Peter Obi and his supporters have made fiscal prudence and transparent management of government resources the main proposition of his longshot campaign for president.
Voters have been inundated with numerous uncorroborated anecdotes of Obi’s cost-cutting and financial wizardry while at the helm of the affairs of Anambra State. These stories, including fact-finding missions to local markets and bizarre consultations with mentally ill advisers, have become more and more questionable as Obi’s constant need to up the stakes has seen his claims and those of his supporters become ever more preposterous.
Such is the purported extent of Obi’s frugality that meals are allegedly not served to guests in the Obi household in a bid to conserve the family’s supplies. Besides the obvious hilarity, one shudders at the prospect of visiting Heads of State being so poorly treated by a President Obi.
Any attentive observer can see that this is a well-designed gambit by Obi and his Obi-dients to exploit the widespread disapproval of rampant corruption and waste in the public sector – a problem that took roots in the 70s when an oil boom left the government with more money than wits and integrity to manage it.
Many Nigerians rightly believe that the country would record better progress if enough public servants are prevented from helping themselves to public funds and stopped treating the national treasury as a mere extension of their private bank accounts.
Indeed, President Muhammadu Buhari’s vow to tackle this challenge contributed to his historic victory in 2015. Buhari’s administration may have made some inroads but it is difficult to argue against the proposition that far less has been achieved than was expected of the former General and Military Head of State.
This gap between reality and expectations goes a long way towards explaining Obi’s decision to cast himself as the long-awaited spartan Messiah, a man whose entire life is a tale of heroically self-imposed austerity; a willful embrace of personal suffering for the sake of suffering.
The result is a man who presents himself as the quintessential political outsider. A man who, similar to America’s favourite anti-hero, Donald Trump, is forthright enough to ‘drain the swamp’. The problem with Obi’s posture and promise to the Nigerian people is that this entire persona is built on a complete fabrication and bears no resemblance to the picture one would glean by simply studying his past.
The fact of the matter is that as Governor and, subsequently, as a political lackey during the dark days of President Jonathan’s administration, Obi was just as complicit in the deterioration of the ‘swamp’ he now assures us he (and he alone) has the ability to drain. The truth: Obi cannot solve a problem he helped make worse any more than a Hushpupi can solve 419 from his American jail.
Consider, for example, the aforementioned criticism and character flaw of certain political figures in the country treating the public treasury as an extension of their private bank accounts. Few politicians exemplify this problem better than the person of Governor Peter Gregory Obi. His tenure as governor of Anambra state was beset by an endless stream of accusations and allegations about how he treated the public purse. Stories of him abusing his office to unduly privilege private businesses he either owned or bought stakes in remain entirely uncontroverted to this day.
Indeed, in 2019 Obi was forced to admit to have injected US$30 million of Anambra state funds into SABMiller, a firm with strong ownership ties to his family. In fact, checks have revealed his quoted sum of US$30 million to be false and perhaps deliberately inflated to conceal the fact that only US$12 was ‘invested’ while a scarcely believable US$18 million remains unaccounted for; a sum which brings Obi’s recent claims to be wealthier than the US President into sharp focus.
This so-called investment, which Obi defends by claiming that its value to Anambra has grown to be worth US$100 million in accrued profits, has actually tanked and is barely worth US$3.5 million today. This stark decline lends credence to the suspicion that the investment choice was informed primarily by personal profit and puts a lie (if evidence was truly still required) to his extravagant claims to be a prudent financial manager and anti-corruption crusader. Far from being frugal, Obi evidently struggles even to draw any kind of line between his pocket and the public purse.
Consider also the PREMIUM TIMES investigation which revealed Obi’s taste for the finer things in life. The investigation’s findings stand in stark contrast to Obi’s wish to present him as a self-denying spartan and stunts such as his well-publicised carrying of his own luggage and economy class travel (as if these things are somehow relevant to the business of leading a nation of 200 million souls).
The PREMIUM TIMES uncovered multimillion-dollar businesses and other luxuries hidden in offshore accounts and enjoyed away from the glare and scrutiny of the public. Perhaps an explanation for the missing $18 million from the SABMiller controversial investment may be found in any one of these secret accounts.
Obi’s defence for his prominent place in the rank of dubious political figures maintaining undisclosed foreign accounts and hidden wealth was that “he broke no law”. Someone ought to remind this presidential candidate that true men of integrity are not limited only by what is lawful. Rather, such men hold themselves to a much higher moral standard, maintaining an ethical commitment to doing what is right and proper even when nobody is looking. Obi’s poor defence betrays his ordinariness. Far from being the Messiah, Obi is just another sinner awaiting salvation.
When you put his past conduct (rather than his contrived professions) into view, one is left with the portrait of a man who pays lip service to values he does not personally uphold. Obi neither understands nor practices transparency and accountability. He equates himself with the state and sees no evil in using public resources in the service of personal gain. This saint oozes a foul stench.