INTERVIEW: The Peter Obi I know


Hon. Victor Afam Ogene, a journalist, represented Ogbaru Federal Constituency of Anambra State in the House of Representatives and was a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) before he recently defected to the Labour Party ( LP). In this interaction with THERAZORNEWS TEAM, Ogene speaks on why he defected, as well as shared insights on what he knows about the presidential candidate of the party, Peter Obi.

You were elected on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA to represent Ogbaru federal constituency in the House of Representatives. You later defected to APC and now, you are a member of Labour Party. Why did you dump APC?

When the President, Muhammadu Buhari, after his election in 2015 spoke about 95 percent and five percent, we thought then that he was merely expressing his frustrations with the seeming lack of support of the people of the Southeast for the APC. But as time went on, instead of a positive change of this mindset, it rather grew into something akin to an unofficial State policy, to alienate the people of the Southeast from the power calculus. How, for instance, would anyone explain a situation where one of the major tripods on which this country stood will in present day 2022, not have a single member in the almost 17-member security council of the country? How would you explain the various appointments that have been made under this government to the exclusion of the Southeast? Perhaps, for some people, that would be mere tokenism. But the last straw, perhaps, is that as a country, we have a power rotation convention – even written into the constitution of some political parties – which was brazenly torpedoed in both the APC and the PDP.
Now, power has resided in the North for close to eight years and it is, understandably, the turn of the South. But when you come to the South, the South west has held power under this Fourth Republic for eight years through General Olusegun Obasanjo. The same Southwest too is currently occupying the vice presidential seat. The South south has held power as president through Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for five years plus. So, natural justice and fairness should dictate that if power is to return to the South, it should go to the Southeast.
But those who called the shots thought otherwise and once again, excluded the Southeast from the power equation. I was so peeved by the decision to the extent that before the coming of Peter Obi into Labour Party, I authored an article sometimes in May, 2022, where I counselled that it was time for my leaders in the Southeast to get together and fashion a different political pathway for the region. And having said that, at that point, everybody who knows me knew that my mind, body and soul were no longer with the All Progressives Congress.

But how viable is Labour Party as a platform? Because the people are saying the party lacks structures, and cannot win election at the national level?

When you talk about viability, every political party starts as a collection of a few persons and from there, it begins to grow, wins more and more converts and then, spread across the country. The Labour Party is not a new platform. It has what people refer to as structures. In fact, for a political party to get registered in Nigeria, you need to have physical offices across the country. So, in terms of physical structures, those are already on ground.
But beyond that, what people may be alluding to is the fact that it has not won national elections before. But so does APC too – APC got into power only in 2015. Labour Party has held sway in Ondo State before, in addition to having people elected on its platform into the National Assembly. So, when people say it’s not viable, I wonder on what premises they are making that sort of judgement. Indeed, if the mass of Nigerian youths who undertake to march through major cities across the country; frustrated parents and their children and wards who have been kept off university campuses for seven months and counting; and hapless Nigerians who have been savaged by mounting insecurity and parlous economic indices, do not constitute voting structures for the Labour Party, then, perhaps, we need to redefine what ‘structure’ means in political parlance.

The driving force in Labour Party is the presidential candidate, Peter Obi. Why do you think he is gathering so much momentum?

As you know, revolutions of any kind begin in curious ways. Take for instance, the Cuban revolution – though that was an armed revolt, which lasted for about six years between 1953 and 1959, no one thought the promoters of that clamour for regime change could hold off for even one year. We also saw the Arab Spring which began on December 17, 2010, I think, where a grocery seller set himself ablaze in protest against corruption and economic stagnation in Tunisia. In that instance, it took only 10 days for the then President Ben Ali’s 23-year-old reign to come to an abrupt end. He fled the country and his regime collapsed.
Fast forward to 2022 Nigeria and the emergence of the Peter Obi candidature. While we are not talking about a civil revolt or an armed insurrection…one that will lead to violent overthrow of government, we are, nonetheless, confronted by a burgeoning movement for people’s emancipation. And you can see that the people are owning the process. Peter Obi does not just represent the presidential candidacy of the Labour Party, he has, rather, become the symbol of frustrations of the Nigerian youths; of the Nigerian people against a system that has refused to reform itself. Everybody who feel oppressed, who is not part of the current rent system which our political leaders are adept at; everybody who is frustrated with the system is joining the movement at grave personal discomfort to ensure that the people take back their country. His charge is for the Youths to take back their country. Now, it is not as if the people who are ruling are aliens.
No, but they have treated the larger society as articles for trade. How would you explain a situation that in an election year, students are not in school for seven months plus and the transactional leaders at the helm are relaxed? There are fuel queues everywhere, with petrol, kerosene and diesel prices rising to dizzy heights never before seen in this land. Yet, time and time again, they tell us that subsidy has been removed but proceed to approximate obscene sums of money in subsidy payments? And this same President told us before his election, that the subsidy regime was a scam and that there was nothing like subsidy. Is he now part of the scam? This same government told us that they would crush insecurity – on which basis a whole lot of Nigerians, including myself – supported his coming. But we have not only seen Boko Haram, we have seen banditry, kidnapping, all sorts of insecurity, elevated to high pedestals. As it is, Nigeria is currently on red alert.
You can neither travel conveniently by air because of the huge costs, nor even travel by road because of the danger of being kidnapped. Even trekking is now a problem in Nigeria because you don’t know who is coming behind. So, on land, on air and on sea, Nigerians are not safe. Insecurity stalks the land. The people are frustrated and if we are sincere to ourselves, a lot of Nigerians will tell you that both the PDP and the APC are same of the same. There is nothing that has changed. People move from PDP to APC and vice versa, depending on how their personal political fortunes are affected. So, you should not be surprised that the Peter Obi candidacy has turned into a movement. The condition precedent to that are clearly set out by the PDP when it was in power and amplified by APC currently in office.

