Business side of Peter Obi’s politics

By Emeka Alex Duru

There are times when statesmen rise beyond speech-making and face the realities of the day. On such occasions, engagement in politics transcends winning elections to laying solid foundations for the future of their countries. Political commentators describe it as realpolitik, facing reality. 

After defeating incumbent President Herbert Hoover in the 1932 United States (U.S.) presidential election, Franklin Delano Roosevelt looked beyond the euphoria of victory to fashioning out agenda to lift his country from the depression it was mired in.

In the first 100 days of his coming to office, he spearheaded unprecedented legislations that gave rise to the New Deal, his package for refloating the economy. The programme provided relief to the unemployed and farmers, as well as regulatory reforms related to finance, communications, and labour. The success of the package gave the U.S. economy a huge boost, earning him re-election a record three times.

Peter Obi, former Anambra State governor and 2023 presidential aspirant on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is thinking of Nigeria beyond the polls, hence his regular refrain that he is not desperate to be President but desperate to see a functional country.

Politics, for him, is a serious business, it cannot be divorced from the economy but must work together for development in line with the recommendation of economists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, in their well-received book, “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty.”

Central in Obi’s recommendation is the compelling need for Nigeria to depart from consumer orientation to a productive economy.

“There is nothing more to share”, he lamented the other day in a meeting with the National Working Committee (NWC), of his party to intimate it of his intention to vie for the office of the President in the 2023 election.

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Career politicians may not toe the line of Obi’s bluntness. But for him it was better the truth was said. The Bible teaches that the Lord Jesus Christ did so to His disciples when it was apparent that they did not understand that their friend, Lazarus, was dead. He had told the disciples that Lazarus had fallen asleep. But they thought that he was referring to physical sleep. To drive the message home, he told them, “Lazarus is dead,” and proceeded to raise him.

For Obi, the task ahead goes beyond winning the presidency. Nigeria, he reckons, is on the edge and requires unusual measures to pull it from tipping over. He said: “Our country is now going through a difficult time. I am not desperate to be a President; I am desperate to see a better Nigeria.”

His many years in business, during which he has chaired corporations in the country, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, and so many quoted companies, capping it with resounding success as a governor, give him robust insight into the state of affairs in the country.

It is a crisis situation, he declared, warning that the country cannot continue like this without getting crashed.

Obi backed his fears with statistics: “In the first five months of last year, we earned in revenue N1.847 trillion and used N1.802 trillion, which is about 98 per cent, to service debts. Last year, the national budget was N14 trillion. We were told we would borrow N4 trillion but ended up borrowing close to between N6.5 and N7 trillion.

“This year, we budgeted over N17 trillion and promised to generate over N10 trillion from revenue. The question is, from where? How can we generate revenue of that tune when you have over 100 million Nigerians living in poverty?”

Unemployment, he observed, is 33 per cent, officially, but when added to under-employment, climbs to about 60 per cent. Of the lot are the young ones who constitute the asset and the engine room of their productive age.

People now spend 100 per cent of their salary to feed. The result is more Nigerians living under poverty and the country recording several millions of out-of-school children. This is an invitation to danger, he said.

To avoid the situation getting out of hand, Obi insisted that the country must shift from consumption to production. He is in order. In the last seven years, the country has been going down the slide in all indices of development. The cost of living has been going up astronomically and standard of living dropping in frightening proportion. Infrastructure collapse, poor policy articulation and implementation add to the uncertain economic climate.

The rising spate of insecurity is equally not helping matters. In fact, to state that Nigeria’s security profile is piteous is, perhaps, an understatement. It is rather flat on its back, literally offering uncertain hopes of recovery, on account of the fluidity of assault on the citizens and other interests in the country.

The immediate result, aside from loss of life and property, is the drastic fall in productivity. It is, therefore, not surprising that various reports on statistics about the gross domestic product (GDP) in Nigeria, compared with her relatively lesser endowed neighbours, have seen it trailing behind.

Obi said the only way out is to put food on people’s tables to ensure that they are not doing the wrong thing.

“If they don’t know where the next meal will come from, the tendency is that they will become a tool for anything,” he remarked.

Besides recommendations, he has offered himself for service, pledging to draw from his wealth of knowledge to turn things around.

“I am aspiring because I know that I can turn this country in the positive direction within four years. We have a great country, all we need is to steer it right,” he informed the PDP NWC.

His record in careful management of the resources of Anambra State as a governor indicates that he is one to be trusted. In a system characterised by departing governors leaving their successors with debts and the treasury in red, Obi did the extraordinary in maintaining a clean record.

Apart from not owing workers, contactors or any person or group that had financial dealings with Anambra State, he bequeathed to his successor money to pay three months’ salaries, run schools for a year and start more projects. To cap it, he left in savings, N75 billion ($156 million, and the rest in naira) with documents to prove same.

Obi seeks the PDP presidential ticket to replicate the feat at the national level.

•Duru, a journalist, writes from Lagos

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