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Nigeria 2023: The Peter Obi factor, By Ngozi Bell


Several writings ago I had written a piece on relevant leadership. A topic I have taught about and spent countless years and hours researching. A topic pertinent to a leadership formula that not only endures but effectively serves the people through impact

Here is a link to one version of the topic (402) The Rudiments of the Perpetual Capacity for Relevant Leadership – YouTube (https://youtu.be/Cj8oZzv2syc)

I just returned from a trip that had me chatting up several people I don’t have regular access to. One of the topics among myriad of big topics was Peter Obi and what he represents and could manifest for Nigeria.

What I found most profound in the expressions of many was not in the content of the debates around what Nigeria needs and the state of the Republic, but the profundity of the perspective on why Peter Obi might be the man for the hour. Don’t get me wrong, there were many who feel that Nigeria is far gone with deep rooted issues that just the change of leadership would not be enough as the default reform; arguing that the deep catastrophe would still prevail. It is from these lenses that I write this opinion piece

When we seek someone to steer the rudder of a ship, pilot a plane, captain a fleet or shepherd a people there are required principles and characteristics that are universal and time tested.

Let us breeze through the key tenets of what Nigeria has faced and what could be.

Leadership at an inflection point:

The past few decades have presented a Nigerian Republic that is full of more downs than ups. The prevailing view being that it is a tough place to navigate with a penchant for corruption. In a world that has experienced major peaks (the surge of the internet, unprecedent economic gains, global connectedness creating borderless markets, 4th industrial revolution etc.) and an unprecedented real time globally impacting valley (COVID). Nigeria, Africa’s giant, has managed to maintain a sustained mostly downward plunge into fiscal disarray and national disfunction. Keep in mind that not everyone suffers through crisis, there are some that make tremendous financial and business gains as the chaos provides cover and the opportunity to make real their warped economic strategies.

 Let me paint a picture of the Nigeria that is – 

From Circa 800BC to 1960 – It is widely socialised that the formation and crystallisation of Nigeria takes place on the heels of the Nok iron age civilisation to Kingdoms and empires like the Hausa, Oyo, Borno and Benin. All the way till the Portuguese reach the coast of Nigeria, giving way to slave trades in the 16th to 18th centuries. Simultaneously, the period also birth the Islamic caliphate, then hops on to the British arrival and consolidation of power that makes Nigeria a colony. Finally, up to the formation of an independent Nigeria in 1960.

Independence saw Nigeria in an arrangement with Nnamdi Ben Azikiwe as Governor General and Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister. The rest they say is history. That history included the assassinations (Balewa, Ironsi etc.) that threw Nigeria into a civil war, coups, dictatorships, executions of opposition citizens (Saro-Wiwa, Vatsa, Giwa etc), adoption of Sharia laws, ethnic violence, more clashes that round out regional unrest (now North, South, East, West and South-south have been duly represented), and finally today; the era of Boko Haram and Fulani cattle rearers uprising with unbridled terror and menacing system of murders of citizens especially Christians. This has been the face for Nigeria. 

Now it must be said that during the 1970’s, 1980’s to the tip of the 1990’s Nigeria enjoyed some measured respite of economic surge, infrastructure left over from its colonial years still intact, major construction of roads and bridges (Eko Bridge and 3rd Mainland Bridge joined Carter Bridge)  the economy appearing relatively stable as its crude asset poured capital into the nation. It must be said though that in that calm was the undercurrent of a nation that had mastered the tenets of oppressing itself from within, a skill honed through proximity to colonialists -George Orwell’s book Animal Farm comes to mind. Slowly but surely Nigerian leaders were negotiating deals that leveraged its raw materials, mortgaged its resources to line the pockets of a few at the hands of former colonial masters and powers (think large swathes of IMF loans without any consideration to the requisite reforms in governance and economies regardless of a fast declining and often turbulent oil revenue). It is the classic case of the “hen finding shelter with the fox, while many of its off springs born and unborn are castigated to unfathomable patterns of danger” named poverty in Nigeria’s case! 