But Obi was also a member of PDP before he decamped to Labour Party.

In the two examples of the revolutions that I gave you – in the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro was a Cuban, he remained a Cuban, but when he got fed up with the system, he ignited a revolution. In the Arab Spring, the people who took part were also part of the individual countries – they are either at the receiving end or also participated. Somebody had said that what it takes for evil to thrive is for good men to remain aloof and do nothing. So, if they have been there in say, Tunisia for instance, and somebody has ruled for 23 years and there’s not a whimper of protest, then the citizenry are also accessories to the fact that that person held the country by the jugular.
So, Peter Obi being a member of PDP and then comes to the realization that the PDP is perhaps going astray needs to react in one way, or another. As someone who desires a change, what you should do is to look for another platform to try to bring about that change. I don’t see anything wrong with that. It would have been worse for him to remain and become part and parcel of the continuing injustice that was festering in the PDP.

What about the fears that though Peter Obi may not win, but might help the APC to remain in power by taking away votes from the areas considered to be the strongholds of the main opposition PDP?

I laugh at that because Atiku Abubakar of PDP is of Northern extraction. Are we saying he is not going to get votes there? Are we saying that Kwankwaso of NNPP is not going to get votes in the North? Are we saying that even in the Southwest, it is going to be a clean sweep for Asiwaju Bola Tinubu of APC? Even, if it is a clean sweep for Asiwaju Tinubu in the Southwest, his votes will also be reduced in the North by the likes of Kwankwaso and Atiku. So, it is a fair game. Let’s everybody go and contest. And I think the people who are worried, saying that the Labour Party does not have structures are now talking of ‘reducing votes.’
Are we saying that parents whose children are at home do not reside in the North and in the West and will go ahead to campaign and vote for people who have kept their children at home? Are we saying that workers, who ideally should belong to Labour Party will not vote for their party for a better deal? So, nobody is taking away anybody’s votes. They are all in the field canvassing votes. Campaigns have not started. By the time campaigns start, they better go and sell their manifestos and let’s see what the APC and the PDP will put forward to the Nigerian people.

There is this complaint that supporters of Peter Obi are too aggressive in trying to sell their candidate, especially on the social media

Well, a simple content analysis of the flow of discussion on social media will show you that supporters of Labour Party are not the aggressors. They rather react to aggression inspired, especially, by the APC. When you say somebody, instead of being ‘Obi-dient,’ is now ‘Obituary,’ who will take that? And when they come out to react, you term them as being violent. But the man who initiated the vile language, calling a whole group of people as ‘Obituary’ probably wishing them dead, what has been done to him? It is only a tree that you would tell that you are going to cut it and it will remain rooted, according to a popular proverb in my side of the country. Any human being that you threaten would at least make a move, if for nothing, in self defence. You cannot describe young, energetic focused people as zombies because they believe in a certain cause and you think they would not answer back. Check all through the social media and see whether any supporter of Peter Obi has initiated vile language on any of the other candidates.
It has always been the other way round. And when they defend themselves, people complain. Who, for instance, threatened that no Labour Party march will hold in Kaduna? Who, also, gave orders that Labour Party billboards must not be erected anywhere in Lagos state? Which aspiring First Lady is threatening to evict persons from a given ethnic group, the Igbos, from Lagos? My brothers, we all know who the adversaries are. Let’s face it; a lot of these parties have been known to engineer this kind of rhetoric and hateful discourse. We also see the hands of fifth columnists in some of these things. And I am in the media and should know.
And why would Peter Obi be held responsible for the personal response of a supporter? How are you even sure that that person is even a supporter? Did he display his membership card? We know that these are some of the gimmicks that they are using. But we are happy that the youths are focused, they know what they want, and the candidacy of Peter Obi excites them – you could see it on display during the voters’ registration exercise, such that even if it is still extended to this day, you will see more youths still coming out to be registered because they want to have a say in how their country is governed, henceforth.

