Peter Obi: The ‘trader’ who changed the game

Peter Obi: The ‘trader’ who changed the game

What started as a joke a few months ago has morphed into a national movement labelled by many as the third force expected to produce a new government

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What started as a joke a few months ago has morphed into a national movement labelled by many as the third force expected to produce a new government in the next few years.

Not many gave him a chance when on May 24, 2022, he communicated to the leadership of Nigeria’s largest opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party,   his intent to resign his membership in pursuit of a presidential ambition on the platform of another party.

For Peter Obi, the enigmatic political figure loved by the young and the old in equal measure, the move meant it was time to unchain himself from the shackles of politics of the old order.

Riding on the wave of mass support, symbolised largely by youths tired of the system that had seen them toil for years with little to show for it, Obi, presidential candidate of the Labour Party in the just-concluded poll, has demonstrated the inelastic power inherent in true love. Spending less than a fraction of what the President-elect, Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party spent during the campaigns, Obi won in 12 states including Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory.

A few weeks before election, many pundits wrote him off, citing his “no shishi” (a candidate not given to monetary inducement) disposition as the reason only a few would eventually vote for him. How wrong they were!

His “no shishi” political philosophy singlehandedly changed the national campaign landscape where hitherto politicians used to shamelessly share money, foodstuffs, clothing, etc. Every politician became extremely careful not to be caught dolling out cash or gift of any kind to persuade voters to support him.

Born on 19 July 1961, Peter is partly Okonkwo, the main character in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart as his fame “rested on solid personal achievements.” At a relatively young age of 61, Obi has brought honour to the nation’s politics through a combination of hard work, honesty and records uncommon with politicians in this part of the world. Obi is integrity personified.

An alumnus of the prestigious Christ The King College, Onitsha, Obi studied at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, bagging a degree in Philosophy in 1984.

His quest for more academic laurels further took him to the London School of Economics and Columbia Business School, earning postgraduate degrees in Financial Management/ Business Policy and Marketing Management respectively.

Obi’s resignation from the PDP and pitching tent with a less fancied, less respected and less formidable Labour Party saw a meteoric rise in his political fortune. Few politicians and naysayers gave him a chance given the popularity of the two candidates of the political behemoths, the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party.

To worsen matters, Obi’s home state governor, Charles Soludo,  came short of writing the former Anambra State governor off when he declared the race a two-horse contest between Tinubu and Atiku.

Obi’s huge support base derives in part from the sundry youth groups made up of artisans, students, musicians, entertainers and social media influencers who deployed their mastery of social media to drum up support for him.

Unlike the support base of Atiku and Tinubu who were waiting for “logistics” to hit the streets to mobilise for their candidates, Obi’s supporters who dubbed themselves as ‘Obi-dients” used their personal resources to sell the LP’s manifesto to Nigerians.

Twitter and Facebook, Obi-dients held several educational sessions, enlightening Nigerians on the dangers of pitching tents with the old order. Many heeded the message, which culminated in his impressive outing on Saturday.

Peter Okoye, one half of the P-Square musical group literally put his life into the Obi project, earning himself commendation and condemnation in the process. His fallout with Seun Kuti, a fellow musician and son of late Afrobeat founder Fela Kuti,  readily comes to mind.

Worthy of mention too is Mr Macaroni, skit superstar,  who never hesitated to remind anyone who cared to listen that he was for Obi in rain and shine.

With the political stage set, Obi kept his eyes on the ball towards the goalpost. He had garnered a worthwhile experience as a two-term governor of Anambra State. He was not a neophyte in the management of political stardom.

Peter Obi had contested the governorship election in Anambra state in 2003 on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance and ‘lost’ to PDP’s Chris Ngige. He challenged the victory in court and almost three years later, he was declared the authentic winner of the poll.

Seven months in the saddle, he was impeached in controversial circumstances. Not one to give up without a fight because of his belief in the rule of law, the soft-spoken Philosopher-King sought legal redress in court, leading to the nullification of the impeachment by the Court of Appeal on 9 February 2007.

In 2010, he won a second term in office beating PDP’s Charles Soludo (incumbent Anambra state governor).

Questions have been asked about who truly is the authentic political leader of the Igbo nation after the demise of Chukwuemeka Ojukwu. With many Ndi Igbo laying claims to that title, it was to Obi that Atiku Abubakar turned to in 2019 for his choice of running mate when he ran against Muhammadu Buhari in the presidential election of that year.

Full of experience and hindsight, as skeletal preparations for the 2023 presidential election began, Obi was quick to realise that the process for the selection of the party’s candidate would be anything but transparent in the PDP.

As a result, he communicated his intention in writing to the Iyorchia Ayu-led National Working Committee to resign from the party. He subsequently joined the Labour Party in a defection that can be described as one of the smartest political moves in Nigeria’s recent political history. Soon after joining, highly respected Pat Utomi, a Professor of Political Economy perished his presidential ambition for Obi, a huge testament to the latter’s rising popularity.

As can be seen from the February 25 Presidential election, those who wrote him off were forced to have a rethink when at the end of collation, Obi polled a total of 6, 093, 962 votes in 12 states comprising Edo, Cross River, Delta, Lagos, Plateau, Benue, Imo, Ebonyi, Nasarawa, Anambra, Abia and Enugu states.

It is shocking that the so-called behemoths,  Tinubu and Atiku, barely managed to win the same number of states.

Obi’s 25 per cent score of total votes cast has been interpreted as a statement of intent as many see him as a future president if he sustains the tempo.

Meanwhile, the Vice presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Datti Baba-Ahmed, who worked tirelessly with Obi with the aim of changing the face of governance in the country one and for all, has vowed to seek legal means to contest the electoral process that produced the president-elect, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.

Dirisu Yakubu is senior correspondent at The Politico Magazine