By Obi Nwakanma
It appears that Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party is not only surging at the polls, but he is raking in the endorsements of key figures in the Nigerian polity whose opinions matter in very important circles.
General Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria began his new year by penning a letter to Nigerians, directing Nigerian youths particularly, to take the bull by the horns, and literally, take their destinies by hand, and vote Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party.
”I am constrained to write this letter to all Nigerians especially young Nigerians, friends of Nigeria globally as well as our development partners because of the gravity, responsibility and implications of the collective decision Nigerians, both young and old, will be making within the next two months.
The last seven and a half years have no doubt been eventful and stressful years for many Nigerians. We have moved from frying pan to fire and from mountain top to the valley.
Our leaders have done their best, but their best had turned out to be not the best for Nigeria and Nigerians at home and abroad. For most Nigerians, it was hell on earth. Those of us who are alive should thank God for His mercies, brace ourselves for the remaining few months of this administration and pray and work very hard for an immediate better future – future of liberation, restoration and great hope and expectation.”
The General wrote. The most potent, most poignant, and most pointed moment in Obasanjo’s epistolary injunction was his very unambiguous endorsement of the Labour Party Candidate, against a background of what he discerned as Nigeria’s Annos Infortunii, these last seven years of Buhari and the APC administration when Nigeria fell from the frying pan into fire; from the mountain top to the valley and literally experienced “hell on earth.”
In Obasanjo’s peerless words:”None of the contestants is a saint but when one compares their character, antecedent, their understanding, knowledge, discipline and vitality that they can bring to bear and the great efforts required to stay focused on the job, particularly looking at where the country is today and with the experience on the job that I personally had, Peter Obi as a mentee has an edge.”
These words caused a ruckus. The PDP – whose candidate was Obasanjo’s Vice-President from 1999 – 2007 – all but called Obasanjo’s endorsement inconsequential. “Whether he likes it or not, Atiku Abubakar will be president in Obasanjo’s lifetime,” the party swore.
The APC and its candidate went to town in pure rage insisting that Obasanjo’s words carried little weight because the General had very little “electoral value.” But can that be true? I think not. You may disagree, or even despise Olusegun Obasanjo, but no sane and thoughtful person can dismiss him or his so-called electoral value.
Following the endorsement from the former president were a cascade of other endorsements: Edwin Clark, Afe Babalola, and before them all, Ayo Adebanjo, who began it all, and even went to the Ibadan rally for Peter Obi, and declared very publicly his unshakeable support for Peter Obi.
Ayo Adebanjo, a card-carrying Zikist and Awoist, hacks back to an era, when politics was about conviction, and not just about something that is now called “Emi l’okan” – the politics of entitlement and corrupt patronage often reminiscent of Tammany Hall. Adebanjo in fact left a very grim warning: if Nigerians, particularly the youth made the mistake, he said, of not electing Peter Obi, “you will all be suffering while I’ll be enjoying in my grave.”
The point is indescribably crystal. These are all old men who have glimpsed their mortality. They are now reconciling with their God; telling the truth, making amends for the Nigeria they have been part in creating, and trying to leave with a clean conscience; because as they have now realized, with the great benefit of age and wisdom, it is actually true that none of us is designed to leave this earth alive.
What they see sitting down, many Nigerians are very unlikely to see standing up. Looking at these developments altogether, there is clear indication that Peter Obi has momentum. The wind isin his wings. But here is an important question for Peter Obi: how can his campaign translate these powerful endorsements into electoral gains?
Going into these last months of the campaigns, does the Labour Party under Peter Obi have what it takes to translate these endorsements into votes? Does the party have grit, reserve and organizational capability to mount a ground operation, to get out the votes, particularly in the rural crevices of this vast nation; from its deserts to its swamps? Here indeed is where the tyre meets the road.
Many critics of the Labour Party continue to argue that its support base is digital and untranslatable. Some acknowledge that the party could do well among urban voters, but that it is too weak among rural voters where there is far less voter education. So far, however, the Labour Party has managed to buck all forecasts, confound skeptics, and establish very visible footprints.
