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Nigeria’s profligate leaders and Peter Obi’s exceptional discipline

Peter Obi (file photo)

‘Sudden removal of fuel subsidy and harmonization of the hitherto multiple exchange rates – two critical policy decisions taken by Tinubu on the day of his inauguration, have put Nigerians under huge stress’

By Emeka Alex Duru

There was this picture of the former President, Muhammadu Buhari, picking his teeth in a relaxed mood.

Whatever his image handlers intended to achieve in releasing that photo to the public was a serious disservice to him and all that he pretended to represent before coming to office.

It showed how lifeless and disconnected he was with the people.

At the time Buhari took that shot, many Nigerians were being kidnapped or killed by terrorists, insurgents and other shades of criminals.

Nigerian students were out of school for eight months, due to the industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), which made them lose one session.

The same period, some citizens were displaced by flood and other natural disasters, while others, due to extreme poverty, could barely eat. 133 million Nigerians, representing 60 percent of the population, were at the time, multidimensionally poor, according to reports by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). 

That was the time Buhari found auspicious to pose for snap shots.

 What readily came to mind was the image of Ancient Rome’s infamous emperor, Nero, playing the fiddle while his city went up in flames. Nothing could be more callous.

You would therefore expect those coming after Buhari to learn from that crass indiscretion and show some empathy to the people.

But on the contrary, the Presidency under Bola Tinubu and National Assembly headed by Senator Godswill Akpabio, have been more scandalous in exhibiting profligacy.

In his first visit to Lagos after his inauguration, Tinubu cruised on a motorcade that was estimated at over 100 vehicles. Akpabio does so in his outings within and outside Abuja.

In an amended 2022 supplementary budget, the National Assembly approved N70 billion for itself to support the “working conditions” of new lawmakers.

A hefty sum was equally allocated to the judiciary.

Conversely, farmers who suffered the devastating 2022 floods across the country, would be getting N19 billion. It took massive outrage by Nigerians for Tinubu to order a review of a nauseating paltry N8,000 per-month he had packaged as palliative for 12 million Nigerian households for six months.

This is our absurd template for leadership. It is a system in which while the leaders luxuriate in unconscionable lucre, the people step further into poverty.

Also read: I’II not celebrate my birthdays in today’s Nigeria – Peter Obi

Sudden removal of fuel subsidy and harmonization of the hitherto multiple exchange rates – two critical policy decisions taken by Tinubu on the day of his inauguration, have put Nigerians under huge stress. As of Friday, July 21, a litre of petrol sold for N617 in Lagos and varied in other parts of the country, with fears of further hike in the months ahead.

The Naira kept falling before other currencies.

Elsewhere, this is a time when leadership matters. It is on occasions as this that genuine leaders identify with the people, sharing in their joy and feeling their pains. That was a major quality that stood the former South African President, Nelson Mandela, from the crowd.

He knew when to cry with the people and when to laugh with them. Jovan Kurbalija, the Executive Director of DiploFoundation and member of the UN Working Group on Internet Governance, captured it brilliantly in his August 7, 2022, updated piece, ‘Mandela, a giant of empathy’.

Mandela, he argued, led one of the most remarkable political transitions in modern history, but did more in helping humanity rediscover the relevance of empathy, compromise, and politics.

“Mandela was a ‘giant of empathy’, a person who could step in the shoes of his opponents and not only see their point of view but also dig deeper through their layers of fears and hopes. Most of what he did came from this powerful empathy… whether it was helping one of his jailers to prepare for his exams or attempting to understand the Afrikaners’ fears or to engaging with kids.

“His empathy also became clear through his sense of humour. Empathic people are often humorous; they can switch perspectives and ridicule the obvious and the expected”, he wrote.

Nigerian leaders are not known for empathy to the people. They rather interpret fellow-feeling as sign of weakness.

Seeing the ordinary citizens wallow in poverty, gives them joy, in a way. That is where former Anambra State governor and standard bearer of Labour Party (LP) in the February 25 presidential election, Peter Obi, shows remarkable difference and exceptional discipline.

Wednesday, July 19, was his 62nd birthday. For a man of immense means and extensive network of contacts even before going into public service, the expectations would have been of grandiose celebrations.

But he chose to remain his simple, austere self.

Two days to the time, he alerted his friends and well-wishers on how he wanted to mark the day. He wrote; “Wednesday 19th July 2023, marks my 62nd Birthday. While I remain immensely grateful to God for His infinite mercies, I still maintain my decision of over 20 years, that I will not celebrate my birthdays in today’s Nigeria, with the current deplorable state of the nation.

“However, some friends, members of the Labour Party, and OBIdient Family and supporters have asked how they can join me in celebrating that day, and even present some gifts. Let me humbly and respectfully appeal to all those who desire to celebrate me with any kind of gifts, to look around them, and extend such gifts to the people in need, especially in these difficult times.

“I urge them to visit hospitals, orphanages, and homes for the aged and people with disabilities, and offer them such generous gifts. They can also visit schools of basic studies in remote areas and support them with the basic amenities they need.

‘Those who wish to do more can visit various IDP camps in different parts of the country. I intend to do the same thing. Aside sharing my time and resources with the less fortunate people around me, I plan to raise money for schools, hospitals, etc.

“I have already said that the sacrifices for a better Nigeria must now start from us, the leaders and the well-placed. The state of our nation must give us cause to pause and ponder. There is far too much insecurity, violence, and bloodshed”.

That is the vintage Peter Obi. In keeping to his pledge, he visited the Internally Peoples Displaced (IDP) Camp, in Mangu, Plateau State to mark the day with inmates.

In several ways, he falls into the class of leaders, the iconic Igbo leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu recommended for Nigerians in his well-received book, Because I am involved.

Ikemba recommended that such leaders should be servants of the people, not their masters; should serve first the common man and should ensure fairness and equity to the various groups in the country.

Obi approximates such talents.

While campaigning, he repeatedly told Nigerians, “I am not contesting because I want a political appointment but to serve this country and unite Nigeria”.

It takes passion and commitment to the commonwealth to enter into such covenant with the people.

His record in human and material resource management while serving as Anambra State governor, remains an open copy.

 In a system characterized by departing governors leaving their successors with debts and the treasury in red, Obi did the extra-ordinary in maintaining a clean record.

He remains a study in good governance and reference point for those in power.

DURU is the Editor, TheNiche Newspapers, Lagos

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