By Gbenga X-adebija
I stared curiously at a man standing with two other men at the Arrival lounge of the old Murtala Muhammed Airport. Could it be him? The resemblance was certainly striking. I walked past to look outside for my driver who was coming to pick me up. No luck. So I decided to go back inside to wait. As I glanced sideways, I was again struck by the man’s facial resemblance to who I thought it was.
Obi or not Obi?
“Is that not the Governor of Anambra State?” I asked two ladies standing nearby.
“Yes o… Na him o” one of the ladies, a cleaner at the airport responded.
“Yes, it’s him” the other lady, a staff of Arik Airlines confirmed.
The two ladies smiled at my shock.
“Ah, na so e dey do all the time o. E no dey carry bodyguard. Nobody dey follow am for back. Na so e go dey mix with ordinary people, you no go know say e be governor” the lady cleaner said.
“Are you serious? Na so e dey do?” I asked.
The Arik official touched her tongue with a finger and pointed skywards, classic nigerianism for I-am-telling-you-the-truth.
“The Governor queues for flights just like everybody else and does not jump queue, even when we say he should go ahead. He insists on his luggage being searched and when it is his turn to board, he spreads his arms to be body-searched just like everybody else” she said in admiration.
I walked over to where the Governor Obi was standing with the two other men. Governor Obi was in the middle of an animated explanation of his government’s philosophy.
“……….so I said to myself, why do we need over 61 people in Lagos who do nothing except come to the Airport to welcome the Governor? That does not make any sense. So I cancelled that and we have saved over 10 million per month since ”.
Ah, he was explaining to the two men what “a whole Governor” was doing alone at the airport.
Governor Obi continued to speak after I joined the group and “acknowledged” my presence by shifting slightly sideways so he could make eye contact. He did not seem bothered that an unknown stranger had arrived and was listening intently to the conversation. He was holding a mobile phone and a holy bible and I was so engrossed that it took me a few minutes to remember that I did not even offer any greetings. So, I nodded a “Good evening, Your Excellency” and also greeted the two other gentlemen.
“I am totally shocked and can’t believe a Governor in today’s Nigeria would be standing right here, just like that…” my voice trailed off from the sheer surprise.
“Exactly what we have been saying to him” the other two men chorused in agreement.
Governor Obi smiled and shook his head.
“Yes, I hear that all the time. But that’s how it should be. We have been elected to serve the people so how can you distance yourself from the same people you are supposed to serve?’’ he asked.
I remember thinking in my mind, “Good question, Governor, but why are you asking us? The question should be directed at your fellow governors and other public servants abi’’?
Just then, Governor Obi’s telephone rang and he briefly excused himself to take the call. The three of us looked at each other in amazement. This was a Governor standing at the arrival hall, no aides, no security, nothing!
“There is still hope for us in Nigeria o” I said.
One of my new “friends” expressed his pride in the Governor. “ I am from Anambra state. He has done very well for the state. Things have really improved” he informed us.
In my own case, I have never been to Anambra State and indeed my only interaction with the Eastern part of Nigeria were two brief visits to Enugu in 1994 and 2011. Therefore, the sum total of my interest and knowledge of anything East was picked up from the media, family and my close Igbo friends.
Just then, Governor Obi returned to our group. “sorry about that, gentlemen. That call was about the vehicle coming to pick me up”.
“You mean you don’t have a vehicle permanently stationed for that purpose?” I teased.
By now, we were all chatting with the Governor as if we were old friends.
The man no proud at all
Governor Obi shook his head. “For what? It’s almost as wasteful as travelling from Awka in a convoy of limousines. That’s not my style at all”.
A lady dressed in flowing Islamic robes and hood accidentally knocked down Governor Obi’s suitcase as she walked past. Before anyone of us could move, Governor Obi stooped, retrieved his luggage and set it upright by himself.
E no even do like say anything happen..
By this time, the whole episode was beginning to feel surreal. Was somebody playing a practical joke? Had I inadvertently walked onto the set of a reality show? Maybe there were TV cameras hidden somewhere? In fact, how was I sure this was Governor Obi?
Obi or not Obi?
I began to doubt…
Yet, if my eyes were not deceiving me, this was really Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State.
I decided that a witness was needed..
“Your Excellency, I want you to speak to my wife on phone” I said.
“Go ahead and call her” he smiled.
I rang my wife’s number. The phone rang for a few minutes. No response.
I waited another minute and called again. Much to my relief, this time my son, Gbenga Jr answered.
“Hi Dad! Are you at the airport?”
Please, please please, no time for all that joor..
“Where is your Mummy?” I whispered urgently into the phone.
“She is sleeping” Junior answered.
“Go and wake her up and tell her Governor Obi of Anambra state wants to speak to her” I said.
“But she said we should not disturb her” my son protested.
“My friend, will you wake your mother up immediately” I growled.
Governor Obi was watching all this drama with amusement.
“If she is asleep, don’t disturb her” he advised.
I gave him a respectful you-must-be-kidding-me look.
“By the way, Your Excellency, my wife’s mother is from Anambra State” I said as I handed him the phone.
So, for the next few minutes Governor Obi and my wife conversed in Igbo while the rest of us listened.
“ Ok, I will give my number to your husband, so that you can call me and confirm what I said” Governor Obi said in English as he rounded up the call.
My wife is a militantly patriotic Nigerian and I guessed she used the opportunity to take up Governor Obi on topical issues.
The Governor himself confirmed this..” I asked your wife when was the last time she visited her mother’s village in Anambra and she said it had been long because of the terrible roads. But we have since repaired all the roads in that area. Therefore I have challenged her to go there and see for herself.”
We all burst out laughing.
“Oya, take my number”.
Governor Obi then dictated his mobile phone number.
A governor of the Federal Republic of Nigeria just gave out his phone number to a total stranger?
Wonders shall never end…
I bade goodbye to Governor Obi and went off to retrieve my luggage. On my way back, I saw one of the two gentlemen who had been chatting with Governor Obi.
“Wey Governor dey?” I asked.
My eyes followed the direction the direction he pointed and I saw Governor Obi walking alone towards the car park dragging his suitcase behind him.
There is really hope for Nigeria…
This article was first published in ThisDay and The Sun newspapers in 2013