Friday, 22 May 2020

HIS EXCELLENCY PETER OBI SINCE COVID-19

Tai Emeka Obasi
I call him a man, who came far ahead of his generation. Many didn't appreciate why I used that coinage to describe him about six years ago. But I wasn't using that very extreme description because I wanted to be noticed.

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I was privileged to be at the NIIA auditorium in Victoria Island, Lagos sometime in 2011 to witness him make a public speech, and that was the first time I watched him speak to an audience as governor. He dwelt on prudence and cutting costs of governance. The audience in the capacity-filled space were standing in ovation long after he concluded. That was the first day I met Valentine Obienyem. I was in company of my great friend, Kasvid. I approached Val and after introduction, I begged for either hard or soft copy of the governor's speech.

Val laughed and told me His Excellency spoke extempore. I didn't believe him but I later did, much later. But having exchanged numbers with Val, I kept in touch. And through him, Kasvid and I got to know that the former governor usually made such speeches whenever commissioning any project.

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It sounds weird really but Kasvid and I made sure we were always going home from Lagos any time the former governor was commissioning a project and he really commissioned many, particularly road projects. As much as the projects were important, I personally was after what the man was saying. It was based on those speeches at commission sites that people started calling and echoing Okwuteee which later became his titled name.

By following him all over Anambra, hearing him talk, I realised he was far ahead of our present time in areas of planning, execution, projections - all centred on love for humanity. And for the first time in my life, I regretted that we have a constitution which limits an executive to only two terms in office.

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For all those years until he handed over, I kept following, enjoying it and reporting it. I didn't have a country to be proud of but Okwute had given me a state to die for. My profession was suffering dangerously but a writer follows his mind, not his heart. Money is important to him but never to be taken as everything. What this great man was giving to my state was unbelievable. And I found out I was not alone. To my greatest joy, Okwute had brought back our values as a people. Teachers became valued again in our society. Education became interesting and supreme. Civil servants truly went to work and were dutifully productive for the state.

I knew what was in this man and followed him with everything in me. The fact he never knew I existed didn't bother me. All I was interested in was his performance, not his face. Trust Nigerians, many reading me started saying I was obsessed. My Nollywood clients and colleagues wondered what this man was giving me that I was no longer writing movie scripts as prolific as I was doing. But they wouldn't understand a writer's mind, so I left them with their imaginations.

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I was ready to equally follow his successor and report likewise but it was a huge somersault. What I may refer to as total contrast from the off. And worse, a clear machinery was set in motion to rubbish this man who many call the father of Anambra. You guessed accurately where my loyalty was and I didn't think twice. Those with my mindset became instant enemies of the new government. Some of us switched sides. Every man to his call. And a full blown war came on.

It was from that moment Okwute went to the Platform that a lot of people who didn't know this man I had been preaching about started believing. And from that performance, he started going from podium to podium, preaching good governance and service to humanity. But as much as he garnered followers, haters were growing on trees. When he calls for prudence, those being reckless with public funds will believe he is talking to them. When he calls that we cut costs of governance at all levels, those squandering taxpayers' money take offense. When he emphasised that any executive owing workers salaries does not deserve to be called His Excellency, those caught in the act call him a hypocrite. When he gives example with his stewardship as governor to show what he is preaching is no rocket science, the guilty jump out to call him a chameleon. When he called for dear country to develop a saving culture they called him stingy.

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From following this great man, I've learned plenty about human nature. I've seen how far politicians can go to lie against one just because he wants a better society and a country to be proud of.

When COVID-19 arrived, most people in his shoes would have just gone into his house and allowed us to stew in our own juice. He warned every level of government to save for the rainy day but they all ignored him. The one he saved before handing over were inexplicably squandered. So why shouldn't he just go inside and rest in this sit-at-home season?

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Well, I know him. What makes him happy more than anything else is to see that the society is living well. The pandemic came with all manners of discomfort and hardship. And Okwute can't sleep. He will even be pacing around in huge worry while many sleep because of the doom ahead. He had sent palliatives all over the place in a most effective style. But it is not the present that ever worries him. It is our tomorrow because he knows perfectly that our today is the result of our actions, or lack of it, of yesterday. And our today is in shambles. The prospect of tomorrow will fill anyone interested with trepidation.

In his last celebrated interview on AIT, he said that it is in moments of crisis that nations sit down to effectively rebuild. Characteristically, he projected the ways forward.They didn't listen to the prophet before. Will they listen to him now? On Monday, we take a deeper look at the concluding part of that interview. Keep following.

And please keep staying safe.

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