Posted by Valentine Obienyem | 21 December 2014 | 6,905 times
The concept of granting dignities and honouring people who have distinguished themselves in their chosen fields has always been part of man in all epochs and cultures. Its inception might remain unknown to anyone. It probably belongs to the mysteries of origin about which all might guess and propound theories, but none might ever know conclusively.
In the years gone by, there were a lot of values that were applauded in Igbo land and beyond. Then, excellence was the norm; Igbos cherished and applauded it. Titles and dignities were conferred on, and granted to people based on merit and nothing else. As far back as a pry into Igbo history can reveal, it was not in vain that Igbos conferred names and titles such as Diji, Diochi, Dike, Dimgba, di this or di that on people. The bearers of such titles were experts in cultivation of yam, palm wine-tapping, wrestling, or would have performed some heroic acts in other endeavours. These people achieved excellence in their fields and were consequently honoured.
Today, title-taking, granting of honours and awards have been bastardised. Among many cultures today, it has been reduced to commodity that can be bought by the rich. Look around you and all you see is Ukwachinaka, Onwa this, Onwa that; Kpakpando this, Kpakpando that; Akuirighiri this and that. Other tribes have their own variants. These titles, like the Onuku in the masquerade genre, as masterfully interpreted by Dr. Okey Ikechukwu, actually represent degeneration as Ijeles are in short supply. Most often this new crop of title holders are men without noble pedigree. In the past, Igbos preferred a man without money; today they amazingly show preference for the money without the man. This ignoble passion mocks the wisdom in what obtained long in the history of man: many years before the birth of Christ, two suitors who wanted to marry the daughter of Peisistratus were presented to him to choose his preference; he said he would choose the “the man without money”, rather than “money without the man”. Today, many people will choose one Akuirighiri and Ukwachinaka for awards because of the lures of some wads.
The bastadisation of awards informed the refusal of same by Mr. Peter Obi when he was the Governor of Anambra State. He was frank about that: “I refused awards as the Governor because of my belief that the appropriate time for awards is when one has completed one’s tenure(s) and is thereafter adjudged as deserving of such awards and honours.”
Since March 17, 2014, the awards have been coming in torrents and from organisations that do not play to the gallery. All of them are full of kind words for him for approaching governance from the point of view of service to the people and the community. If not being honoured for his unassailable efforts towards the renaissance of library culture by the Association of Librarians of Nigeria, or honoured by the Society for Corporate Governance for his innovation in governance, the association of all the Bishops in Nigeria would be honouring him for his giant strides in the rehabilitation of education in Anambra State as nobody has done in recent time. Today, Anambra State comes first in WAEC and NECO, as well as other external examinations. We owe these epochal achievements to Mr. Peter Obi
It is only those who lived in Anambra during the period of chaos who will understand and appreciate the various reasons everybody is desirous of honouring Mr. Peter Obi. In those days, Anambra carried on as if she was controlled by Bedlam. The Catholic Bishop of Nnewi, Most Rev. Dr. Hilary Okeke, who is in a position to judge those days has this to say: “Indeed, before Mr. Peter Obi became the Governor, Anambra State looked like a state abandoned by God. Many people in Anambra State really believed that Anambra State was abandoned. Political turmoil and turbulence generated by godfatherism halted development in the state. The little money that would come to Anambra State was used to settle the godfathers. An attempt to shake off the tentacles of the godfathers resulted in wanton and reckless destruction of government houses and property. Schools at all levels suffered abysmal neglect; public hospitals suffered the same neglect; life was listless as people in Anambra State were bereft of sense of direction and responsibility. One could liken the state of affairs in Anambra State to the situation in Israel at the time of the Judges, “In those days there was no king in Israel, and everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25). Lawlessness was the order of the day; gross indiscipline, general insecurity and lack of respect for human dignity and life, lack of development in most public sectors and loss of confidence in government.”
Indeed, Obi became Governor when Anambra was faced by all manner of problems. His coming into power was equally turbulent. However, in his characteristic doggedness, each challenge he conquered brought out his essence to the people. He was the first person to unseat a sitting Governor through the courts; he was the first to come back from impeachment and to go for tenure interpretation.