Now keep in mind that a small minority still thrives big time because chaos gives cover to many nefarious acts and some have just learned to find the ropes, hold on firmly and tug the levers of a financial windfall in full view of the understanding that if they don’t, someone else will, so why suffer. As they say if you cannot beat them join them, or better still get yours!

Also, it will be irresponsible not to note some of the amazing people young and old who work their hardest, fight their toughest and give their utmost to keep surviving and staying untainted. We see these brilliant minds in many sectors as physicians, everyday people, mothers and fathers, young people captivated by technology – innovating in spite of their limitations, mature people dedicated to service through NGOs taking each win no matter how modest as a sign of the potential that is; Nigeria.

Everyday, these amazing Nigerians within the Republic and without calibrate the power of Nigeria – it’s natural resources (see this link for a state by state list – List of Natural Resources in Nigeria (awajis.com)). In the same breadth they contemplate its vibrant people and their capabilities and abilities. A near schizophrenic situation with Nigerians heralded for so much good Nigerian Americans – Wikipedia, but also simultaneously condemned or implicated for so much bad within and without its national borders Criminals abroad don’t represent Nigerian values – Buhari – NewsClick (newsclickng.com)

The point is that Nigeria is overdue for a rebirth, a true one. Nigeria has emerged many times at a place of restructure, redemption, renewal, many times with an aborted framework because too much of its past sins prevail or in the most veiled situations lurk just around the corner. The average Nigerian understands the systems in place, from young to old a survival of the fittest scheme. Few are hopeful, many are doubtful, but everyone looks up at each ray of possibility and even the driest cynics still pay attention in whimsy secretly hoping for something better. That place is a crossroad, an inflection point – the place of possibilities and opportunity, many times in Nations like Nigeria they come via elections. Today in August 2022, Nigeria is there again!

The Peaks and Valleys of the Journey

Some people say there are no free lunches, I happen to feel there are – sometimes we get a treat with no strings attached whatsoever. Unfortunately, for many this is rare, too often there are ulterior motives, many unfortunate and some pure evil. Many know this in their personal lives, some people want a cheap engagement in exchange for their personal benefit and fully at the expense of the other person. Some deals are so lopsided, it should be a nonstarter, but some bet against reality and enter it only to have their hopes dashed into a million pieces and once again, a newly minted hardened person emerges. 

Nigeria does that to its citizens over and over again, it fails to deliver on any “free lunches” to its hungry populations. It promises much, imposes lopsided unfair deals on its peoples; whether with a leader that promises prosperity and through irresponsibility and too many greedy evil hands burns and crashes the goodwill of the peoples trust and hope or one that promises an end to overbearing corruption, only to be steeped in it while stoking ethnic unrest and unprecedented instability. The people are tired, some lucky enough to do so, build micro-nations to survive in. Bribery and corruption persist, threats, raids and organized political, religious and criminal murders prevail in the full view of law enforcement and there is no heart for the people especially the most vulnerable (farmers, rural people, children). Amid all that, the Nigerian nation by sheer willpower and some enabling policies enacted even in the face of dysfunction forays through technology to garner many wins and ekes out diverse economies both personal and institution. Many allude to this survivability phenomenon on the back of relentless harshness, as supernatural, an indisputable outcome of Grace because of Nigeria’s praying people, I agree!

Now knowing these possibilities and tasting all that can be in spite of unprecedented challenges, some needed attributes must emerge:

Quality – How can Nigeria finesse the quality of what it has achieved in the midst of a relentless environment

Reputation – How can Nigeria refute the banditry on its reputation and crawl out of its old shell to display itself

Efficiency – How does Nigeria extend its expertise, strength, capability, and capacity so effectively that its vulnerabilities are minimized while its eloquence and power shines through all the time

The truth is that no matter the challenges, it shouldn’t always be this way and to avoid getting battered, Nigeria must jump off the platform as the ever enduring “punching bag”. It takes rebirth, not a hybrid or partial one, a full one! Nigeria’s presidential elections usually pose the most profound opportunity for its rebirth.

Rebirth in Quality, Reputation and Efficiency: The Peter Obi Factor

As of today, 25 February 2023, is the date for Nigeria’s presidential election. An opportunity that comes only so often to make a nation-sized reforms and potentially, The Change!

