Governor Willie Obiano’s direction of Anambra’s affairs will end on March 17, 2022. But his imprint on the state for eight straight years will endure. Not only endure, but also assume legendary proportions with the passage of time. Historians will wax lyrical on his double tenure and ascribe to him the quotable, poetic words Julius Caesar uttered in celebration of one of his famous war victories: “Veni, vidi, vici.” Willie Obiano came. He saw. He conquered.
The man’s story is the stuff of epic fiction. Born on August 8, 1955 to a catechist father (Philip Obiano), and a fish-seller mother, Christiana Obiano (Mama Willie), he took to banking after earning an honours degree in Accountancy in 1979, and a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Lagos. His banking career started at First Bank Plc in 1981. Leaving the bank, he joined Chevron Oil Nigeria Plc as an accountant and rose to become its Chief Internal Auditor. He returned to banking as the Deputy Manager in charge of the Audit Unit of Fidelity Bank in 1991. He rose to become an Executive Director of the bank before he retired, relocating to Houston, Texas, and determined to thoroughly enjoy his well-earned retirement.
As the saying goes, however, Man proposes but God disposes. The call came for Obiano to plunge into the mire of Nigerian politics, something that never previously crossed his mind. As gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) fate dealt him Anambra’s governorship in 2014. On the spur of his electoral victory, cynics went into overdrive, lamenting that a grievous mistake had been made. Governor Obiano, they declaimed, was bound to send Anambra State down the tube, being patently unprepared for the gargantuan task of leadership.
But Obiano knew differently. He had taken the job to serve his people, not to swim in the puddle of negative partisanship. There was little doubt in his mind that he possessed the dominant infrastructures of leadership. His thinking and that of those who really knew him were in coalescence. He would deliver. In retrospect, the confidence reposed in him was not misplaced. The apprehension of the naysayers, as has become self-evident, was groundless. They had impishly assumed that the habit made the monk. Today, there is a consensus of opinion between Obiano believers and non-believers that his greatest political achievement was delivering an APGA successor to his office.
That is the practice in the Igbo country. If your father conferred on you an Ozo title, the least expectation of your community would be your investing a similar title on your own son. APGA put Obiano in power. Obiano has concretised APGA’s retention of power in Anambra State. In this positive outcome, the people underscored their support for Obiano, and for the political values APGA espouses. In this positive outcome, neither Obiano nor Ndi Anambra settled for a lackey or ass-kisser, a zombie to be remotely and cynically manipulated by puppeteers teeming in the chasm of arrogance and conceit.
Had another party won the November 2021 ballot, a re-enactment of what followed the out-of-schedule governorship election perpetrated by INEC in 2007 would have become the unenviable lot of Ndi Anambra. By now, Obiano’s official portraits would have been torn from government offices and public buildings. Banks would have received marching orders to treat his outgoing administration as non-existent. A systematic dismantling of APGA legacies would have ensued. Entrenched recidivists, incorrigible anarchists and dissolute turncoats would have, with barbed phalluses, commenced the remorseless raping of Anambra State. Indeed, their wild excesses would eventually have painted a canvass of horror and despoliation reminiscent of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica.
Through Governor Obiano’s hands, and the people’s faithfulness, God saved Anambra State. The striking salvation is destined to continue for a central reason. Pundits have critically peeped into their crystal balls and thoroughly analysed their findings. They agree that there isn’t the slightest indication that, out of office, Obiano would transform into a virulent antagonist of his successor, ranging media onslaught against him and serially organising opposition candidates for his ouster.
This means that after bidding farewell to the Awka Government House, Chief Obiano would not assume the persona of a malcontent railing against the structure he was party to constructing. Therefore, the people would rightly consider him a statesman. In which case, there would be no hesitation to consult him for advice on how to mediate challenges of extraordinary dimensions whenever they crop up. What legacy is greater than that?
This point requires expansion because it is at the very heart of service to the people. The presidential election is next year. But Ndigbo constitute none of the elements in the equation. This speaks to the ethnic group’s drastic retrogression since the January 1970 end of the Nigerian civil war. Witness: Five political parties contested the 1979 presidential election. One of them had an Igbo presidential candidate. The other four had Igbo running mates. After more than four decades, there is today a multiplicity of political parties. Not one of them boasts an Igbo frontrunner for the presidential ticket. Strutting about are perpetual vice-presidential careerists waiting like dogs for their master to mercifully drop the bone over which to fight and annihilate each other, waiting to be running mates to Fulani overlords! What a bleeding shame indeed.
If APGA did not win the Anambra ballot, it bears repeating that the party, the only one in which Ndigbo have a stake, would have died unsung and un-mourned. That the party yet lives foreshadows its chance to shake off the viruses that wickedly militated against it, in order to rise to the occasion of a powerful Igbo voice. Only those interested in advertising themselves as intellectual light bantamweights would contest this thesis. In parenthesis, only masters of doublespeak will posit that, after his time in office, Professor Chukwuma Charles Soludo would be judged on a criterion other than that of where he met the Anambra spirit and the point he led it to.
That is the certitude that Governor Obiano and Ndi Anambra lived up to their billing by deciding on a successor, a Charlie Nwangbafor, that knows where his umbilical cord is buried and is proud of it, and yet also has the presence of mind to concede that interred umbilical cords are not a rarity outside his redoubt. It is a fine point underscored by the composition of his transition committee.