Obi’s sterling governance in Anambra State has made him not only the darling of the State, but a darling among Nigerians. In appreciating Obi, Bishop Okeke again has this to say: “We commend Mr. Peter Obi for his perceived determination to serve the people of Anambra State through his development strategy of Anambra Integrated Development Strategy (ANIDS); for his courageous return to their legitimate Church proprietors (Anglican and Catholic) of schools forcibly seized by the Government of East Central State under Chief Ukpabi Asika, that destroyed education in our area; his determination to revamp education and health care by partnering with the churches to reconstruct dilapidated schools, providing buses, computers, generators, laboratory equipment, funds for sports and other needs of the schools system to both public schools and mission schools; his investment in healthcare delivery by uplifting hospitals, maternities and health centres, and schools of nursing, midwifery and medical laboratory to provide suitable personnel in our health institutions. Anambra State enjoys one of the best networks of roads. Retired persons, the poor and marginalised of Anambra State are receiving government attention. Every aspect of life in Anambra State has benefited from the administration of Mr. Peter Obi, CON! Indeed, Anambra State under his administration is no longer an abandoned State!”
Because of what Obi is to humanity, his salient contributions to the Church, innovation in governance and his community at large, his Bishop, Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, recommended that he be honoured with the Papal knighthood. Collaborating the reports through independent enquiry by the Holy See, the Supreme Pontiff, His Holiness, Pope Francis, through his Cardinal Secretary of State, signed a Bull by which the former Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi became a Papal knight of the Order of St Sylvester on July 31, 2013. This made him one of the few to be so recognized by the Pope and one of the first sets to be so recognised by Pope Francis.
We note that in Nigeria, we have Papal knights, but Obi was the first person to merit it through using the instrument of governance to serve God and humanity.
Papal Orders are not easy to come by, and it is not for sale. The holder of the highest among the five Papal Equestrian Orders, granted by the Pope as a temporal sovereign, known as the Supreme Order of Chris, died in 1993. Only one living person is holding the second one, Order of the Golden Spur. The third one, Order of Pius IX may be presented to even non-Christians. We also have the Order of Gregory the Great and Order of St Sylvester Pope and Martyr. There are other orders with religious connotation granted by the Pope such as the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and Order of Malta.
The Pontifical Equestrian Order of Sylvester Pope and Martyr granted to Mr. Peter Obi is awarded by the Pope directly, usually on the recommendation of the local ordinary, in this case, His Lordship, Bishop Paulinus Ezeokafor. A person can also be nominated by the representative of the Pope, the papal Nuncio. The Pope’s Secretary of State can also recommend one for the award.
As the Governor, almost all group of Knighthood in the Church wanted Obi to join them, but he declined. The Papal award thus came to him by surprise, because he was completely unaware of that until his Bishop, Most Rev. Dr. Paulinus Ezeokafor, a prelate who possesses spiritual comeliness, delivered the Papal Bull to him. Each time I visited Bishop Ezeokafor’s residence, the modesty derives me to the conclusion that here is a man of God in fact and in name, just simply after the souls he will win for God as the major part of his apostolic triumph.
Those who knew about the award naturally urged Mr. Obi to roll out drums immediately, but he refused, saying that he preferred the investiture after he would have left office.
But why Obi should he be nominated for the Award among millions of Catholics in Awka Diocese? It is not because he was once a Governor. It is not because he is rich. It is not because his younger brother is a priest, while his elder Sister is a Rev Sister. Anybody who has been following the trajectory of Obi’s life even before he became a Governor will know the reasons he was considered fit for that rare honour. Yes, his stewardship as the governor was the major contributory factor, especially his partnership with the Church that benefited the people of the State in the area of education, health, among others, but there are much more to that.
Obi is one person who believes and lives out the biblical instruction that in charity-giving, one’s right hand should not know what the left is giving. Obi has continued to be part of building of Churches in many communities. Those who attended the dedication of St. Patrick’s Cathedral saw how the Bishop, in spite of Obi’s resistance announced that he was the highest donor towards the building of that Church, the Bishop made it clear that those contributions were even before he became the Governor.
