Everything should make Peter Obi not to become the rave of the moment. But he is. His coarse voice. His bland appearance. And his monotonous recitation of data on the economy. Peter is a lesson in branding and reinforcement. He created the image of a prudent and honest manager and has reinforced it in multiple ways and moments. His public actions and style are fiercely aligned to his message. There is little dissonance, hence he is credible.
How does Peter Obi fit this political moment? First, he is the closest to understanding the Nigerian situation. He has not got a rounded perspective but he has got the vital piece of that situation. Peter Obi more than any other presidential wannabe understands that the political economy of rent and conspicuous consumption lies at the heart of the failure of the Nigerian state. He does not just understand it, he has shown courage and commitment to end the specter of a purposeless and senseless public sector. Peter came closest to the entrepreneurial state during his tenure as Governor of Anambra. For him, public expenditure should produce public value and not reinforce prerogative or privilege.
Anambra politicians mostly don’t like Peter Obi as much as ordinary Nigerians across Nigeria for the simple reason that he is the opposite of exhibitionist and plutocratic politics. Peter Obi is transformative, not like Osinbajo, who is mostly so in speech. Peter is so in speech and action.
But Peter has a big shortcoming. His economics is largely business-oriented; it is like book-keeping economics. He needs to couple his microeconomic frugality with a grand vision of economic transformation. Creating wealth in the scale required to end pervasive poverty in Nigeria requires good book-keeping and good reconstructing of the social and economic relations in the manner East Asian countries did to transform their countries. Peter Obi has to step up and say more about his grand development vision.
Again, Peter Obi is still provincial. He has a growing fan base across Nigeria. Win or lose the primary, he should step up and create a coalition of diverse Nigerians and move out from Lagos, Awka and Abuja into Sokoto, Kano and Adamawa to preach his gospel. There is some fear whether he can also string together a Pan- Nigerian governing coalition beyond Valentine Ozigbo and Oseloka Obaze. It is heartening to see him campaign with Doyin Okupe. He should also campaign with Musa Abubakar.
Now some people argue that Peter is all hype and pretense. Yes there is some hype about Peter Obi and he understands the power of communication and positions himself to maximize its value. But that does not diminish his Bona fides. It is like Chief Gani Fawehinmi who sucked publicity like a bee does to a nectar. Nevertheless, he was authentic. Since his death the legal profession has not found his replacement. So Peter’s love of publicity does not necessarily detract from his authenticity.
Is this Peter show mere pretense? Evidence does not say so. Until Peter’s traducers can bring better evidence, the verdict is: Peter is a good deal for 2023 with some reinforcement on big picture political economy.
By Dr. Sam Amadi