Watch: Nigerian presidential candidate Peter Obi on his plans to transform Nigeria’s economy
The first time I read that Nigerian politician Peter Obi had won a presidential election, I was in the process of writing my book on Nigeria’s military dictatorship and was sitting at my desk at The Chronicle, an online business publication, when Peter called to ask if I’d be willing to interview him: The president-elect of Nigeria, a young, eloquent, and well-educated man, had won the election by a vote of 461,329 to his challenger of the same age and social station, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who had won the election by a vote of 466,876.
I’d always felt that Nigeria might have something special about it, some sort of political genius and personality that would give the country something that other countries lack. Peter, in his interview, had the same sense in how a country operates that I did. He was charming, thoughtful and candid, but it was the way he operated in the campaign that was impressive.
Just before Peter’s inauguration, on the morning of January 21, 2007, his supporters set up camp across the road from the headquarters of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation in Abuja, a massive, white, domed and very well-funded and organized building. It was the closest thing the Nigerian nation had to an embassy. And there was a huge presence of security men, of special police and of military officers who surrounded the headquarters. There were also thousands of police, thousands of soldiers, and thousands of civil service cadets, schoolteachers and people who worked in various public offices, including the Police Services of Nigeria, which is the equivalent of the country’s army.
“It was like a military coup,” Peter recalled. “They brought their tanks to the site and there were tanks and soldiers at our headquarters at the time, and then they started attacking the media, which was right across the way. “
Peter spent his first days as president of Nigeria sitting in his living-room with friends while the news came in from every corner of the country. The state of the nation was in a state of pandemonium, chaos and confusion. Peter and his aides, all of whom were