By Isidore Emeka Uzoatu
Knowing neither how nor why, I woke up this morning on a kind of high. Largely influenced by the escalating cost of energy worldwide, it left me, a la once upon Jamaican reggae icon Dennis Brown, halfway up and halfway down. Then in a follow-up daydream, a diptych of the official portraits of Peter Obi and Barack Obama came hovering over me.
Rather surprisingly, the plastic smiles plastered on their lips only served to evoke thoughts of the Niger and Benue rivers in me. Uppermost in the recall was how, from their disparate sources, the rivers formed the notorious confluence at Lokoja. A spectacle I’ve had the privilege to behold from many a window seat of an overflying aircraft.
You must have heard of both men, I’m sure. Anyway, in case you haven’t, the former ruled the Anambra State of Nigeria in permutations between 2006 and 2014. The latter, against heaped odds, rose to become the 44th President of the USA 2009-2017. The first and – till date – the only African American to have achieved the apocalyptic feat.
Only then did it dawn on me that as disparate as they are on many fronts, there are so many similarities between them to be left fallow. Like the ‘two both of them’ – apologies to Chief Zebrudaya – being born in 1961. From records, while Obi was born on July 19, Obama arrived on August 4.
Also, despite their unique qualities, both men have been able to marry just a wife each. Obi married Margaret and Obama married Michelle to the tintinnabulation of wedding bells that tolled in 1992.
Rather coincidentally, too, they both have two children apiece. While Obama is blessed with two girls, Obi parents a girl and a boy. For men so high up in society by whatever ramification, one would have guessed that a larger family won’t hurt them much. But not these brothers of differing mothers.
So far, it remains indelible that Obama has attained the highest diadem in his land. On top of that he was also the proud recipient of the converted Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. Like one bloke said the other day at my neighbourhood watering hole, whatever else he may achieve on earth, will only amount to one thing – an addendum. And one that can only pale in comparison to those already in the bag.
Well, on his part, Obi is not resting on the oars. Perhaps, to narrow the yawning gap between their political attainments, Obi is currently running to be the first president of southeast extraction since Nigeria’s 1999 democratic dispensation. Interestingly, in the previous election in 2019, he had run and lost as a vice presidential candidate.
Hands already on the keyboard, it keeps dawning on me that there is more to them than meets the eyes. And for anybody who has passed through kindergarten, primary, secondary and tertiary education in Nigeria, the comparison and contrasting of subjects can never be novel. Let alone when it’s about a foreign president and a local wannabe.
To do a proper analysis, I must add that Obi and myself entered the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) in 1980 and graduated in 1984. Yes o, my certificate was also signed on a Saturday. Never mind the naysayers who mistake Obi’s humility for cowardice. O yes, it takes guts for a Great Lion to submit his O’Level Certificate – the minimum – to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Therefore, I stand high on the pedestal of those who can make personal references to Obi’s pragmatism. With hindsight, I can allude to the indignation with which he must have been viewing those of us who were full-time students then. As young as we were, he suffered no hangovers of a protracted adolescence. In fact, it appeared as though he had grown up in his mother’s tummy.
Yes, even back then, he had become fully enmeshed in the production against consumption campaign in a micro format. Unlike those in our train who still relied on our parents for even the pencils we used, Obi was already an employer of labour. He was even rumoured to be the major lender of money to some in our number from rich families whenever their purses ran dry midterm.
Of course, way back then he was already driving his own car! As in one bought by himself, for himself sans a third party. A feat a lot of us could not attain till donkey years of work upon graduation. And he has never held back. Arguably, he has made more private-sector money than all his co-contenders put together. A landmark only comparable to that achieved in the Second Republic by Vice-president Alex Ekwueme.
Though I’ve only encountered Obama in the media sphere, I’ve done so enough to arrive at notable conclusions about him. So, perhaps another striking difference between Obi and Obama remains that unlike Obi, Obama has single handedly penned a couple of books. The most noteworthy remains The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. Published in 2006, its audiobook also won the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album.
However, there is no doubt that, like many around the world, Obi must have gained some valuable insights from the book. It’s also clear that so many incidents in Obama’s life, as narrated in the book, have similarities with Obi’s own lifestyle.
Like both men being self-effacing to a fault, for instance. While Obi is often sighted at airports rolling his own travel bag, Obama as senator was still washing dishes in the house. He tells of a particular incident after his first major contribution in the US senate. The session was hardly over and he had rushed a call to his wife Michelle. Only for the love of his life to remind him that there was no soap in the house.
Likewise, the unending tales of Obi’s run-ins with his wife – and children – are legion. Like him refusing to buy them cars though he can afford it with the change in his breast pocket. So much so that many have, on the account, labelled him stingy. A deposition he disagrees with on account of the disposition being only an act of frugality. A virtue he has sworn to bring to bear on any government he will supervise.
Indeed, as governor in Anambra State, like he’d vouchsafe, he so reduced government extravagance that he was able to leave so much in the coffers at the end of his tenure. A feat even his fellow governors have lauded at public and private fora alike. One even alluded to Obi’s successor linking the landmark airport he put in place being possible because of money inherited from Obi.
All said and done, the comparison between Obi and Obama remains inconclusive for now. Surely, there’d be more indices to cite come February 2023. Never mind all the obstacles being placed on Obi’s path. There is ample proof that Obama surmounted many to become the first African-American president of the USA. A feat many have attributed to grace.
Obi, on his part, should be minded that he has hills to level to achieve his own mark. He should take them as they come. And like many polls have indicated, I think he can follow through. There’s no doubt that if Obama could in America, Obi, here in Nigeria, also can. What with him affording whatever it’ll take. And primary in that curious ensemble remains the audacity he has nurtured to run at all. And, last but not least, being grace which he irradiates aplenty.
- Uzoatu writes from Onitsha, Anambra State