By Jackson Ekwugum
Sitting two rows away from Prof. Pat Utomi on the Air Peace flight from Lagos to Asaba, I watched in shock and disbelief as this supposed change agent and advocate for good governance, excited his small group of noisy Obidients with tales of how the Delta State Government had so far denied the Labour Party four venues for their proposed presidential rally.
I could not believe that a man of his calibre would stoop so low to tell bare faced lies in order to score a cheap political point. Of course, these men and women hung on to his every word, and were naturally filled with a sense of indignation. It apparently made them feel that they were up to some momentous event if the government was so desperate to stop their rally. Little did they know the story was a con job and a perfect alibi for failure by a political upstart who knew he did not have what it takes to organize a successful political rally in his home state.
The proverbial chicken came home to roost the next day as the LP presidential rally was far from being the earth-shaking event they boasted about. I was initially apprehensive of driving towards the Oshimili Arcade on the busy Nnebisi road where the rally was holding as I had an urgent personal matter to attend to. Left with no choice, I braved it but to my surprise, the traffic was free flowing. I took a good look at the rally venue and I was confident those super confident Obidients I met on the plane must have been wondering what happened to the high hopes they were given by the man they call their leader. In fact, only few residents in the city even knew that Peter Obi was in town.
That is what you get when you put your confidence in a political neophyte who has a larger-than-life image of himself. Although an indigene of Delta State, Prof. Utomi is an unknown quantity in the politics of Delta State. In fact, I heard a very prominent politician saying he only got to know that he is from the state through the fake news that Labour Party was denied venue for their rally. That is the man some were expecting to shut Asaba down?
It is not surprising that the Labour Party only verbally requested for a venue twenty-four hours to the scheduled rally. It is Utomi’s modus operandi to leave matters till the eleventh hour and look for a scapegoat for his failure. Apparently, his followers have forgotten how as APC governorship aspirant in 2019, he made news for not being able to locate the venue of the primary election in Asaba. He came into town on the day of the primary, exposing his political naivety and unpreparedness. The man did not even know the delegates from his ward! He probably thought his media celebrity status and frequent pontifications on television were enough to deliver the ticket to his lap. Talk about delusions of grandeur!
Now, it has been more than forty-eight hours since the Asaba rally held and the loud-mouthed professor is yet to respond to demands for him to produce the letter of application the Labour Party wrote requesting the use of any venue. He cannot produce it because there is no such letter. Is that the way to build a new Nigeria? Through lies, blackmail, and propaganda?
The Labour Party was not only given the Oshimili Arcade; the fee was also waived. Governor Okowa has a well-heeled reputation as a liberal, broad-minded, and accommodating politician. A man of generous disposition, he is the perfect model of politics without bitterness. Okowa is too civil and polished to engage in petty, malicious, and vindictive politics. Drive on Summit Road leading to the Governor’s office and you will see the campaign offices and party offices of the major political parties prominently dotting the landscape. Sometimes, one cannot help but wonder if it is an attempt to intimidate the governor or they think their closeness to the seat of power brightens their chances of winning.
I do not know how many governors in Nigeria who would tolerate that. Some will even deny you the use of outdoor advertising such as Billboards. Even if some overzealous local government council officials were to stand in the way, Governor Okowa would promptly overrule them if the matter was brought to his attention. His type needs to be celebrated, not to be the subject of vile propaganda and blackmail, which have now become Utomi’s stock-in-trade.
Each time Utomi speaks, he reminds me of what one advertising guru told me years ago: “if you cannot dazzle them with your brilliance, bamboozle them with bulls..t.” The latter seems to apply more to Utomi in his unbridled obsession to diminish, albeit in vain, Governor Okowa’s ever rising profile. He followed up his lies against the government by casting aspersions on the governor for accepting to be Abubakar Atiku’s running mate. It would have been laughable were it not so pathetic. This is a man who has been jumping from one party to the other (from ADC to APC, and now to LP) in search of political relevance yet he has the guts to talk about morality.
Perhaps, Utomi thinks Nigerians have forgotten the ignoble role he played in promoting and marketing Muhammadu Buhari to Nigerians in 2015. Typically, soon after he was passed over for ministerial appointment, he quickly switched role, and donned the sanctimonious garb of an activist to deceive Nigerians once again. And he was quick to jump on the Obidient bandwagon once the movement gained traction. Is that the profile of a man who should be talking about morality? He frequently talks about ideology but does this show a man with any ideology? So far, Utomi’s political voyage portrays him as an opportunist, a hustler, and political prostitute, far from being the reformer that he wants the public to believe. He is just very adept at courting the press and inserting himself into the public consciousness by espousing ideals that appeal to the fancy of his gullible followers. Of course, the media, ever in search of newsmakers, have been willing pawns in the hands of this cunning and manipulative individual who has mastered the art of using them to further his selfish ambition.
Prof. Utomi is well advised to stay focused on his role as an academic, instead of picking on Okowa every now and then in his fruitless search for political relevance. Until he contests and wins election as a local Government Councilor as advised by former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, he is not qualified to talk where Okowa is speaking.
* Ekwugum is Manager, Communications to Governor Okowa.