By Uche Chris
Since leaving office as governor of Anambra State four years ago, Mr. Peter Obi, has been active in the public space as if on a campaign trail giving lectures and speeches on leadership and management. No doubt he deserves the attention coming to him on account of his perceived performance in office. It is not in our character that a governor left his state better than he met it; outside Lagos, Obi is the only governor that remarkably improved on the state’s fortunes from what he inherited.
For instance, Obi inherited a state that was largely politically divided and captured by some vested interests that appropriated its resources for personal gains. Its infrastructure was run down and some wilfully destroyed to score politically point. Development projects were non existence because public resources were hijacked by the god fathers to feather their own nest. A place like Onitsha, the commercial centre and a major source of internally generated revenue for the government, was in deplorable condition and a no-go area as vicious hoodlums held its residents and travellers hostage, beside the atrocious and really frustrating traffic.
Obi rose to the challenge and in eight years proved that once there is the will anything can be accomplished. The transformation in Onitsha, for instance, was breathtaking. He declared war against the Bakassi Boys who took laws into their hands for the slightest pretext, using soldiers to checkmate their reign of violence; then he cleared the town of the hoodlums and robbers who terrorised everybody day and night; he cleared the environmental eyesore in the town and removed all the traffic bottle necks that kept people for as much as four hours for just a ten minutes drive across the town from head bridge to Upper Iweka.
Above all, he massively improved and modernised its infrastructure that made the town unrecognisable. And to the anguish and embarrassment of most of his colleagues, especially those in the oil bearing states, he left a whopping N72 billion naira in both cash and investment for his successor to inherit and build on. In actual fact the success Gov. Willy Obiano seems to be enjoying now is a product of Obi foresight and prudent management of public resources. As a successful businessman nothing less was expected of him and he did not disappoint.
So the attention he is getting is expected and deserved if we desire and insist that the right things be done in governance. However, the ability and capacity to manage public resources well and do a few thing right does not make one a great leader. Because of our collective disappointment with successive leaders at every level of governance we have come to have little or no expectations of leaders and are wont to be overly impressed with a basic and routine performance. So what kind of leader is Mr. Peter Obi that makes him the best leadership model for everyone?
Mr. Obi presents a paradox in leadership: He projects those essential qualities – frugality, self-effacing, humility, integrity. Yet his actual leadership performance is less than sterling and ineffective. He is at best a good manager of material resources, but his management of human resources is suspect; and this is where the issue of leadership is critical. Leadership is first and foremost about people before materials. What makes a true leader is his relationship with people and Obi cannot be said to have acquitted himself creditably well on this count.
Leadership goes with followership and a leader without followers is like a General without troops; he is selfish, self righteous, self-aggrandising and messianic. A leader remains relevant whether in or out of power. That Obi was seeking appointment barely out of power is proof of how relevant he is without office. A leader in power empowers people who would also empower him when he no longer has the power of political office.
No doubt, Mr. Obi is a good manager but a poor leader and his near irrelevance just four years after leaving office is sufficient proof of is leadership credentials. Even the man he single-handedly made governor does not as much accord him recognition. Leadership goes beyond carrying your brief cases at airports and driving in your personal car.
For this writer and many Igbo intelligentsia, Mr. Obi is a huge disappointment as a leader; he raised so much hope but his own personal limitations dashed it. I attended Obi’s first public meeting two weeks after his inauguration on November 18, 2006. It was a cold night on December 4, where he addressed a collection of top Igbo professionals and intellectuals at the Victoria Island residence of retired Commodore Ndubuisi Kanu. He wore short sleeved shirt and plain trousers to the event.
Because of space constraint many people stood unperturbed through the meeting. Obi spoke extempore for over an hour about his vision for the state, the region and the Igbo both home and in Diaspora. I left the meeting working in the air; my colleague, late Ayo Faladun, our Political Editor, remarked that another Zik has emerged for the Igbo. Well, I wish he were alive today. So what happened between the dream and reality? Why was Obi unable or incapable of implementing the vision and goals he enunciated on the night in eight years as governor? Only he can answer the poser; so we are waiting.
Leaders are known for their legacy, which is not in building physical projects; anybody can do that. So what are Obi’s legacies in eight years of governance? Well, we understand that he has built the largest shopping complex in Abuja. How is that a legacy of political leadership, when any businessman can do same? Compare that to what Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who also spent the same eight years as governor, has done:
A political machinery that has produce a vice president, five governors in Ekiti, Osun, Edo and two in Lagos – a sixth one in Kogi narrowly failed because of northern conspiracy; a vibrant media establishment comprising of radio, television and newspaper employing and empowering hundreds of people, and a political party that can challenge for power at the centre.
This is the Obi we are celebrating and should be put in proper perspective. He managed Anambra well but failed himself and the Igbo as a leader essentially because of his own individualism, in contrast to the group demand of leadership. So, when next you hear him, ask: what does he want?