Former Aide Exposes Obi
OpenLife Nigeria reproduces an earlier interview in which Professor Stella Okunna, a former aide of the presidential candidate of Labour Party, Peter Obi exposes what lots of people are unaware
Peter Obi often reels out statistics during his campaign and interviews and some people are saying he’s given to statistics rather than reality, do you think he can engage both strata of the society?
I worked with him for eight years in different capacities. I was the Information Commissioner and I know he’s a man who has always been communicating with the people. He is a grass roots politician. As a governor, he toured all the 177 communities in Anambra State several times because he wanted to connect directly with the people, to inform them about what he was doing and hear from them directly without any intermediary. So, he is a man who can communicate with any cadre of people and get their acceptance. Before he became the governor of Anambra State, all the donor agencies had escaped because Anambra was a very difficult place. But when we came (into government), they came back because they saw good governance. That was at the highest level of communication – at the international level. He established a good rapport with them. So, whether highly placed persons or people at the grass roots level, he can engage them.
Obi’s critics said he did not conduct local government elections but appointed caretaker leaders to manage the local governments until the twilight of his tenure. Why was that?
We eventually conducted local government elections. If you remember what Anambra State was before Peter Obi became governor, we needed to establish peace, rapport and conviviality to conduct elections at the local government level. For a long time after he came, peace was not there. This was the state where people were chopping off people’s heads, either for proven or suspected criminal offences. This was a state where some political thugs who were against the previous governor kidnapped him. This was a place where hoodlums burnt down a radio and TV station, and everything.
That was when this man (Obi) came. It was a difficult place. It took a while for him to settle and restore peace. At that time, who was even talking about the LG elections? At that time, he was trying to settle down. From March to September or thereabouts, he was impeached by the legislators. Was that the place you would conduct LG elections? He had to go to court to regain his mandate. He returned in 2006, and by 2007, elections were due. They conducted the elections and excluded him, and he had to go to court, telling them that ‘my tenure has not ended.’ It took him months to regain his mandate, and this was a man who spent three years, for an election he won in 2003. Was that a state where elections could take place? It took him a while, but gradually people began to see that this man meant well. It took a long time.
He had problems with power brokers in the state, which led to his impeachment. If he becomes the president, he might have to face regional and national power brokers. Does he have the political strength to survive those interests?
Peter Obi is a peacemaker by nature; he can get along with the devil because he is very humble and very modest. His modesty and humility belie his high status of wealth or political clout. Once you mean well, you have the interest of the nation at heart, you desire good governance and you are not there to steal or embezzle, he will work with you. It happened to him in Anambra. Before he became the governor, he wasn’t a politician. He was a businessman. Nobody knew him, but when they began to know him, understand what he stood for, who he was, where he was coming from, what his intentions were, and his good nature, didn’t they rally around him? Even at the regional level, he was the only governor on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance. The others were mostly in the Peoples Democratic Party at the time. Didn’t they make him the leader of the South-East governors? He will remain as humble and modest as he has always been. He is a unifier.
Do you think he will be able to manage those interests?
I can assure you that when those you think will oppose him at the national level understand him, they will rally around him, because he means well for Nigeria. When he gets to that stage, uniting Nigeria will be child’s play. Right now, there is no equity in Nigeria; people are not being treated well. You have the so-called federal character; is it working? Those who want to exploit the policy, when it suits their intentions, they apply it, when it doesn’t, they throw it away. One of the major things responsible for the division in Nigeria is the imbalance in the way people are treated. We are not being fair to some people. Obi is a very fair-minded person. He is going to love everybody and give everybody what is due to them. Once you get what is due to you, what are you quarrelling about? He won’t embezzle Nigeria’s money, instead, he will use the money to work for the people, and he is going to touch everybody.
One issue people have raised is that if Obi wins, the Labour Party may not have members in the Senate and the House of Representatives and that could make him vulnerable. What do you make of that?
There are people contesting on the platform of the Labour Party. Nigeria will have a new Senate and House of Representatives, and that means those who are there might return or may not return. Many people are contesting on the platform of the LP. I am confident that some of them will win. That is the way you begin a structure. It is built when your people win elections.
Speaking about marginalised people, only about six per cent of women are in appointive or elective political positions. Do you think Obi will empower more women in politics?
It is not just local knowledge; the world knows that the Nigerian woman is not reckoned with. From his first tenure to the second tenure as governor, women occupied very important positions in Peter Obi’s government. The commissioner for local government was a woman; the commissioner for women affairs; you would say it is expected; the education commissioner was a woman, and they worked well with him. He was recognised as one of the gender-friendly governors in the country at the time. Obi believes in women and the women he worked with were also good in their various fields. So when he gets there, he will recognise, appreciate and honour the Nigerian woman, and I believe women are going to support him fanatically, the way we did in Anambra State.