It has the push factor behind it. But it still remains to be seen how in these last weeks leading to the elections, whether Peter Obi and his Labour Party might be able to mount the field operations to close the urban-rural gap. Then also, should Peter Obi win this election there are a number of other questions that he is yet to answer, which demands answers, and which his campaign must quickly address.
The first question is, with the current government leaving behind an estimated N17 Trillion and some in debt, where would the Obi government find the resources to run the Federal government? I hear Mr. Obi on his plans to cut down on the excessive protocols, and reduce the cost of running a government in Abuja, which he exemplified in his administration as governor of Anambra state. Fine and dandy.
But this humongous debt will topple the government he leads, especially with the rise in debt servicing which would destroy any prospects of social services. Nigerians are already angry at the depth of poverty, destitution, and insecurity in the land. Where will Peter Obi get money to infuse into the economy for short-term relief and long-term growth? The debt trap is a very serious situation.
In my view, he must push for the National Assembly to probe all transactions to recover much of Nigeria’s money salted into private accounts, otherwise, the government he leads will lose credibility, and fail. I have heard Mr. Peter Obi talk in broad terms about ending corruption.
But how? In my view, he has yet to fully define in very particular terms, the measures and means his administration will adopt to take down this monster. But there are two things Mr. Obi must know, and I have not heard him address this with clarity: first, without broad Civil Service reforms, any talk about ending corruption will be futile and even silly. An effective, efficient, and properly oriented and conditioned Civil Service will end corruption in the system.
The permanent service, with its merit-based ethos must be returned and re-consecrated as the thinking arm of the executive branch. In my view, should he win, Mr. Obi must return to ground zero – that moment in 1975 when the Nigerian Civil Service was destroyed, and rebuild it from grounds up.
It would require a critical reconceptualization of the public system. How does an Obi-run government, all trussed-in with private enterprise, intend to synergize these two spheres? Second, a poorly organized, poorly run National Police Force undermines the ability of a government to establish law and order, and National security.
I have heard Peter Obi talk about restoring national security – and corruption of course is a national security issue. But without extensive reforms in police service delivery and organization, in terms of recruitment, training, orientation and equipment, it will be a pipe dream. How does Mr. Peter Obi intend to accomplish this, and at what cost? Where will the money come from? It is not yet clear.
I have heard Peter Obi talk about taking Nigeria from “consumption to production.” But he has yet to address the unique relationship between production and consumption. If you do not consume, there will be no economy. You may over produce and create a glut which might lead to very deleterious consequences for the economy.
A production system that fails to develop the local capacity to absorb value will create a barnyard surplus. The issue is in how to develop indigenous market and local appetite for what nations produce, because a nation’s first and primary market is itself, before it begins to look for excess value to export.
Established governments must create that market and the capacity of internal consumers to liquefy and sustain it. Effective governments must build a tax base, because key to the growth of an economy is its capacity to tax. What is Peter Obi’s plans to expand Nigeria’s tax base through multisectoral investment?
Not just Agriculture in the North. What about Research and Production? How does he intend to position, fund, and activate the underfunded but critical Ministry of Science and Technology? Obi talks about production almost totally in the area of Agricultural production. We have not heard much about industrial production.
Yes, he has talked in very large terms about reactivating the textile industry between Kano and Kaduna in the North, from the primary production of cotton in the North. But what about machine tools industries? It is important for Mr. Obi to outline a well-drawn and usable Industrial masterplan, which at the moment doesn’t seem to be case from where I stand.
In the final analysis also, yes, Industry is good, and productive industry is vital to the economic growth and health of nations. But what about the fallouts? The environmental consequences of industrialization and high energy production. What are Peter Obi and the Labour Party’s Environmental Action Plan, to contain the pollution and degradation currently threatening Nigeria’s ecosystem?
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