Anthony Obi OgboColumnsOpinionPoliticsPeter Obi’s “Holier Than Thou” Campaign Tactic is Self-Dramatizing Folly, Not A Strategy

Currently, he is merely romancing party cliques and showcasing his self-canonized sainthood.

All over his campaign literature and everywhere on social media, a Nigerian upcoming presidential aspirant, Peter Obi, has been touting his moderate lifestyle and honest decision-making aptitude as qualifications for his candidacy. Most Nigerians, especially his supporters, are very excited and are beginning to these values as a devotional creed.

The first promotional story to showcase Obi’s moderate lifestyle came in 2017, shortly after his tenure as the governor of Anambra state when he claimed that he had only one wristwatch, which he wore for 17 years. Obi, who was speaking at an event in Lagos, also claimed that he had two pairs of black shoes that he traveled with always. According to Obi, “The purpose of the shoe is to protect the leg from being hurt. Nothing else.” He further gestured, “The purpose of a watch is to keep time. Why would I keep a watch at home? Whose time is it keeping?”

Since then, Obi and his camp have been feeding the voting block with various “holier than thou” tales to distinguish him from his corrupt political colleagues and exonerate him from a system inundated with the highest levels of corruption. To promote the narrative of Obi’s humble and altruistic approach to economic matters, his camp tells of how he would choose a motel over a five-star hotel; how he would fly in economy over business class; and funnier still, how he would go for dinner at a filthy roadside bukateria instead of an expensive restaurant.

As I write, Obi’s camp is busy on social media telling and tagging more self-indulgent stories about his immaculate personality. Just recently, his enthusiasts floated the news on social media that his daughter got married without media ads, private jets, and money-spraying fanfares!

Major questions remain—what is his actual agenda for fixing a completely broken nation?

We must not forget that most Nigerians once embraced a presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, over similar gestures. His social media warriors fed disappointed masses with some worthless cock-and-bull tales about his moral civility and presented him as a fiscally astute conservative who would curb corruption and appropriately manage the country’s economic and financial resources.

Remember when the APC claimed President Buhari’s predecessor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, presented a billion-naira budget for delegates’ lunch, for which Buhari the “good money-manager” declined any expenses, saying that his transition team would bring their own lunch? Or how, during his trip to South Africa, Buhari paid the hotel bills for his staff and asked the rest of the entourage to pay their bills?

As humans, or perhaps as leaders, we should not regard an ethical lifestyle as an achievement worthy of reward or an Oscar, because ethical behavior ought to be expected. It is news only when individuals lack morality in their capacity to lead.

Please do not get me wrong. Leadership and behavior cannot be separated. Behavioral values, as related to one’s traits and comportment, can augment the basis for leadership effectiveness. In fact, at a fundamental level, there are five factors of transformational leadership, namely: idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration, which are all tied to leaders’ habits. In other words, it takes a moral leader to successfully lead a moral society.

However, in political governance, situational and contingency challenges play a major role in transformational success; both approaches focus on situations, and both concepts hold different expectations of leaders. In the situational approach, the leader should adapt to the prevailing situation, whereas the contingency concept requires the right leader to match the right situation.

Frankly, looking through decades of corruption in all sectors of Nigerian politics, there are no innocent elected politicians. At this moment in Nigeria’s political history, prospective candidates could focus on prevailing situational and contingency challenges rather than their moral propensities.

Getting there might require specific strategies and competencies completely different from his current self-aggrandizing, “saintly” approach.

Obi is a smart candidate—a compassionate conservative moderate who could adjust to any situational and contingency demands to deliver transformational excellence. He could lead Nigeria more effectively if given a chance. Those are his strengths. However, getting there might require specific strategies and competencies completely different from his current self-aggrandizing, “saintly” approach.

His weaknesses could pose an insurmountable obstacle. Initially, he projected himself as a tribal leader during and shortly after his governorship tenure, and that may come back to haunt him. For example, his handling of the deportation of Igbos around 2013 by the Lagos State government, led by Babatunde Fashola, backfired after he was said to have referred to Lagos as “no man’s land.” Without a doubt, the deportation of 72 allegedly destitute Igbos to Onitsha was a bad move.

Even as Governor Fashola acknowledged this and offered an unreserved apology for the confusion that preceded his actions, most politicians in the southwest took advantage of the situation to attack Obi’s relationship with this region. Femi Fani-Kayode, a former federal minister and politician, wrote: “The claim that the Igbo helped to develop Lagos is hogwash. The major institutions of the southwest were developed by the diligence, hard work, industry, and sweat of the Yoruba people. This is a historical fact.”

The All Progressives Congress (APC) also accused Obi of “threatening the unity of the country” by “playing politics with the deportation”. Others projected Obi as a hypocrite because, equally, he deported citizens to Akwa-Ibom and Ebonyi States in 2011 from his state, Anambra.

Another impediment that could weaken Obi’s candidacy may be connected with the revelation of his secret international business dealings through the Pandora Papers project. Obi became a familiar figure to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission after an investigation revealed that he had several secret business dealings and relationships including some he clandestinely set up and operated overseas, including notorious tax and secrecy havens that breached Nigerian law.

Obi’s electability might also depend on how Igbo politicians can mobilize their region in the ongoing registration exercise. Eligible Igbo voters are just not registering, and this could pose a damaging threat to any Igbo candidate. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), attributed the low turnout of eligible voters to insecurity and fear. It may also be attributed to the damaging effects of the Indigenous People of Biafra’s (IPOB) frequent acts of violence in enforcing the sit-at-home order.

To further threaten his chances of becoming president, the devastating demonstrations, violent threats, and demands of some pro-separatist ethnic Igbos, especially the IPOB, have provoked fears among the northern region, who are least likely to support any Igbo President en masse.

Looking across the electoral map, Obi would need more support from people in the northern and western regions, who have better voting numbers and are more politically involved than his Igbo kinsmen, who are currently saddled with both low registration and participation. Currently, the No-Biafra-No-Election mantra is still trending.

To persevere in his quest for the presidency, Obi must exhibit a good knowledge of the political environment encompassing both the regional stakeholders and all the geopolitical zones. The “holier than thou” campaign tactic is a self-aggrandizing exercise in idiocy, not a strategy. Currently, he is merely romancing party cliques and showcasing his self-canonized sainthood.

He could still turn things around by presenting his core cognitive, emotional, and interpersonal competencies as strategies to attract trust from non-Igbo party stakeholders and voters.

Yet, there are still issues: his challenges transcend the current amplification of his choice of shoes, watches, motels, or restaurants. Strategies must focus on addressing the aforementioned challenges. How will he mobilize his people to register? How does he intend to win the trust of regions currently skeptical about electing an Igbo president? How will he explain his past transgressions? How does his proclaimed moderate lifestyle dovetail with his several secret business dealings revealed through the Pandora Papers project? #

♦ Publisher of the Guardian News, Professor Anthony Obi Ogbo, Ph.D. is on the Editorial Board of the West African Pilot News. He is the author of the Influence of Leadership (2015)  and the Maxims of Political Leadership (2019). Contact:

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