Every election campaign has this cadence and rhythm, style and sparkle that sets it apart. Since Mr. Peter Obi, former Governor of Anambra state, and vice presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in 2019 election announced his presidential ambition for next year’s election, almost the whole country has become aglitter. His presence is like sunshine after the storm. The ideas, the message, the energy he has generated across the country, are certainly things we have not heard or seen in many years of our pork barrel politics. Suddenly, tagline like “OBIdients”, a phrase aptly coined by Godwin Obaseki, the Governor of Edo state, is trending with fervency. It’s a phrase to interpret the mood of the country, a search for an alternative political platform and leadership since the old order has failed Nigerians.
The new alternative has a sense of urgency. It’s looking in the direction of Peter Obi as the rescuer of the sinking Titanic, called Nigeria. And you begin to ask: why is this man different, and thinks differently, that his name is resonating with uncommon warmth? This is part of the reason(s). One of the real leadership lessons of late Apple CEO Steve Jobs is contained in Apple’s two-word tagline: “Think Different”. Again, you may ask, What did Steve Jobs mean by that? You see, Think Different is the source of all wisdom in Eastern traditions. It entails mindfulness. Mindfulness means paying attention to your present moment experience. ‘Think Different’ also means, drop all your old theories and perceived ideas that have not worked, and pay due attention to the raw reality coming through your five senses and your mind. It also connotes doing away with the meaninglessness of “Emi lokan”(It’s my turn) politics. In other words, ‘think different’ is where you will find insight and wisdom to deal with challenges of immediate sort that confront Nigeria today. This is what OBIdients seem to represent in the race for 2023 presidential election. In practical terms, the command-and-control approach to governance that has become the misfortune of Nigeria and Nigerians in the past 23 years, is no longer viable to modern democratic participation. “It’s my turn” syndrome has reduced the efficacy of top-down model of leadership.
In fact, modern democratic leadership should represent person -to-person conversation. This is because leadership is a conversation, intimacy, with focus from top-down distribution of information to bottom-up exchange of ideas. It makes gaining trust, levelling with the people and solving their problems possible. For a modern leader, which Peter represents, authenticity is the most precious commodity. The Labour Party Presidential candidate represents the techniques that the tempers of our times need.
Peter Obi’s aspiration has become a movement whose time has come. Any attempt to stop it could have far-reaching consequences. That’s exactly the point Charlie Boy (Charles Oputa) was making the other day when he told The Nation newspaper that Peter Obi has attracted an awesome followership that would be hard to dislodge without corresponding consequences. “I am smelling a bloodless coup in the making by ordinary Nigerians to retrieve their stolen future”, Charlie Boy said. He added that whether Obi wins the presidency or not, his presence has activated something “unusual in our history and among ordinary Nigerians”.
The truth is that no one wants to follow a Franken-leader anymore, the kind that has brought tears and sorrow to millions of Nigerians but has enriched few at the detriment of the majority. That’s what Peter is fighting against. It’s because, as history teaches, a Franken-leader is slow, selfish, dangerous, and – worst of all – he’s not predictable. Predictability is a characteristic of people who operate according to their own internal compass. Their eyes are not off the ball, even when they venture into a new territory. What they do is consistent with what they have done. Nothing scares the people more than a leader who lurches unpredictably from one moment of seeming insanity and uncertainty of sorts, sending inconsistent signals. Haven’t we seen enough of this in recent years? Can we afford another of such misfortune, of such a leader? A friend of mine describes such misguided leaders as “waka just pass”. These are leaders with no legacy worth talking about.
For sure, where public office is for sale, as we saw during the recent presidential primaries of the two dominant political parties, the PDP and the APC, the country is headed for crisis. Peter Obi says he’s different. And with good measure. The difference reveals the quality of his uncompromising character of unwholesome behaviour. These are virtues in short supply among our present politicians. That’s why he said recently, “I rather lose doing the right thing than win doing the wrong thing”. He says he’s seeking the office of the presidency not for self, but to use that great power to achieve great purposes. Leadership is not a prize to be won, but a duty to be done. In the words of Peter Obi, his focus is constant. “I can’t sleep because I know what to do… I know the problems of Nigeria and I know I can fix them… Hunger takes people to the streets! Job and food will obviously take them out of the streets and crimes”. He reminds everyone about his specialty, that of creating jobs and wealth. His years as governor and entrepreneur have shown clearly that there’s no margin for errors in his ability to do that. “I have not come out for myself. I have come out for the millions of youths who are losing hope in our beloved country. I have come out for the millions of women who are afraid of tomorrow and what it holds for them and their children”. He also says his quest for the presidency is to liberate the poor who are asking whether it’s a sin to be a Nigerian. These are words of a man with conviction, not platitudes.
Put together, Obi has brought new hope and optimism, a warm hand to our polluted politics. He is redefining the work of leadership in our nation. From now, political leaders will no longer see themselves as so-called grand visionaries, all-wise decision makers, and ironfisted men who see the office of the presidency as their birthright. For this category of politicians, power means being able to bend people to their will and steal from the common till. With such men, when they get power, there’s nothing there but the desire for more power, not to solve problems. They have no agenda but to dominate the rest of us. But, Obi is creating an environment where every Nigerian has the chance to collaborate and excel. He’s seeking power to accomplish goals in every sector of our economy that’s in ruins now. That ability to clearly define problems and proffer solutions, in marketing parlance, is Obi’s Unique Selling Point( USP).
One key element of what Obi has brought to our consciousness is his realism, his ability to look facts – even very unpleasant facts – in the face and not let himself be deluded by wishful thinking. This is a political version of a businessman’s interest in balance sheet, where the right thing should be done. And that starts with good leadership. Peter Obi’s journey has just begun, from agenda setter to problem solver. It’s all about putting Nigeria’s interest first. It’s a huge task ahead.