I recall that when the earth shrugged her shoulders (earthquake) in Haiti and submerged the Cathedral, he visited and offered them enormous financial support. He once told me that charity and philanthropy has the greatest reward when it is inconspicuous. Many politicians publicise their scholarship awards to indigent students, but hardly would one know that Peter Obi has been on that for donkey years.
In governance, he did not disappoint. He carried the Church as well as any organization desirous of the good of the people of the state.
Besides changing the psyche of the people of the state and the reconditioning it to once again think and act for the interest of the state, I consider his return of schools to their original owners as his most important achievement. Some may want to locate this at the number of infrastructure he built, but the fact remains that education, as he always said, is the most important legacy one can possible bequeath posterity. This assertion is not originally his, but has been universally ascertained. Thus, many years ago, when Aristotle was asked to differentiate between the educated and the uneducated, he said it was as the difference between the living and the death. Asked the same question, Aristophanes said it was as the difference between broken and unbroken horses. This informed Zeno’s reference of an uneducated man sitting on a stone as a stone seated on another stone.
For those circumscribing the award to what he did as the Governor, we note here that it transcends it. Obi’s opportunity came early in life even as an undergraduate. Between the time he left the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and the time he became a governor, he had attended some of the world most renowned management schools.
In his business, he put what he learnt into practice and rose so rapidly to become the youngest Chairman of a N25 billion bank. He has never mismanaged public property or funds entrusted to him; rather he has been consumed in the creation of wealth. He was not just on the board of companies that were successful, but was active chapter in the success stories.
If you study successful economies of the world you will see behind them both long and short-term planning. You will hear of projections to the year 2020 and all that. A wise man prepares for winter in summer’s time of plenty, but it is foolishness to encourage Epicurean indulgence, the lower animal’s philosophy of: "Let us eat today for tomorrow we shall die." This was the reason Obi, even when others crippled their states and sold the investments of the State for peanuts to their cronies, left over N75 billion for his successor in cash and investments.
Obi was neck-deep in the business world and has seen the world, but yet no story of gallantry or dealing dishonourably with anybody is told about him.
No doubt, Nigeria’s politics is that of intrigues, mud-slinging, divide and rule (divida et impera), parochialism, prebendalism, impeachment-scheming, and so on. Such politics has led to our retrogression. Obi has chosen to play it differently and those too backward to understand him call it timidity. Today, as anytime in the future, any political history of Nigeria will be incomplete without Obi as it will be without the Ziks, the Awolowos, the Ahmadu Bellos and the Ojukwus.
Today, Obi is a reference point on playing decent politics, belief in the rule of law and adherence to principles. These are edifying credentials of a true reformist. I expect Obi to suffer because as Machiavelli said, it is difficult to introduce a new order because the person doing so (Obi) will have opposition from those that benefited from the old order and lukewarm defenders in those that are not sure of its success.
In spite of paid critics and lukewarm defenders, Obi matched on and rescued Anambra State. The man is not a saint, but certainly with high moral standards. In the world of wealth, he may be among the first 100 Nigerians and yet he is unobtrusive about it. Obi has a happy family and can be called the man without cant.
When I recommend him as a role model to the youth, it is always after weighing the totality of his life. He is married to Her Excellency, Mrs Margaret Peter-Obi, a woman every inch as noble as nobility dares be. Endowed with physical beauty, her manners and morals are so magnetic that one feels drawn to her in spite of oneself. She shows everybody around her a mother’s surpassing love and care.
There two charming children, Amaka and Eloka will annoy other children of the rich by their simplicity, no airs attached.
If we can tremble before the work of nature, why should we not tremble before a man that exemplifies virtue as far as Nigerian politics is concerned? Though some of his brothers out of envy resent him, the awards he has been receiving from across the length and breadth of the world is a clear statement that he represents the best among men. The Knighthood coming from the summit of Christendom is yet another statement that Obi has become a star among which the scintillating brilliance of other stars pale into insignificance.
•Obienyem wrote from Abuja. Photo shows Peter Obi greeting Pope Francis 1.
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