FEATURE ARTICLE

Chidi AnyaecheSaturday, November 4, 2006
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chidi_anyaeche@hotmail.com
London, UK

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PETER OBI: EXIT OF THE ORANGE JUICE GOVERNOR


olitics in its true sense and practice is a profession as in medicine, law, engineering and other professions. Therein lies the phrase a politician: a professional ploughing his trade in the art of governance. In politically mature countries there are professional politicians - individuals who had made a career, a living in the art of governance.


Think about USA with the likes of Edward Kennedy, Bill Clinton and John Kerry to name a few. Think about UK with politicians like Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Think about great African politicians like Oginga Odinga, Patrice Lumumba, Silvanio Olympio, Kwame Nkrumah and Abdul Nasser. And in Nigeria remember the likes of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello and Aminu Kano. As recent as second republic Nigeria, there were the likes of Jaja Wachukwu, the NPP senate leader, Jonathan Odebiyi, the UPN senate leader, Olusola Saraki, the PDP senate leader. These were professional politicians, career politicians, individuals who paraded the streets, nukes and corners of politics and successfully to some extent.

In Africa in general and Nigeria in particular, the plethora of military coup de etats took its toll on party politics and by default on career politicians. The political profession and professionals became disjointed, interrupted and virtually wiped out. With the return of democracy and party politics in Nigeria, a political-career vacuum surfaced and nature abhors a vacuum. This vacuum then threw in all manner of individuals into politics: illiterates, 419'ners, the unemployed, the unemployable, touts, native doctors, and traders. The later group is where Peter Obi belongs.

Peter Obi's main career was an importer of commodities, mostly orange juice and claims to have made a decent living out of it. He never had any expertise in administration, he lacked a structured career experience, he does not understand how big organisations and indeed government business are carried out. His expertise is in buying and selling, dealing with unregulated Asian traders in the UK, dealing with clearing agents at Apapa and Tin Can Island Wharf's, negotiating with Customs officers, organising IDR's, arranging container freight trucks and warehouses. He parades CV's showing stints at 'Harvard and other universities', what this had to do with importing orange juice into Nigeria, only he can tell.

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Around year 2001, the Obasanjo administration as part of their economic measures to promote local industries, to create jobs, to conserve scarce foreign currency prohibited the importation of some commodities like orange juices, biscuits, clothes etc. This import prohibition measure had immediate impact on importers and traders - overnight their trade took a big nosedive and they had to resort to other measures to survive. The smart ones amongst them went into some sort of local manufacturing, others diversified into other businesses and some capitalised on the political-career vacuum that is now in existence in Nigeria and dabbled into party politics. The later group is where Peter Obi belongs.

There is nothing wrong with one venturing into party politics irrespective of academic and professional background. Politics is not an exclusive reserve of a group or profession. But one needs to know his limit, his capability, his experience, his sincerity, his honesty and integrity before aspiring into positions. One can play politics behind the scenes, one can be a power broker without seeking high office. There are many ways to kill a dog.

But in Nigeria there is "an anything that goes" mentality. People just assume that they can be anything or do anything, just like that, without learning the trade, without doing a pupilage, an educated illiterate psychology. A nurse thinks he is a medical doctor, an architectural draughtsperson thinks he is an architect, a primary school teacher assumes he is a university professor, a native doctor believes he is a surgeon, an importer of orange juice believes he can be the chief executive of a state just like that. This later group is where Peter Obi belongs.

If an importer of orange juice wants to venture into party politics, into elective position, the correct way to do it should be to learn the art of governance, the art of administration and management from first principles. The correct way to do it is to probably start initially as a local government councillor and work your way up. This way you should know whether you are equipped to lead physically, cerebrally, innocently or otherwise. This way you should identify where and what you are good at politically and perch there. In countries with sound political structures like US, UK, India, we find great politicians who remain as senators, as congressmen or other roles without aspiring to be Presidents for they know their strengths and weaknesses and just do what they are best at doing. We have the Senator Jonathan Lederman's and the Colin Powell's in the US, in the UK, we have the likes of the late Robin Cook and Jack Straw and in India, there is Sonia Gandhi. But in Nigeria, any thing goes. That is why an importer of orange juice whose business was threatened will with one fell swoop want to be and actually becomes a governor or even a President. That is why in Nigeria nothing works.

But it is one thing to get into an office without learning the trade and another thing to meet the challenges of the job you are ill-equipped from onset to do. That is why Peter Obi, the orange juice trader failed woefully as governor of Anambra state. The challenges of the job were way beyond his comprehension. He was cerebrally challenged to strut his stuff as the chief executive of Anambra state. He could not get his act together, the office was simply too big for him. He lost his marble and resorted to what he knew best: deals. For deals are the way traders conduct their businesses in Nigeria and that was why he was impeached only seven months into office.

Peter Obi came, saw but was conquered by the challenges of the office of a state governor. The immediate transition from orange juice trader to statesman was just too much for him. That was his downfall and nothing more.

On a lighter note, there is a lot in a name: In Bayelsa state, erstwhile Governor DSP Alamesiegha chose a Jonathan Goodluck as his deputy and mother luck smiled on Jonathan, now he is the governor. Peter Obi chose Dame Virginia Etiaba as his deputy and Dame Etiaba somersaulted into the governorship position. For non-Igbo's, Etiaba in my dialect means to somersault. Future governorship candidates, beware of the name of your deputies.