By Tai Emeka Obasi (reporting from Princeton University, in New Jersey).
The 2023 presidential candidate of the Labour Party of Nigeria, Peter Obi, believes that comparatively, there was really no trouble with Nigeria four decades ago when the iroko of literature, Prof. Chinua Achebe wrote the book, The Trouble With Nigeria.
Addressing the audience inside the Arthur Hell’s Auditorium as keynote speaker, the former governor of Anambra State, characteristically, drew factual comparisons to drive home the fact that though Achebe was spot on in identifying Nigeria’s troubles as leadership-induced, the globally celebrated writer of ‘Things Fall Apart’, would weep bitterly today if he came back to observe how far Nigeria had deteriorated after 40 years of his warning for positive change.
The occasion was The Chinua Achebe International Symposium and 10th Anniversary Memorial Celebration organised by The Chinua Achebe Foundation and African World Initiative anchored by the very able Professor Chika Okeke-Agulu, Director Program in African Studies, Princeton University, New Jersey.
Obi described Achebe, who incidentally taught him English Language in his first year at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, as a man whose works defined him as one imbued with communal awareness to put in great efforts to better the society. Mentioning Achebe’s protagonists in his books, from Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart, through those of Arrow of God, Man Of The People and so on, the man admirably referred to as PO by his millions of followers, impressively summarised the characters as sacrificing whatever it took, including their lives, to better the lots of their people.
This much he generously exemplified in the case of Okonkwo, who would not cave in to the trampling on his cultural heads, but rather got deeply infuriated when the strings that held them together were cut in places, thereby letting in ‘mere anarchy’ upon the world, meaning beyond Umuofia. Take this home, a little scoop of palm oil and all five fingers of a hand are sure to get smeared. Obi drove home his point in categorising Achebe as a man for the well-being of the people and the society.
The presidential candidate of Labour Party re-echoed Achebe’s stance that _the problem of Nigeria is simply a failure of leadership. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership_ … Obi re-emphasised his unchanging belief that Nigeria’s problem is the cumulative effect of leadership failure over the years.
Statistically, the man who prefers to introduce himself as a trader, recalled that 40 years ago, university professors in Nigeria earned a monthly salary of N1,200 when the Naira exchanged at about $1.6. So, that was about $2,000 . And that then brand new popular Corolla vehicles and Peugeot cars sold at between N4000 and N5000. “It meant that any university professor could decide to save his three months’ salary to purchase a brand new of those brands of cars. Today, such brands cost as much as N38 million …and same professors earn N400,000 per month. It will take same professor eight years of saving every dime earned to be able to purchase same brand of vehicle.
“Forty years ago a million Naira was valued at $1.6 million. Today same amount is valued at just $1000. Even though our great father, Achebe would weep at the realities today, he was very right about leadership being the issue. Our country has been bedevilled by corruption. Stealing public money has basically left us at where we are today.
“People say that fighting corruption is not easy but it is very easy. If you are in charge and you are not stealing, your wife is not stealing, your children are not stealing, those working with you will not have any reason to steal and you must have reduced corruption by over 50 per cent.”
He lecturered, like pointed out by the author in the book in reference, that all it takes for positive change is to have leaders that have the competence, the will and the consistency to drive programmes that will turnaround the country from consumption to production. He was unshakable in the belief that with vast area of land, Nigeria should be able to produce enough agricultural products for internal sufficiency as well as massive exports if countries with smaller areas of land could be earning hugely from agriculture. He referenced Israel, India, Bangladesh with statistical comparisons in characteristic fashion.
Obi recalled how as governor, he met a state that was ranked 27th out of the 36 states of Nigeria in Education but that with conceited efforts through handing schools over to missions and pumping funds into the sector to ensure every conducive atmosphere of learning, his state moved from that position to first and stayed there until he left office.
He also recalled how his administration cleared over N35 billion backlog of pensions and gratuities he inherited and never owed salaries, pensions, gratuities, contractors and still left behind over N75 billion before vacating office. PO was clearly emphasising that with leaders of proven integrity, capacity and competence that Nigeria would come out of her trouble, the trouble the great man identified four decades earlier before departing three decades later.
PO regretted that Achebe left with lamentation of a failed nation clearly expressed in his last book, *There Was A Country.* “So painful but I assure you that There Will Be A Country. A country where leaders will be who they claim to be. A country where leaders will be of known identies, known parentage, where schools they claimed to have attended and certificatesobtained would be accurately verified,” he concluded with the auditorium erupting in prolonged cheers.
While PO dwelled on The Trouble With Nigeria, other notable speakers in the globally screamed event before him included HRM Igwe Onyido of Ogidi; Richard Joseph, Emeritus John Evans Professor of International History and Politics., Northwestern University; Toyin Falola and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities, University of Texas at Austin; Sonia Sanchez, Poet, Writer, and Professor; Chika Unigwe, Professor of Creative Writing at Georgia University; Obiora Udechukwu, Emeritus Dana Professor of Fine Arts, St. Lawrence University; HE Abena, P.A. Busia, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ghana to Brazil, Professor Emerita, Ruthers University; Simon Gikandi, Class of 1943 University Professor of English, and Chair of the Department of English, Princeton University; Anthonia Kalu, Professor of Cooperative Literature, African Studies, University of California-Riverside; His Honour, Oseloka Obaze, former Secretary to the Anambra State Government.
Obi left immediately he came down from the podium for the JFK International Airport. Hours later he was flying over the Atlantic for other engagements outside the United States.