| By Paul Okolo |
APART from the President’s address to Nigerians every Independence Day, I always look forward to the Platform, an annual public forum organized by Poju Oyemade, Pastor of Covenant Christian Centre in Lagos. It provides a stage for pacesetting Nigerians to give us their perspective on the way forward for the country. This year’s speakers included Sam Adeyem of Daystar Christian Centre, Lagos; Osaghae Eghosa of Igbenedion University, Okada; former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olisa Agbakoba; entrepreneur and film producer, Bolanle Austen-Peters; and a former governor of Anambra state, Peter Obi.
As usual, the speakers didn’t disappoint. Each gave us hope that our country will yet overcome our challenges and break free from poverty, diseases, and other tendencies that have fixed us to one spot for decades. But it was Governor Peter Obi who stood out.
I’m sure not many people were prepared for what they heard. Perhaps only those who stand to benefit are enamored by our state governors. With a few exceptions, they live in unbelievable opulence like imperial majesties while the people look on helplessly. They use state funds as if it’s their inheritance yet refuse to pay pensioners, civil servants and teachers. Governors who were paupers yesterday are flying around in private jets today. And when they fly commercial like the rest of us, only first class is befitting their Excellencies. Against this backdrop, Obi told us how he behaved differently.
Governor Obi said he resisted the pressure to buy two bullet-proof jeeps for himself. So he rode in conventional cars like us normal folks and nobody tried to shoot him to death. Instead, he used the savings made to purchase Peugeot cars for Anambra’s senior civil servants and judges. Obi said he refused to build a Presidential Lodge costing hundreds of millions of naira because the President was to visit the state. His solution was to vacate his official residence for the very important visitor. He also borrowed a bullet-proof automobile for the President’s use from a neighboring state. On another occasion, when asked to order his bed from a top company in Lagos, he opted for a local furniture maker in Awka, the state capital, paying a fraction of what the Lagos firm would have pocketed.
He also revealed how he stopped the wasteful practice of killing a cow everyday in his official residence. His argument was that since was not running a restaurant, the cook only needed to prepare meals for him alone. He descended on yet another cash cow for hangers on — travels. According to Obi, he cut down the number of people who accompanied him to Abuja when on official trips there since they really had no job to do while in Abuja. He even sought and got the Inspector General of Police to give him police protection while in Abuja rather than the costly practice of bringing them in from Awka. The savings made enabled him to execute vital projects, including a network of roads. Not only that, he was able to save for the state over $200 million and billions of naira in three local banks.
Contrary to popular thinking, Nigerian state governments can still operate with the reduced funding available to them even in this season of leanness, Obi argued. With facts and figures, he showed areas where savings can be made and it does not look like rocket science at all. Anybody with a human heart can easily work this out. Scrapping the office of First Lady will save two billion naira, he said. If you think that’s chicken change, find out how much most states spend on drugs in their hospitals every month.
Obi insisted savings could still be made by scrapping long convoys of cars that governors use to terrorize poor citizens and by getting rid of official residences they all maintain in Abuja. “No governor needs a house in Abuja; governors don’t live in Abuja,” he declared.
He made these declarations with such brashness that professional antagonists and dubious politicians must be at a loss as to how to rubbish his claims. I bet some governors are now sitting on the edge of their executive chairs today.
Public reaction, as you can imagine, has been swift and mostly positive. Obi’s message was the best ever made by a living Nigerian politician, one man tweeted. Some screamed he should be president in 2019; others said vice president.
If Obi’s revelations are true, and I’m yet to hear any disclaimer, we all should be praising him to no end. And to his colleagues past and present who continue with mindless spending, Nigerians need to start naming and shaming them. Let’s not stop there. Most importantly, we all need to heed Obi’s advice to get involved in politics. We’re doomed if we don’t.
— Oct 17, 2016 @ 01:00 GMT