Professor Pat Okedinachi Utomi is one of the leaders of the Obi/ Datti campaign structure and is the leader of the Big Tent, a group within the Labour Party. In an interview with GEOFFREY EKENNA, he speaks on the recent endorsement of Peter Obi by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the leader of the Ijaw nation, Chief Edwin Clark. Utomi believes that Nigeria has reached a point where a new order has to be installed, away from the old order of personality cults
Ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo and Pa Edwin Clark have endorsed your candidate. How much is that for the party and candidate for the election?
It is just a reflection of a growing national consensus, a consensus that started, first from young people, who saw clearly that their country was not going anywhere and their future could be in jeopardy, and they began through protest at first and then finding a rallying point which happens around Peter Obi and the momentum has been catchy. People keep saying young people and Peter Obi. I went to a Mass at a time on the Island, four older women came to meet me. They said people keep saying it is only young people that are for Obi, we are all retired and we are for Peter Obi.
One of them who is a well-known person, her husband was one of the CSOs in Bola Tinubu administration, said her brother, who is a retired professor in University of Benin, who has never voted in Nigeria because he doesn’t believe in the electoral process in Nigeria, has now registered to vote.
That he is fully ‘Obidient’. She said if all of us that are retired are for Peter Obi, that people should stop saying it is only young people that are for Obi and it is what is right, just and what makes sense. Given the options before us, the Obi/Datti candidacy has become a thinner.
There is no alternative. It is really the only credible thing available to Nigerians right now, and that is the truth. So, I am not surprised that the endorsements have started and they will keep coming as expected.
You are expecting more…
More and much more.
The other candidates have made remarks about these endorsements, which don’t sit well with them. They described Obasanjo as a paperweight…
It is very good to say he is a paperweight and all of them went to visit him to seek his blessing. Suddenly, he has gone from the man that you were looking for endorsement to paperweight. It just tells us the character of the people we are dealing with- they cannot be consistent on things. Everything has been opportunistic.
So, he was a heavyweight when they went to see him? He has suddenly purged and his weight, has reduced to paper. That’s okay. It is not even a matter of the weight behind anybody. The clear truth of the fact is that anybody of conscience, looking at capacity, compassion for the people, the direction Nigeria has to face and that Nigeria needs to begin again; we need a fresh start, to break from the old politics of sharing. Most of them have already shared the posts.
What will happen is that old order of looting will continue and Nigeria will be further crippled. Nigeria will be poverty headquarter of the world. It will become misery headquarter of the planet. So, we cannot afford it. There is no alternative now to something that will break the momentum of negatives in Nigeria and this is what Obi/Datti candidacy offers.
Many people still argue that Obi/ Datti lacks structure of national spread. Looking at the North, it is still thin in there. People believe that making 25 per cent in most of the northern states will be a problem for him…
That is pure hubris. Things people say for their convenience. There is a strong youth-base in the North that has been reaching out for us. Because the campaign started out in the South, people assumed we are not hot in the North. We are moving North next week and we are going to be hitting at the key points. We have got networks of teachers, youths, Imams and there are interface groups in the North.
They will be shocked that Peter Obi will sweep the North with the strategy we have in place. You have enough people in the North to man the polling units Absolutely, there is no polling units in the country that we won’t have at least, 10 people on ground to man and protect the votes.
It is difficult for people who have been around power struggling to get it for a long time to realise that the signal is red. What I have been praying for is that wisdom will overcome them and they will know that the time is up to anoint a new order, that if they have the dignity God give me to see that, not everybody is given to hearing the voice of God more clearly and this is really my prayer that the light should come to them to understand that the new generation is here and it is time to handover.
Looking at INEC’s preparation and President Buhari, how optimistic are you about the process and that eventually Peter Obi will be handed over to and pronounced winner…
The will of the people will be so overwhelming that even if anybody has any personal reason for thinking differently, they will not have the courage to bring it on.
The truth of the matter is Nigerians want a new Nigeria. Even in the villages, I talked to someone who asked what we have done, he said his grandmother went to a meeting where they were told that the broom has broken and the umbrella is leaking.
That, they should trust in people. So, what are they saying about spread and structure?
This is really where we are. Nigerians want a new order and the time is now for everybody to come together in the spirit of national unity to secure the life of Nigeria, to move Nigeria from this sharing and conspicuous consumption to production and improvement in the quality of life of people. This is where Nigerians are mentally.
What we need to do is to assure them that whether they are tricky or not does not have any material weight as long as the people are committed.
What do you think of the old order itself. There are people who will be afraid that their oil blocs will be taken away. There are people who are afraid that their source of livelihood in government, feeding on government will be taken away…
500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote in that remarkable book, The Prince, that nothing is more difficult to bring about than the new order of things.
