The story of the COVID-19 funds philanthropists donated recently in Anambra State appears convoluted. Resident doctors at the Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University Teaching Hospital (COOUTH), Awka, mentioned it in passing last Wednesday. But it is enough to raise fresh enquiries about these funds and the state of affairs in this Light of the Nation.
The resident doctors had fumed, “It is unconscionable for politicians to fritter away the COVID-19 fund donated by philanthropists while COOUTH doctors who have been on the frontlines exposing themselves to increasing risk with inadequate PPEs (personal protective equipment) continue to earn an insulting hazard allowance of N3,500.”
The doctors did not provide further details. But the Anambra State House of Assembly Committee on Health had earlier raised similar eyebrows about the funds. The committee, last week, sought some clarifications on the N30 million COVID-19 medication funds as well as other allocations in the budget of the state ministry of health. During its oversight meeting with a delegation from the state ministry of health, the committee sought for concrete evidence on how monies with sub-heads in the budget were utilised. Chairman of the committee and member representing Aguata I State Constituency, Dr. Carter Nnamdi Umeh, reportedly observed that huge sums of money were allocated for education and sensitisation of the citizenry on the existence and consequences of COVID-19 infections. Yet, Umeh regretted, the ministry of health could not deploy the funds for aggressive campaigns on the COVID-19 pandemic. The committee also raised concerns on some other grey areas.
The Commissioner for Health, Dr. Vincent Ogochukwu Okpala, reportedly said drugs had been procured and more would be purchased for the management of COVID-19 cases. He enthused that, as far as the war on COVID-19 was concerned, the state was firing from all cylinders. It’s good to know this. But to clear all doubts, the ministry of health should provide all necessary documents as requested by the committee. The committee should also make all discussions open and transparent.
We do not wish to have a repeat of the inanities that enveloped Anambra State in the past. When Senator Chris Ngige was the governor, for instance, we heard of such indignities as burning of a state house, slapping of a governor and payment at source. The same reactionary forces tried to fight Mr. Peter Obi when he took over from Ngige as the governor. But he refused to open the treasury to them. He was addicted to cutting of costs. And one of the brutal consequences of his actions was his induced removal from office.
Obi survived the plots against him and left many worthy legacies after two terms. In the area of health care provision, for instance, he came first in the entire country. From a state that did not have a single accredited health institution, he left the state with 13 accredited health institutions, including Onitsha General Hospital and the Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu University Teaching Hospital, Awka. He built the teaching hospital from the scratch. He also supported selected missionary hospitals in the state. His success in health is better evaluated by the fact that he won first prize in Bill & Melinda Gates award on health. Anambra State got millions of dollars for this. Obi used this monetary award to provide 10 health centres in 10 remote communities in Anambra State.
One of his strongest points was saving over N75 billion for his successor, both in local and foreign currencies. The managing director of Diamond Bank, where some of the savings were domiciled, Dr. Alex Otti, attested to this fact recently. According to Otti, some $155 million was invested in the tier-two capital of three Nigerian banks with maturities of about five years at interest rates of up to 9 per cent per annum to the credit of the state. Otti said the present value of that investment was over N95 billion. Today, regrettably, Anambra is entangled in an uncomfortable web of debt. The Debt Management Office indicated that the state had a debt profile of over N34 billion as at September 2019.
Besides the financial sector, Obi left a mark in other sectors. In housing, for example, he opened the state and also partnered with Hydraform, a South-African company, for the adaption of the technology in Anambra State. I recall the massive importation of the machines when one Arc. Mike Nwafor was the head of the state’s housing corporation. I know that trainings were organised for the deployment of the machines, but I do not know what successes have been registered.
Obi did very well in commerce and industry. Those of us who knew how Onitsha Harbour Industrial Park used to be are happy over the complete rehabilitation of the place with roads so strong that they are still intact in spite the fact that the road takes the heaviest trucks’ traffic in the state. Industries that came up in that place or became rehabilitated after improvement in infrastructure were many.
Also, Obi not only took the courageous decision to return schools to their original owners, he committed more than N7 billion to Anambra schools directly to the owners to rehabilitate the schools. This is besides the provision of two buses each to all the schools in the state, provision of generators, employment and training of ICT teachers, Internet connectivity, rehabilitation and provision of laboratories, sporting equipment and Microsoft academies. The result was so visible that the schools started taking first position in external examinations.
Road construction was another sector where Obi came first in the country. When he was the governor, the Federal Ministry of Works said in its reports that “Anambra State has the best network of roads in the country.” The then Commissioner for Works, Callistus Ilozumba, periodically published the progress of road projects in the state with clear pictures of the roads Obi inherited and completed, started and completed, and ongoing. My town, Isuofia, also benefitted. In fact, one of the roads passed through my father-in-law’s place down to Nanka, a neighbouring town. Ilozumba had stated that the philosophy guiding the choice of roads to rehabilitate under Obi was economic benefits. A good example is the policy of constructing roads that lead to factories. This, he said, was the reason he constructed the Harbour Industrial roads, Cutix Road, Juhel Road, and Innoson Road, among others.
Besides, the culture of road maintenance was part of the policy of government under Obi. For instance, I am aware that Obi maintained Ichida-Awka-Etiti Road built by Ngige. Ilozumba also revealed how Obi purchased full construction equipment and set up the Anambra State Road Maintenance Agency (ARMA) and appointed Mr. Ejike Nwanne, from Oba, as the first managing director. The agency, he noted, was one of the reasons Anambra roads remained well maintained during the time of Obi.
This is how it should be. In sane societies, like the United Kingdom and the United States, roads are maintained routinely. Roads built over five years ago need routine maintenance and any government that fails to do this is failing in one of its cardinal duties.
During my recent trip to Anambra State, I observed that though most of the roads are still standing, some already require maintenance. Typical examples are the S.M. Okeke Avenue, Amikwu, Awka; Amawbia By-Pass; Ekwulobia By-Pass, Nanka-Agulu-Awka Road and many others. The question is: Where is Anambra Road Maintenance Agency?
Last year, ARMA assured road users in Anambra that government would fix the dilapidated portions of the roads in all parts of the state ahead of last Christmas. The managing director of the agency, Mr. Emeka Okoye, said the state government had already fixed such roads as Udoka Estate, Roban Stores Road, Prisons Road and Aroma-Ifite Road. He added that the state engaged contractors to complement the agency’s efforts to ensure zero potholes across the state.
Unfortunately, some of the road contractors engaged by the state had since abandoned the work. The other day, the state House of Assembly threatened to blacklist and expose these road contractors embezzling taxpayers’ money. Chairman of the House of Assembly Committee on Works, Hon. Timothy Ifedioramma, explained that the state government had mobilised some of the contractors but they had done little or nothing on the roads. He regretted that some of the already fixed roads did not stand the test of time due to poor execution.
What is the government of Chief Willie Obiano doing about this? The state Commissioner for Works, Marcel Ifejiofor, had said last year that the state government actually sacked three contractors for incompetence. Ifejiofor added that the state government had set up Anambra Design and Review Committee on roads, headed by him, to monitor developments on the roads. So, what has this committee done? Are the members sincerely satisfied with the state of the roads today?
Next year, politicians will begin to campaign for the governorship of the state. How many of them are willing and ready to take the state higher than where Obi left it? We shall come back to this at the appropriate time.