By Etim Etim
I have actually been looking forward to seeing Peter Obi in Uyo for a campaign. I have seen a couple of videos of his campaign events in other places, but I was eager to see him in real life address a crowd. The fact that his wife, Margaret, is from this state heightened the expectancy. Will the people take to her? Will the crowd be big and enthusiastic? At about 3 pm this afternoon (Tuesday, December 20), I drove into Unity Park along Udo Udoma Avenue, venue of the rally. The candidate had pulled in some 30 minutes earlier. The crowd was surprisingly big, despite the fact that people were not ‘mobilized’ and bussed in from the hinterland across the state, as is the practice. In other words, this was no hired crowd; they came on their own. ‘’These are authentic Obi supporters, and I can say that 98% of these people will vote for Peter Obi’’, said Isang Isatt, a PDP chieftain who is Obidient. ‘’They came on their own. They were not hired’’, he said.
When I arrived, a youth leader was rounding off his speech, and soon Prof Pat Utomi took the microphone. I understand Aisha Yusuf had spoken earlier. I had known Utomi since 1988 when, as a young business reporter in The Guardian, I had gone to Volkswagen to interview him. He was then in charge of corporate communications of the auto maker. In 2002, he took me in a communications course at LBS. Since then, he has turned a full-fledged politician. In 2015, he contested for governor of home Delta State under APC. His speech this afternoon was fiery, passionate and resounding. ‘’With Peter Obi, we shall take back our country’’, he chanted repeatedly, his face reddened and contorted as usual, voice shaking and the crowd jumping and responding, ‘’yea, yes…’’. Soon, a helicopter hovered over the field and landed away from the crowd. Someone standing near me speculated that it might have brought the PSquare twins. ‘’They had planned to come’’, he said. Exaggerations thrive in politics.
After Utomi, more speeches came from NLC leaders, the disabled community, party chieftains and the well-known comedian, Ime Bishop (Okon Lagos), who introduced Mrs Obi. She looked radiant and gorgeous and wowed the crowd when she broke into fluent Ibibio, and reminded us that the husband is ukot to Akwa Ibom (in-law). Our people adore and dot on sons-in-law. The idea of an Akwa Ibom daughter in Aso Rock as the First Lady actually sounded so good to the people. Since 1999, First Ladies have become quasi presidents, managing pet projects and spending billions. ‘’You will have easy access to the Villa’’, she chimed. The crowd cheered. She would be walking the path taken by other angels: Stella, Turai, Patience and Aisha.
We were now eagerly waiting for the candidate, and he did not disappoint. There were no signs that the crisis engulfing his chief strategist, Dr. Doyin Okukpe, had any impact on him. Yesterday, I had sent Obi a private message that Okukpe should be encouraged to step aside to avoid distractions. I am glad that was done. Obi’s campaign has set the bar very high.
Obi started his remarks by highlighting the key qualities that set him and his running mate apart from the other three main candidates: youthfulness and vitality; good education and unblemished records. The others would spend more time in hospitals than in office, he implied and the crowd applauded in acquiescence. Then Obi promised to complete Ibaka Deep Sea Port, ‘’forty years after it was first mooted. Even the children of Israel were freed after 40 years. I will build and complete Ibaka after these past 40 years’’. Some people laughed; others sighed. He continued: ‘’The chopper that landed a while ago came to pick me to Ibaka. I want to inspect the site’’. The crowd loved to hear that. Peter Obi loves symbolism and plays it up now and then. Afterall, he went to inspect electricity project in Egypt early this year just to learn how the Arab nation accomplished energy sufficiency! Ibaka has the deepest natural draft in the country and it’s the most naturally suitable location for a deep-sea port. Even the colonial government documented its quality as a port location. That it has not been developed all these years is one of Nigerian mysteries. Obi promised to end ASUU strike, fix education, fix agriculture and turn it into the new crude oil and end oil theft. It was fun listening to Obi swing effortlessly from English to pidgin English. He has learned fast on the stump.
Etim is a Journalist and Political Analyst