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Is it time for Nigeria’s presidency to go back to the southeast? Over 30 million people in the region seem to think so. Not since just after Independence when the anti-colonial activist Nnamdi Azikiwe known as ‘Zik’ was President from 1963-1966 has a politician from the south-east served as head of state.
After the glory days of Zik, Nigeria has endured a civil war, multiple coups and serial insurgencies in the northern states. Now the south-east has its own secessionist group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). His supporters think that Peter Obi is the presidential contender who could knit Nigeria’s fractious federation together again.
A savvy economic manager with a national youthful support base, that may not be enough for Obi to beat heavyweights such as Bukola Saraki, Atiku Abubakar, and Aminu Tambuwal for the presidential nomination of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
1. Born into the bustle
Peter Gregory Obi was born on 19 July 1961 in Onitsha, the bustling commercial market city in the state of which he would one day become governor, Anambra.
He graduated with a BA in Philosophy from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1984. He has also completed numerous certifications in prestigious international universities such as Oxford, Harvard and Cambridge.
2. Breaking out of the bank
Before entering politics, Obi had a successful banking career, rising through the ranks to become the youngest chairman of Fidelity Bank Plc. He was also the chairman of Guardian Express Mortgage Bank and Future Views Securities Ltd.
He is a member of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) and the Nigeran Chartered Institute of Bankers. Additionally, former President Goodluck Jonathan hired Obi for his presidential economic team.
3. Forthright and frugal
Peter Obi is said to be very frugal with both public and private money. When he completed his term as governor, he left the Anambra treasury with more cash than he found there. In his handover notes, he itemised all the cheques that he had left to ensure teachers, pensioners and contractors were paid.
He helped pull Anambra out of political chaos, ignoring the godfathers and insists he will not buy delegates at the party convention.
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He may have to resolve the apparent contradiction between his personal fortune, built up from his banking days, and as his reputation as an anti-corruption campaigner.
Obi is also a part of the Lagos Business School network, which boasts other notable names such as ex-chairman of First Bank of Nigeria Ibukun Awosika and Oyo State governor Seyi Makinde.
4. Courtroom battling for Governor of Anambra
Peter Obi became governor on the ticket of the All Progressives’ Grand Alliance (APGA) from 17 March 2006 after the courts overturned the claimed victory of Chris Ngige in the elections of 2003. The court wrangling took three years after the disputed election during which time Ngige stayed in the governor’s mansion.
Just six months after he moved into the governor’s mansion, Obi was impeached by the state house of assembly. Obi said this was because he refused to inflate the state budget. He appealed, and the impeachment was overturned allowing him to continue from 9 February to 29 May 2007.
In fresh elections that year, Obi lost the governorship to challenger Andy Uba. He took to the courts again, arguing that he had another three years to serve of his unfinished first term.
The Supreme Court ruled in Obi’s favour, and he served out the remaining three years of his governorship. He then went on to win the 2010 elections, defeating Charles Soludo, former governor of the central bank.
5. Obi wins all the prizes
Anambra state under Oni’s governorship was rated by the Debt Management Office (DMO) as the least indebted; the Senate judged it the most financially stable state.
Obi’s administration won the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation prize of $1m for the best-performing state on immunisation in the southeast.
This money was used with churches to expand healthcare, building ten maternal and childcare centres, mostly in rural areas. Obi also won praise for investing in education, building more schools and connecting more to the internet.
6. Obi the political jobber
Peter Obi was the vice-chairman of Nigeria’s Governors’ Forum from 2008-14, as well as the chairman of the South-East’s Governors’ Forum from 2006-14.
Barely a month before former president Goodluck Jonathan left office after losing the 2015 general election, he appointed Obi as the chairman of Nigeria’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
In 2019, Obi was Atiku Abubakar’s running mate on the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) ticket. But they lost the election to incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.
7. Can Obi get his party’s nomination and win the presidency?
This time Obi is running for the top job in his own right. One of his fiercest rivals for the PDP presidential nomination is Atiku Abubakar. It will be a tough race for Obi. As well as Atiku, he is up against Bukola Saraki, Aminu Tambuwal and Nyesom Wike.
The ruling Al Progressives’ Congress has adhered to the principle of zoning so the party’s top positions alternate between candidates from the north and the south. All the frontrunners for its presidential ticket this year are from the south.
But the PDP, under pressure from Atiku and Tambuwal, has abandoned the principle – much to the irritation of Obi and Wike who believe it is the turn of the south.
Obi remains in the running – partly due to his business expertise in a country that is frustrated with the current economic situation, and partly due to his being Igbo, the only major tribe that has not yet had a president in office.
8. Building the base on low charisma quotient
Peter Obi is one of the few politicians from the southeast who has supporters right across the country. He is respected as honest and efficient but is sometimes seen as lacking in the charisma department.
9. PDP’s Osinbajo?
Obi can be compared to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo in many ways – they are both cerebral technocrats who have developed economic policy.
In the 2019 elections, Obi played the technocratic running mate to veteran politician Atiku Abubakar – just as Yemi Osinbajo played the same role to Muhammadu Buhari.
However, as Obi held public office in his state before aiming for federal, it is likely that he has more ground support than the vice president who is seen as a 2015 APC strategic choice to ensure a Muslim-Christian Northern-Muslim ticket.
Much as they are respected as technicians they face the same challenge: can they deliver the millions of bloc votes won by Buhari and Atiku in 2019.
10. Pandora Papers
Obi nurtured a reputation as a campaigner for transparency. Yet the Pandora Papers project uncovered that ‘he has a number of secret business dealings and relationships that he has for years kept to his chest. These are businesses he clandestinely set up and operated oversesas.’
Not declaring these companies broke the law. Obi admits his fault but says he was unaware that he was legally bound to declare assets or companies that he owns with others.
This raises other questions about his continuing to be a director of a private company when he was a public officer and his failing to declare all his assets as well as those of his unmarried children under the age of 18. Obi denies all wrongdoing but these are questions to which his rivals will demand an answer.
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