By Ori Martins
Have you ever imagined that the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, LP, in last Saturday’s elections, His Excellency, Peter Gregory Obi, shared immeasurable and striking resemblances with the late heavyweight champion of the world, Muhammed Ali?
As Ali’s biographer, Thomas Hauser, succinctly captured it; “Ali in the 1960s stood for the proposition that principles mattered. That equality among people was just and proper. Ali evolved from a feared warrior to a benevolent and ultimately to a benign venerated figure”.
So also did Obi valued and hugely invested in character, competence and capacity – all hinged on the principle of integrity, disciple and honour.
Not many know that Ali hitherto known as Cassius Maccelus Clay, entered into boxing out of frustration, anger and indignation. All along, he wanted to be a showbiz star.
Ali and his friend had visited the Columbia Auditorium, the host centre for the 1954 Black Bazaar. Sadly, Ali’s red and white bike was mysteriously stolen. He looked for his friend but never saw him. He therefore concluded it was his friend who stole his bike.
Walking down, Ali saw a policeman, Martin Joe, who he never knew was a boxing coach. Unable to hold back his annoyance, he innocently approached the man and piqued, “If I get the bitch who stole my bike, I gonna whup whoever stole it”.
Joe turned and replied: “So, you can box people? Okay. The boxers going to represent America in the 1960 Olympic Games are at the gym training, do well to go there and win gold for us”. Joe took Ali to the boxing training arena.
Ali went. Was in the gym, training for the next four years, and ultimately was bedecked with gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics. It was magical!!!
Recall that Obi equally was frustrated out of the PDP and presidential primary election by the Rivers State governor, Chief Nyesom Wike.
Like Ali, Obi pulled out of the PDP presidential primary election and also resigned from the party in anger and frustration. He eventually pitched his tent with the LP, revived it and sensationally registered an immaculate as well as an earthshaking outing never ever before witnessed in the history of Nigerian elections by a “lone” presidential candidate.
As Ali was an instant hit in 1960, Obi was a celebrated poster boy in 2023. Ali coined the phrase “I will float like a butterfly and bite like a bee”. The same way, Obi came up with the anthem “Go and verify”. “For Nigeria to succeed, we must shift from consumption to production”. As Americans embraced Ali, so did Nigerians hugged Obi.
At the peak of thier respective educational endeavors, both men merely managed to remain afloat on the average levels. While Ali’s high school grades were undistinguished, Obi’s university’s record was non – cerebral.
And look at this whimsical coincidence trajectory. Ali, after four years of the 1964 Olympic height, had graduated from an amateur to a professional boxer. He had won several bouts, many of them on technical knockouts. Unknown to many, he had grown in maturity, experience and confidence.
Here, within few months, Obi had taken his campaign too far that many afar never knew the extent he had reached. He strategically took his message to the frustrated Nigerian youths. He spoke directly to the market women, traders, professionals and politicians alike.
Back to Ali. It came as a rude shock to boxing followers and the boxing world when late in 1963 Ali challenged the strongest man on earth known as Sonny Liston, then the reigning heavy weight champion of the world. It was like the biblical David and Goliath battle. How on earth did the world boxing authorities agree to promote such a deadly fight?, many asked.
The date was February 25, 1964, at Miami Beach. The Ali (he was still called Cassius Clay at that time) – Liston fight was what really elevated the course of heavy weight champion bouts.
According to Hauser, “Before Clay’s fight against Sonny Liston, championship weigh – ins had been fairly standard and boring. But Muhammad Ali reinvented the rituals of boxing, and after the show he put up in Miami Beach, weigh ins and boxing in general would never be the same”.
Therefore, on February 25, 1964, young Ali knocked out Liston in the seventh round. As a matter of fact, Liston surrendered and the entire world watched in awe.
Did Obi know something about Ali’s record that convinced him that, since the 2023 presidential election was billed on February 25, he would triumph the way Ali did on that particular date in 1964 to clinch the heavy weight champion title for the first time?
Well, America and Nigeria are not the same. The former is organized, the latter is disorganized. Had the Ali – Liston fight taken place in Nigeria, the defending champion would have won, not Ali.
As Ali brought heavy Liston down, so also did Obi dismantled the old political order in the South East and other parts of the country and enthroned a new order.
Because of Obi’s bomb of February 25, 2023, candidates who entered the national assembly race on the grounds of enriching thier respective CVs, eventually coasted home to victory, with most of them not having any vision of what their true mission to Abuja is really all about. Many of them failed nomination elections in either APC or PDP on account of thier poor performance as legislatures.
Yes. Obi’s February 25 bomb dealt a devastating blow to the South East PDP – there were several political deaths, devastation, wounds and pains. The South East that has been the political headquarters of the PDP since 1999 was destroyed and annexed by the Obi inspired LP.
The effects were both monumental and colossal to wit: baring what may transpire in the elections’ petition tribunals, for now, South East PDP has no representative in the 10th senate even as its strength in the federal house is drastically reduced, numerically. This is unimaginable and unbelievable.
The question now is: looking at the results from the other five zones, the LP is still in absolute minority. Is it by choice or mistake or ill luck that Ndigbo have crashed further the political ladder from thier expectant second position to distant third?
Again, this particular position was where the controversially President – elect, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his South West was in 1999 as the enclave was all AD . However in 2003, then President Olusegun Obasanjo used national powers to over take the Yoruba nation. Only Tinubu’s Lagos survived it.
From there, Tinubu worked, invested and built to regain South West, moved further to go into alliance with Muhammadu Buhari’s north to register APC. Buhari became president and after his eight years, Tinubu has succeeded him.
Will Ndigbo wait for another eight or 24 years before ascending to the presidency? Or, will Obi or any other politician for that matter, break another round of jinx, by challenging Tinubu, a serving president from the south, to hand over power to another southerner. Mind you, this was the biggest challenge the PDP presidential candidate faced two weeks ago as he fought assiduously to break the jinx of a northerner (Buhari), handing over power to another northerner (Atiku himself). It failed flat.
Another question is, will Ndigbo remain in LP even if few other politicians from the other zones go and join APC as it is usually the case with Nigerian politicians?
And, lastly, in case nothing comes out of petition filed by LP, will Obi muster the necessary clout, patience, maturity and doggedness required to sustain an opposition party and members as Tinubu did?
If ask me, as the LP and PDP in Lagos have been working to have an alliance for this weekend’s governorship election, I would have suggested that the PDP and LP at the centre merge to form one front to face the APC in subsequent elections.
The fact remains that Obi proved his capacity, competence and character as a person and Nigerians within a limited time frame accepted him. However, his victorious bomb has done more severe damage to the quest of Igbo’s presidency!!!