strip these courageous souls of their fundamental human rights.

Peter Obi has achieved monumental success on a personal level, and one can easily comprehend his tempered approach and apparent hesitation to wholeheartedly lead a full-scale war against corrupt men in power. He has a lot to lose, knowing fully well that vested interests will spare no effort in coming after him and using the State’s deadly instruments of coercion.

Asking Peter Obi to lead a People’s revolution is akin to requesting that a wealthy individual, who can effortlessly enjoy all the luxuries and privileges life has to offer, commit to wearing a suicide vest—an exceedingly formidable request. Obi himself is well aware that he is treading on a minefield, with the coven of Aso Rock witches, eagerly waiting for any slight misstep on his part to set off an explosion.

Yet, there have been remarkable individuals who, despite their privileged backgrounds, opted to employ their influence, resources, and positions to lead or support movements dedicated to social justice, political transformation, or national liberation.

Nawaz Sharif, a prominent figure in Pakistani politics, sharply contrasts the typical revolutionary profile. Born into a wealthy industrialist family in Lahore, Pakistan, on December 25, 1949, Sharif appeared destined for a life of luxury and opulence. His father, Muhammad Sharif, was a prosperous industrialist, and Nawaz received his education at prestigious institutions in both Pakistan and the United Kingdom.

In the early stages of his career, Sharif followed his father’s footsteps, becoming involved in the family’s steel business, the Ittefaq Group. As a young businessman, he expanded the family’s interests in steel and manufacturing, enjoying considerable financial success that positioned him among Pakistan’s elite.

However, the late 1970s marked a significant turning point in Nawaz Sharif’s life as he entered the realm of politics. This transition was precipitated by General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s military coup in 1977, resulting in the removal of the elected government under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Bhutto’s subsequent imprisonment and execution threw Pakistan’s political landscape into turmoil.

Initially, Sharif aligned himself with Zia-ul-Haq’s regime but eventually chose to create a political party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) or PML-N, in 1988. Over time, he served as Prime Minister of Pakistan for three terms, among other positions, and his tenure was not short in controversy. 
Nevertheless, Sharif’s unwavering determination and his willingness to shape Pakistan’s political landscape, even at the cost of his wealth and privilege, set a remarkable example.

In contrast, George Washington, a prosperous Virginia planter, emerged as a leading figure in the American Revolutionary War and subsequently became the first President of the United States. He risked his substantial wealth and social status to lead the American colonies to independence from British rule.

Simón Bolívar, known as “El Libertador,” was a wealthy Creole who played a pivotal role in liberating several South American countries from Spanish colonial rule. He willingly relinquished his wealth and power to lead these revolutionary movements.

Emiliano Zapata, hailing from an affluent background, became a prominent figure in the Mexican Revolution and passionately advocated for land reform and peasants’ rights in Mexico. He actively participated in the struggle and championed agrarian reforms.

Peter Obi has emerged as a prominent advocate for political change in Nigeria. His journey exemplifies the challenges faced by those who decide to confront the status quo. Obi’s background bore resemblances to Sharif’s, characterized by comfort and affluence, though unlike Sharif, he wasn’t born into wealth but amassed his fortune through hard work.

His involvement with Nigeria’s political arena was not immediate; he initially ventured into commerce, co-founding several successful businesses. One of his notable ventures was Next International, a conglomerate involved in various sectors of the economy, including banking, insurance, trade, and agriculture. The convergence of business and politics would come to define Peter Obi’s trajectory. In Nigeria, a nation marked by intricate politics and challenges, Obi emerged as a prominent figure.

His foray into politics crystallized when he served as the Governor of Anambra State, a position entailing substantial political influence. During his tenure, Peter Obi garnered recognition and acclaim as a reformist governor, addressing systemic issues like corruption and fiscal responsibility amid complex political waters.

Peter Obi’s efforts resonated with a broader narrative, extending beyond Anambra State, and gained a significant following among many Nigerians, giving rise to the Obidient movement. While the Obidient movement, in alliance with the Labour Party, marked the closest Nigeria has come to a genuine people’s revolution, corruption remains a formidable adversary. The gains achieved by the Labour Party in the last election are slowly eroding, with many seats secured in that election overturned by inept election tribunals through cash-driven judicial processes.

The judgments originating from Nigeria’s makeshift election tribunals and courts, where decisions seemingly transpire behind closed doors orchestrated by the ruling elites, starkly illustrate the extent to which unscrupulous individuals are willing to go to maintain their grip on the nation. No amount of compelling evidence or a smoking gun can alter the outcome. The likelihood of them permitting a truly transparent and equitable election is non-existent. For anyone entertaining different expectations, I might as well offer the grand and magnificent Lagos Third Mainland bridge for sale.

There might have been an expectation that Peter Obi and the Labour Party would introduce the next chapter in the ongoing struggle of the people. Nevertheless, the pivotal question remains: will he, indeed, embark on this momentous journey? It’s not a matter of assigning a greater responsibility to Obi than to any other Nigerian; rather, it’s a reflection of his possession of a platform and a following that uniquely position him to lead the charge.

It is highly likely that, to guide us to the promised land, Nigeria will eventually need someone with the determination and resilience of Peter Obi, but without the extensive personal estate that vultures could prey upon. Nigeria is in need of a new hero for this new era. One thing is clear, though: Obi’s legacy will continue to serve as a source of inspiration for the movement that carries his name for generations to come.

The incontestable truth remains that if Nigeria persists on its current trajectory, relying on a deeply flawed electoral system, captured courts, and a handful of benevolent actors to effect change, we might as well gather around the campfire, hold hands, and sing Kumbaya.

“Admittedly, our democracy has not yet matured… Elections are still massively rigged and influenced by violence, manipulation and thuggery. Most of our mandates are purchased at exorbitant prices. Our legislature remains an over-bloated conclave of mostly inactive onlookers. The executive branch is often stuck in the swamp of its own bureaucratic creation. Our judiciary is embarrassingly corrupt and largely compromised, mostly dispensing judgments rather than justice. The realities of today confront us with some inconvenient truths. Our democracy has alienated the people.”

Chief Rotimi Amaechi
Former Governor of River State and APC stalwart at The Niche annual lecture

Osmund Agbo is the author of ‘Black Grit, White Knuckles: The Philosophy of Black Renaissance