Yet, there is another angle from which to view Governor Obiano’s legacies. Take the Anambra International Passenger and Cargo Airport at Umueri. It came up during the November 2017 debate by gubernatorial candidates. One of Obiano’s interlocutors, a former Aviation Minister, argued that, with the Asaba Airport around that bend, Anambra did not need one. Another, a serial governorship contestant, posited that the state needed no more than an airstrip. These bizarre interventions made you laugh to cry or cry to laugh. Wisdom ultimately prevailed. Obiano thrashed his opponents to earn a second term. And, as one of the consequences of his resounding victory, the airport at Umueri has since gone into operation, rapidly becoming one of the busiest in the country.
The airport’s story is a long walk to freedom. Mere days after the civil war ended in January 1970, the apostles of No Victor, No Vanquished, demolished Anambra’s first airport, the one Biafra constructed at Uli. The story of another airport for Anambra started when Group Captain Sampson Emeka Omeruah was appointed the military Governor of the old Anambra State in 1985. His administration wanted an airport for the Onitsha metropolis. It was to be built at Oba, a border town. While interested parties went hair-splitting on what name to call it – Onitsha Airport, Oba, or Oba Airport, Onitsha – the military authorities redeployed Omeruah, stalling the project.
In the intervening period of over three decades, Onitsha exploded exponentially in size and population, making it inexpedient to house the airport. A new site was found in Umueri, not really far from anywhere in Anambra and not really difficult to access from anywhere in the Igbo country. But no action commenced until Obiano happened on the scene. The values of the airport are unquantifiable. If anyone bound for Igbo land flew in from the Americas or from Europe or from Australasia, it made better sense to land at Umueri and drive another 35 minutes or so to one’s destination or “domot”. Such a traveller was saved the harrowing experience of a thousand roadblocks on the 444 kilometre Lagos–Asaba expressway, “checkpoints” of AK47-wielding soldiers, and policemen and women, and naval officers and ratings, and Air Force officers and airmen; plus Customs, Immigration and Civil Defence cadres and so on, not to talk of the toxic mix of hardened gangsters, practiced bandits, blood-sucking cultists and occultists, insufferable Fulani herdsmen and allied terrorists. What beats this?
What beats the joy of going right home after miraculously dangling in the air for anything between six and 15 hours, knowing that there is no further anguish of a prison sentence of five or six extra hours at the Asaba end of the obsolete and quaking Niger Bridge that is impatiently waiting to crash on all the people’s skulls? Yet, there is an angle not often considered when the Umueri Airport is discussed – the fact that it was conceived to birth an aerotropolis, a metropolitan sub region with an infrastructure, land use and economy that are centred on the airport.
The Umueri Airport holds an immensity of economic potentials. Anambra being oil producing, the airport is conceived as a refuelling station for aircraft on intercontinental flights. By the time it has started firing from all cylinders, a jetliner from Iceland could land at Umueri, tank up, take off again and head for the island state of Tasmania in Australia. The airport is built as a pivotal centre for A, C and D, checks of aircraft maintenance. In the fullness of time, it will employ hundreds directly, and thousands more indirectly. The aerotropolis and Onitsha would constitute the twin engines powering Anambra’s economic ascendancy. It is thanks to Governor Obiano that the Anambra International Passenger and Cargo Airport is now in place and functioning.
Talking about style, there is a whole heap to say on Chief Obiano. He does not believe in half measures. He reckons that there are people who insist that money is to be saved, not spent. Of course, he sees their point but vehemently disagrees with it because it makes no sense saving to the result of starving children while there is money in the parents’ pockets with which to feed them. That is why the Awka City Stadium is of Olympic standard while the International Conference Centre is bigger and more modern than any other in the country. Did it not embarrass that Anambra, a state that has produced better sportsmen and women than about any other was without a stadium? How did it feel that, until recently, big events in the state had to hold on primary school pitches because of the absence of a standard conference centre?
Chief Obiano acts himself. He couldn’t justify the skipping of vacations, knowing that his absence from Awka for a period of three weeks would never translate into Anambra going under. Whenever on leave he had no aversion to taking pictures with or without his family members and posting them on the social media. There are leaders who never go on leave, and who never want to be seen in the likeness of a toff. For sure, those are no capital offences. But leaders and followers with a knack for sartorial elegance and a proclivity to occasionally unwind must also not be impaled. After all, the expensive attire does not culminate in an empty state treasury.
They call Chief Obiano Akpokuedike. He has proudly been living the title. After now, he would be remembered as one of a kind, a gracious man and the “Alert Governor” who unfailingly called the State Accountant General on the 15th of every month and received assurances that salaries would be promptly paid on the 24th. Key point: This man never claimed to be holy. This article’s objective is not to invest him with a hallo of sanctity. Saints, as our faith teaches, are in paradise. As is the nature of things in this world, however, there must be people who see him as inherently repulsive. Integrity impels this lot to readily marshal facts or arguments in support of their standpoint. In the last analysis, history’s verdict will come, followed inevitably by the Supreme Being’s judgement, the one that entertains no appeal, to neatly wrap up everything, not just for Chief Willie Maduabrochukwu Obiano alone, but for all of us mortals on His terra firma.
• Chuks Iloegbunam is a freelance journalist.