The most standout presidential candidates so far are Bola Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi. The only differentiated candidate is Obi. The other two come with an allegorical cacophony of power systems that have diminished Nigeria and for decades kept Nigeria insane. Their deep roots in the existing systems will saddle Nigeria with the unfortunate albatross of the big, wide, very greedy and insatiable mouths that devour Nigeria’s economy! For one they ignore the hearts of the Nigeria youth for whom the future must be framed with. One of the two appears grossly incapable of anything noble, good or holy. He does not even understand in real terms the constitutional agenda and sees Nigeria as a collection of tribes, and religious protectorates of which the divide and conquer and rule by chaos should prevail. All while amassing untold amounts of money for his cohorts, in a quid pro quo bid. The other has too little, too late to offer and too much hubris to know it. Ironically this has been the fallacy of too many leaders who think of themselves as the gift to their nation. Putin is the archetype of that type of thinking, people who think their leadership is an imperative, their long existence in the system no matter how warped or corrupt; an asset. 

Then there is Peter Obi, at first seemingly relatively unknown but delightfully surprising as a fighter, who was willing to take the long road to victory as governor of Anambra State not once or twice but three times. A leader that has a track record validated by his people while in office, after he left office and long after he left office by independent and international organisations. A man accustomed to trade and economic activities that must always be attributed to life outside public service. A man without the deep ties of wide-open cruel mouths ready to swallow the nation whole with insatiable appetites that wastefully consume everything possible. Yet one that is not naïve or without governance experience, with a traceable education at recognizable institutions, able to speak and articulate thoughts, sentiments, policies, issues – a trait that Nigeria has suffered a dearth of, for far too long!

To be clear, Obi is just a man with credentials, passion, experience, family, education, wholesomeness, zeal, compassion, wisdom, humility, smarts, impact etc. All attributes a national leader must have. Granted, he does not subscribe to the irony of the possession of some “hidden secret or mysterious powers to lead effectively” that will suddenly only emerge after power is bestowed – a bag of rubbish sold to Nigeria time and again -. 

This time, perhaps Nigeria can imagine an election season of honest debates, speeches that capture hearts, conversations that tackle difficult subjects, excavations that make bare relevant histories, track records, and credentials for governance and finally the exploration of the mandates for Nigeria’s robust prosperity and the dignity of all its peoples. When an election podium has many great options to choose from it is a luxury to bask in, when Nigeria saddled with incompetence and starved of true leadership choices for so long has a great option, let no evil interfere. 

So far Peter Obi is the only candidate that has met that bar, his young followers call themselves the “Obi Dients”. For the rest of Nigeria, the place now is to ensure that the fair opportunity for electing the right leader is preserved, if that much is done, then the term congratulations Mr. President-elect on February 25, 2023, will surely take on a good meaning for Nigeria. 

Good day!

About Ngozi Bell

Take a listen to this podcast Say It Skillfully® OUR VOICES – Ngozi & Okezue Bell, Carpe Diem! Tuesday, April 5, 2022 (voiceamerica.com)

Inspiration, Hard Work, Innovation. These three foundational elements anchor Ngozi’s core belief that manifesting the extraordinary is always within reach. Inspired by her mother A.C.Obikwere, a scientist and author, she learned the privilege of living at the edge of important encounters and dedicating herself to robust and perpetual learning. Ngozi’s background is a combination of Physics, Engineering, Venture Capital/Private Equity, regulations, and business where she has managed over $1B in cumulative revenue. Ngozi is a speaker, storyteller, and writer on a diverse set of topics including AI, iDLT, ML, Signal Processing, iOT, women, entrepreneurship and more. She contributes regularly to VOA, has been a TEDx speaker and is published on tech and non-tech platforms. She is a champion of STEM, women, youth, art and the Africa we must engage. Ngozi is an adjunct professor of Physics and management with work

experience in Asia, Europe, Africa, Middle East, and North America. She is a founder of a number of a number of enterprises and host of the podcast Stem, Stocks and Stews (https://anchor.fm/stemstocksstews-podcast).

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