18 October 2018
The choice of Peter Obi as Atiku Abubakar’s running mate in next year’s presidential (s)election continues to kick up a storm among Nigerians on social media, even more so among Igbos – Obi’s ethnic group.
My less than scientific survey of commentary among Igbos on Obi would suggest that the majority generally see the prospect of an Obi vice presidency as a positive development. In fact, the minority that have questioned Obi’s fitness for that position have sometimes been on the receiving end of vitriol from Obi’s supporters.
Some have tried to segregate Igbo views on Obi in terms of state of origin. Obi was governor of Anambra State for two terms from 2007 to 2014. Some of his more virulent supporters from his state have claimed that coming from Anambra gives them a first-hand view on Obi’s achievements and the out of state critics have no clue.
But Obi’s favourable image has come mostly from carefully-cultivated PR after his tenure in office. He spent a lot of time during that post-2014 period doing talks, some of which went viral on social media, appearing on national television and performing profile-boosting stunts such as attending a Democratic Party convention in the US, meeting US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and so on. Atiku seems to have been impressed and may have picked Obi as a result such recent image-laundering.
While Obi’s presentations have bamboozled the less-informed (and Atiku is in this category), they have shown him up as rather shallow and embarrassing – as Naijiant.com highlighted a few months ago:
The bad news for Obi and his many supporters is that now he is in the (s)election season spotlight, his record as governor will face more scrutiny than he can cover up with the empty bombast from his speaking tours.
In 2012 students of Anambra State University (ANSU) in Uli campus rioted because of the burden of tuition fee increases to 119,000 naira (about $326) and 129,000 ($354). The students burnt down several offices, including the vice chancellor’s. Governor Obi sent the state police’s anti-robbery squad to restore order in the campus. Just before increasing those fees Obi said: “Education in Anambra state is not meant for the poor”.
Perhaps because he didn’t have to seek re-election, a few months after the rioting, Obi almost doubled the fees to 230,000 naira ($631).
The former governor’s fans love to tell his critics that he was a wealthy man before he became governor. That may not be in dispute. But his eight years in office have made him even wealthier – judging by his ownership of two multimillion dollar Next shopping malls in Abuja and Port Harcourt. However, Obi is a man of humble beginnings. He was educated at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) from 1980 to 1984 – a time when students didn’t pay tuition fees and only paid about 90 naira (roughly $80-85) a year for their accommodation. Needless to say that the education at UNN in Obi’s time was of higher quality and standard than what they have on offer at Anambra State University. So Obi benefited from free education and was asking students in his state to pay more for less quality.
Obi’s two children went to secondary school and university in the UK. So they didn’t have to endure the rioting and poor facilities that he subjected the students in Anambra State University to. He became a governor and potential vice president with no small thanks to quality education at UNN, despite his humble origins. The opportunities that UNN opened up for him are now being denied to poor people in his state. It is classic “climb up the ladder and pull it up behind you” behaviour of the very selfish.
This explains his mentality that education in the state “is not meant for the poor”. With the children of the poor dropping out of education due to high fees, while those staying get a substandard education, the door to the top future leadership is therefore left open for the children of the rich, like Obi’s UK-educated kids, and slammed in the faces of the less privileged.
Obi is clearly not poor, but he suffers from a poverty of the imagination, which makes it very difficult for him to see how harmful tuition fees were for the people of his state, even if they didn’t affect rich folks like him that could afford to send their children abroad. Such a poverty of the imagination is behind the anti-poor policies that he implemented as governor and he continues to peddle today.