You were a member of the House of Representatives under APGA when Peter Obi was governor and you know him. How would you describe him and do you think he can deliver on his promise of transforming the country if he is elected president in 2023?

My father used to tell me that if a man promises you a shirt, you should first look at the one he is putting on. If the one he is putting on is torn all over, then, you should wonder what kind of shirt he is going to give to give you. I have had the privilege and good fortune of associating with Mr Peter Obi as the governor of Anambra State. And you know what Anambra was before Mr Peter Obi came onto the scene. Anambra elections were almost like the rumble in the jungle. People were afraid to get into the political scene. But Peter Obi came and brought civility, letting the people know that their money can work for them. Yes, his predecessor, Chris Ngige tried in making some strides because of course, he fell out with his then godfather, so instead of servicing them there was money for him to undertake a few good works, especially in road construction.
But Peter Obi came and put in place an Anambra Integrated Development Strategy which was christened ANIDS, whereupon he worked simultaneously on all sectors, using the then MDGs goals as springboard. So, under Obi, for eight years, you could see calm and order in Anambra, you could see progress, infrastructural development, care for the elderly, good roads – name it. Anambra became a model for good governance, such that ThisDay Publications named him “Governor of the Decade.”
Every journalist that has come in contact with him know that the slogan of Labour Party, ‘we no dey give shishi’ didn’t begin today. Peter Obi was not frivolous with government’s resources. He had been a wealthy billionaire by all standards before he became governor. Yes, he could do things for you on the sides. But in terms of bending the rules in government, Obi didn’t do that. He encouraged excellence. Every school in Anambra got at least a bus and laptop for each student. He encouraged local production. He was the one who really kick-started Innoson Motors by getting it to produce vehicles for government functionaries, traditional rulers, schools, community vigilante, etc. But after Peter, we all know where Anambra stood. Anambra was always in the news for the wrong reasons, except of course, with the coming of Prof. Charles Soludo who is trying his best to restore order.
So, Obi was not the kind of leader who was frivolous. I do not remember going for any night party or any party at all in the Governor’s Lodge all the time he was governor. For him, it was all about public service, empathy to the elderly and the young. Every secondary school head-boy or girl had Peter Obi’s number and could reach him. That’s what we’re talking about – accessibility. So, if the teachers were even doing something wrong, the head-boy or head-girl could get across to the number one citizen of the state. And this is what we want to replicate at the federal level, using Mr. Peter Obi as president of Nigeria come May, 2023.

You are also trying to return to the House of Representatives to represent Ogbaru Federal Constituency of Anambra State on the platform of Labour Party. How confident are you that you will win the election?

Up until a few months back, I was of the APC and when a movement starts, like the Peter Obi movement, some like-minds started talking to me. I didn’t just jump into the fray. You also needed those human structures that people are talking about in the social media. Unknown to them, Peter has some of those structures- of people who have gone through election in Labour Party today. So, in the search for structures – because Peter Obi cannot just be President and not have members in the House of Representatives or the Senate or even state assemblies – so, in the build up to that movement, a lot of us were naturally attracted by one, the Peter Obi personae and two, the desire to make a change. And Ogbaru cannot be left out of the equation.
So my leaders in Ogbaru started to talk to me to come and join the movement. And for me who have been out of power for eight years, given the huge resources involved in electioneering in Nigeria, I initially said there was no way I was going to do it. But they said No, this is not about money. Those were parts of the discussion that led to ‘we no dey give shishi’. They now started telling us, don’t give anybody shishi. ‘Come, we the voters, the people, will be your backbone. It will only require our voter cards.’ And that’s why on their part, they made an effort to either transfer their voters card or register anew for fresh voters, or just get their existing cards ready for voting come February, 2023. So, my desire to represent my people is in response to a clarion call to join the growing Peter Obi movement. So, in the final analysis I’m fully Obi-dient and I am positive that the people of Ogbaru are already Obidient and the numbers are growing by the day.

What about Nigerians in general, are you confident that they will be Obi-dient by 2023?

Yes, if we desire a positive change – to move our country from consumption to productive economy, then a greater number of Nigerians, in terms of voters, should be Obi-dient in 2023.

By Ifeizu Joe

Ifeizu is a seasoned journalist and Managing Editor of TheRazor. He has wide knowledge of Anambra State and has reported the state objectively for over a decade.

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