Peter Obi and the popular imagination

Peter Obi and the popular imagination
Tam-George

Austin Tam-George, a former Commissioner in Rivers State, interrogates why Gov Peter Obi has seized the popular imagination.

By Dr Austin Tam-George

I served as Commissioner for Information in a PDP government in Rivers State a few years ago. But I was not a member of the party. In fact, I have never been a member of any political party in Nigeria.

Do not blame me for this.

For anyone watching from outside, politics in Nigeria may seem like a peep into a dimly-lit psychiatric ward, where the inmates cannibalize one another in a deadly struggle for the Warden’s key.

But in this election season that has brought all kinds of people to the market square, Mr Peter Obi, a former governor of Anambra State, appears to have seized the popular imagination.

In an era of vulgar political exhibitionism, Mr Obi projects himself as a frugal, disciplined and thoughtful contender for the high office he seeks.

When he talks about public policy, Peter Obi speaks with an infectious earnestness of purpose that is not only rare in Nigerian politics, but in African political and developmental conversations.

You could tell where he stands on the important issues, because on a sector by sector basis, Mr Obi speaks about his ideas in clear, programmatic and actionable terms.

Secondly, by most accounts, Peter Obi left a decent record of service in Anambra State during his time as governor.

I have overheard sensible people complain about Peter Obi’s soft and ” feminine” voice, and they tend to mock the ‘simplicity ‘ of his clothing.

This is laughable because, like most Nigerians, I doubt that the acute security and economic problems that have beset the country would suddenly disappear because of the seductive baritone of the next President.

In fact, from a communication standpoint, the tone of Peter’s voice and the consistent modesty of his physical appearance actually reinforce his authenticity.

Politics may be about a contest for power, but for Peter Obi, it is also about the ability to mobilize the power of semiosis to convey a consistent message – a message of simplicity, native intelligence and connection with everyday people.

This is why despite attending Colombia, Oxford, Harvard and other Ivy league universities around the world, Mr Obi continues to speak and present himself as Peter Obi, from Anambra State, not Abraham Lincoln lite.

Despite being a billionaire entrepreneur, Peter Obi caries himself with quiet, unobtrusive dignity.

For decades, Mr Obi has conducted his philanthropy in education with the resilience of a lonely soldier ant. He has spent billions of his own money, building schools and sending abandoned children across the country back to school.

In the coming weeks, Mr Obi’s political destiny will be decided in the party primaries, by politicians with acute allergy for good governance, in the Peoples Democratic Party. (PDP).

Is Nigeria ready for Peter Obi?

Dr Austin Tam-George is a former Commissioner for Information, Rivers State.