Those, who are from the old order will do everything to prevent the new order from coming out. It is natural that they will resist but if the people make it clear to them that they will be worse off trying to resist.
We are less than 50 days to the presidential election. What do you expect?
I expect a very orderly thing to happen. I expect that on the 26th of February, that Nigerians would have to come to the discussion that a new order has arrived, that the Obi/ Datti presidency is literally in place and they will begin reorient themselves towards this new order. So, elections will become literally easy and if the Holy Spirit touches these my friends(Atiku and Tinubu) before that day, they would both step down.
Can they do that?
Why not? It is possible.
That will give them more dignity that they have seen tomorrow and decided to pull back rather than going for the election and are badly beaten.
What do you make of the problem in PDP, the G5 that at a time, was rumored would endorse Peter Obi?
The central issue in Nigeria today is the issue of character, ….says character is like smoke, it will always be out. Imagine the challenge that began with governors of the South meeting in Asaba, hosted by Ifeanyi Okowa and it was agreed that there was no way they would accept the breaking of their rotation, which says they should move North-South and because of lack of character, people look away from what is their convention and see it breaking from a reaction from a certain group of governors.
It is a natural flow from this character flaw thing. While they started playing this game, issues will come up, people will look to where they will be more protected but in the spirit, we can see they are basically Obi-oriented.
That is not the problem. People often protect themselves by not rushing into things. Like I said earlier. Some people are more comfortable with being upfront. Others are more comfortable with being more subtle. So, that is nature of the beast. That shouldn’t be a source of bother.
By your projections, how many states will Labour Party conveniently win?
I don’t want to get into those calculations yet but as you can see, he will clearly take South East, South South, shares significantly with South West, almost clearly take the North Central and the surprises of the North will be the height of it. North West is the problem area
It seems so but they will shocked in the end. Finally, the international community…
We have been going around. We have met the Americans in Washington. We are going to Chatham
House on January 16 and we are talking to their embassies locally and so far, there have been warm reception. One of the things I particularly said in Washington is that the West must break away from dual hedging, where they preach democracy and what they actually do is stability over democracy and gave examples. Starting from 1999.
Fortunately, I am their friend and I have been around to see their reactions. From hosting President Carter, Colin Powell and going to dinner, the day of 1999 election and remembering what was said to me by Princeton Liman, former ambassador to Nigeria about what they saw of the election and in the end, they had to make President Carter to make a statement to reflect the ‘will’ of Nigerians and it has got progressively worse. 2007 was a disaster.
Nigeria has the privilege of having launched into relevance. Former Secretary of State, the late Madlene Albright and they would all say what of kind of joke do you have and you call it election?
Just the last election in which Buhari won, at one of the embassies cocktails in Lagos, Oscar Onyema, was chatting with counsellor from one of the embassies and the guy said the election was a joke and Onyema said but you said it was free and fair, and the counsellor asked what do you expect us to say?
Are we the one to tell you that your house is smelling? They must stop that.
They must put the truth ahead. If they keep trying to save themselves, the troubles that would come from speaking the truth, and they keep moving us to a glue house and bringing us close to becoming Somalia and start running up and down, they must stand for truth this time.
2023 will mark the first election, where a retired general is not on the ballot paper. Does this launch us into full democracy?
I don’t know whether the person was a retired general or not, but it is a significant indication and it is so bad that those generals, who had power are almost all out of the army. It has been over 20 years, and they have run through a full career of a soldier. Few Nigerian soldiers served up to 30 years, and we are over 20 years into democracy. Those who have had and seen power are all out. Most of those in the army today are those who joined post- Obasanjo.
That was an era where the signaling was a soldier going near power and losing their place in the army because when Obasanjo removed all those people that have held political positions, it basically signaled that to the military. A new era has arrived in terms of soldier participation in politics but there are still many cronies of soldiers who are still around and our system needs to purge itself of those people.
They went into public life in 1999 when most of the traditional politicians were not sure the army was really gone and then used public office to privatise public wealth and use money as a barrier for entering into politics. Those people are still around. Many of them have dropped along the way. Those that served as governors have dropped off but there are still vestiges of them around.
We hope that we will purge the system of these people but more importantly, move from the politics of cults, and personality cults to the politics of issues, and one of the real contributions of the Obi/Datti run is a move from personality cult to issues and that is so important a transition in Nigerian politics. You know, Jurgen Habermas, the Philosopher of the Public Sphere reminds us that politics, modernity, and democracy, that nexus is about rationale public conversation.
This is what has been missing in Nigeria’s public space and it has started to arrive with Obi/ Datti Campaign. I hope it is the beginning in this watershed year for Nigerian politics.
Does that mean the end of an era for the class of ’66 that has been holding Nigeria since 1967 till now?
It seems to be coming to an end.