By ECHI ANTHONY
I was scrolling through Twitter when I came across this post from @ChifeDr real name Dr. Aloy Chife.
“I have a Ph.D. And I’m very proud to be called “Igbo trader” I will clean toilets if the money is good. Has decades of elevating work-shy little men into positions of power really turned us into arrogant dingbats who sit on our arses waiting to be spoon fed by the Niger Delta?”
His post helped put into context thoughts that have been going around my mind for a few weeks since I first heard Peter Obi referred to as a “common trader.”
Dr. Chife references that supposed description in his post but goes many steps further. A quick deconstruction will suffice.
Dr. Chife has a Ph.D. but he is not ashamed to be called an “Igbo trader” and he will do a job as menial as cleaning toilets if it will put food on his table and help him feed his family.
For those always quick to pick holes even in the most clear-eyed submission, it is expedient to point out Dr. Chife’s subtext: whether an academic, trader or janitor, there is dignity in labour.
The presidential elections set to hold on February 25, 2023 have brought out unusual fervor in Nigerians and while a record number of voters, 93,469,008, hitherto unseen in any previous elections are registered and primed to vote, the rhetoric has further heightened our religious and ethnic fault lines.
Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s Muslim/Muslim ticket had a religious tenor and remains so despite protestations from the APC that it is a non-issue.
Another issue has been ethnicity. Peter Obi’s traducers from Rabiu Kwankwaso to Kashim Shettima, Bola Ahmed Tinubu to Atiku Abubakar and their throng of invective-spouting spokespersons are pushing the narrative that Peter Obi is an Igbo president and ethnic jingoist.
Shettima had gone as far as calling Peter Obi, “Gringory,” a sarcastic and denigrating reference borrowed from the name of a houseboy in the long-running sitcom, The new Masquerade, which gave us Chief Zebrudaya, Clarus, Ovuleria and Jegede Sokoya. And as if that was not enough the APC has described Peter Obi at various times as a trader while Kwankwaso has all but alluded to the fact that Obi is not worthy to run for president because he is Igbo.
This piece will borrow from Dr. Chife’s tweet and focus more on the “Trader’ tag promoted by the APC and its foot soldiers. In his piece, “The Obidients, the Jagaban and the Icarus Syndrome,” the vociferous Femi Fani Kayode had highlighted the same “Trader” tag. “Whilst Obi was still a trader selling tomato ketchup and Bournvita in 1999 Bola Ahmed Tinubu had already paid his dues, made his mark and was already running for the Governorship of Lagos state.”
On his own part, the virtually unknown Presidential candidate of Accord Party, Professor Christopher Imumolen, paid Peter Obi a backhanded compliment when he said that if he wins, he will run an all-inclusive government. “For his adeptness and aptitude as a businessman of no mean standing, I will be appointing Peter Obi, the current Labour Party presidential candidate as my minister of trade and commerce.”
But jokes and jokers aside, what is wrong with being a trader? How is the fact that Peter Obi has made a living and grown wealthy from trading become something to sneer at?
To answer this question, let me reference three of Nigeria’s celebrated richest men to highlight the fact that Peter Obi, the trader, may well be what Nigeria needs.
Alhassan Dantata made his money from trading in kola nuts and ground nuts. He was also renowned as a distributor of European goods. He was believed to have supplied large British trading companies with raw materials.
Timothy Odutola who became the first President of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) began life as a trader who sold damask and fish before expanding into produce trading as a dealer in Cocoa and Palm oil.
Sir Louis Phillip Odumegwu Ojukwu, OBE the first and founding president of The Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) started business as a trader selling textile materials while employed as a tyre salesman at John Holt.
Those are three examples of great Nigerians who wrote their names in gold in the annals of Nigerian commerce from humble beginnings as traders.
But to bring it closer home, Bola Ahmed Tinubu for all the mysteries surrounding his provenance, primary school that never existed, university degree that never was, drug forfeiture that became tax deductions and all whatnot, has always been able to prove one fact; his ties to Abibatu Mogaji, former Iya Oloja of Lagos.
Tinubu has always insisted that Madame Mogaji was his mother and those who have made it their duty to help piece together the disparate strands of Tinubu’s increasingly fantastic and unverifiable genealogy often agree that there was indeed some relationship between the two.
Another thing they all agree upon is that Abibatu Mogaji was a celebrated trader, well known and regarded in Lagos. She was so significant in the affairs of the market that she was made Iya Oloja.
In an October 23, 2019 piece, “Life and Times of Alhaji Mogaji (1)” published in The Nation and credited to Joke Jacobs, the writer informs us that “a vibrant, charismatic, ebullient and dogged woman, Alhaja Mogaji was born on October 23, 1916 and left for the world beyond on June 15, 2013… As the years rolled by, she grew into adulthood and started petty trading. Her trading activities flourished. She became a distributor of some major products.”
Chroniclers of Tinubu’s disjointed history say it was Abibatu Mogaji who took notice of the smart young boy named Yekini Amoda Ogunlere or Bola Ahmed, if you please and sent him abroad thus changing the trajectory of his provincial life.
In his BBC interview with Peter Okwoche, Bola Ahmed Tinubu in trying to explain his wealth said “I inherited real estate and turned the values around.”
Is it not curious that a man whose father is unknown and who could only have inherited the so-called real estate from his trader mother can turn his nose up at another accomplished trader?
•Echi Anthony is a Lagos-based public analyst.