By James Eze ([email protected])
When future historians write the story of Governor Willie Obiano’s first three years in office, it would be hard for them not to draw the conclusion that he provided an inspiring leadership for his people.
Indeed, beyond the bridges that adorn the landscape of Awka, beyond the gleaming roads and the growing clamour for Anambra Rice, Governor Willie Obiano has brilliantly and stealthily done what many post war Nigerian leaders could not do – inspire his people to see themselves with a new set of eyes. It may be hard to explain this and even harder to accept it but if we shrug off our natural inclination to doubt our leaders, if we are patient enough to look closely, it would become clear to us that Obiano has inspired a new sense of self-belief, a reluctant acceptance by the people that indeed, Anambra can be a better place. To my mind, it is a rare achievement by a Nigerian political leader to win the people over in a manner that induces a suspension of self-doubt.
Now, what did Obiano do differently? Nothing extraordinary, except that he worked on the psychology of his people and helped them regain self-belief. For instance, it is a known fact that a crackdown on insecurity can only be said to have worked if the people begin to believe that they are safe and act in a manner that suggests a sense of safety. A close observer of Governor Obiano’s early days in office will recall that while he maintained a crushing campaign against the underworld, he revved up the people’s sense of safety with the right rhetoric. For instance, whenever he went to flag off new projects or inspect on-going ones, Obiano would raise his voice and ask the host community, “Do you now sleep with both eyes closed?” And they would collectively answer in the affirmative. That was a very subtle but effective approach to resuscitating a depleted sense of safety in the people and reminding them that something new and beautiful had crept into their lives. Another masterstroke was the hosting of Christmas Carols at the once dreaded Upper Iweka. For over forty years, it was totally inconceivable to hold a meaningful gathering in Upper Iweka in broad daylight, let alone at night. But Obiano held Christmas Carols there; bringing every session of the event to an end by sending symbolic fireworks, cracking into the night skies. These things did not only re-enforce the sense of safety but heralded a new era of freedom for the people. Gradually, the people began to believe that they were safe and began to express their freedom in different ways. That is inspiration!
Similarly, Obiano worked on the psychology of the people and made them see the value that lay hidden in a most unlikely sector – agriculture. While Anambra has always had farmers before the Obiano administration, not many people ever imagined that a state with its land mass could become a reference point in agricultural excellence in Nigeria. It always seemed unlikely that a people who had come to appreciate the quick returns in buying and selling fast moving goods through the years would have the patience of investing in a long gestation business like agriculture. But Obiano inspired a new awakening in that direction and today, the agricultural sector has attracted the lion’s share of the 37 investors that have signed a memorandum of understanding with the state. Today too, Anambra has become almost as well known for agriculture as it is for trade and commerce. It is a measure of Obiano’s inspiring leadership that an erosion ravaged state like Anambra has become one of the islands of success in the morass of economic ineptitude that threatens to drown Nigeria.
Governor Obiano has also inspired a great many people with his extraordinary self-example. Not many Nigerian political leaders would in the fullness of their official glory, demonstrate a rare humility and say to an implacable adversary, “I am sorry. Please, forgive me.” But Obiano did exactly this last August when he expressed a public apology to his predecessor. That gesture inspires humility! He also inspires with his capacity to quickly step over a string of needless slights and pockets of hatred and treat everybody as important. His Community-Choose-Your-Project initiative remains a watershed both as a convincing demonstration of inclusive politics and as a model of inspiring leadership. In one breath, it teaches us that we can muster enough political will to take development to the furthest verges of human habitation and in another, it reminds us that a conscientious government can wean itself of primitive vendetta and spread development to every community, including those who didn’t vote for it. Coming at a time when the rhetoric over 5% from the APC-led Federal Government has put a knife on the things that hold the component parts of the country together; this is nothing short of inspiring!
And by the way; what can really be more inspiring than the fact that after the first two years of Obiano’s remarkable leadership, Anambra has become a model for other states? It is not a secret that some forward-looking governors have sent members of their team to Anambra State to ask questions with a view to borrowing a few formulas for success. Anambra has made a 360 degrees turn from being a battleground for fiendish political pirates to becoming a reference point for best practices and good governance; a place where government is sympathetic to the people and patient enough to find out what development initiative is priority to them before delivering same to them, where salaries and pensions are paid to workers as statutory entitlements and not divine acts of mercy and finally, a place where a distinction has been made between what it means to be a leader and what it means to be a GREAT leader!
Indeed, former US First Lady, Rosalynn Carter, may have had Governor Willie Obiano in mind when she remarked that “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go but ought to be.” Anambra State is almost where it ought to be!