By Ejike Anyaduba
It gives me a certain claim of honesty amid denials to tell the compassionate story of the Willie Obiano administration. It is one aspect of his government that is hardly reported, but which has greatly defined the thrust of his administration. It may be fair to argue that but for this, the achievements in security, investment, agriculture, infrastructure, education and health etc – for which the government has gained wide acceptance – might have come in vain. Except there is a decision not to report it, the silence sucks.
If the Obiano government is standing on a pinnacle today, it is not because it fixed security of the state hitherto in a whirl. It is not because it gave the state’s infrastructure that existed in outline some uplift. It is not because it resuscitated investment, which had hit the nadir. It is not because it boosted agriculture until then in active decline. It is not because it gave healthcare a shot in the arm and sustains the progress in education. No, not in the least! It is because, in addition to all these, the government has shored up effort in the intangible sector.
On assumption of office, Governor Obiano did one very uncommon thing. He gave up his salary for a full term of four years to be used for upkeep of the less privileged in the society. This was followed up with building of a convalescent home – a sanatorium – at Nteje where the sick and others on the wrong side of life are attended. The home, structured to accommodate inmates with varied forms of disabilities, like the mentally sick, beggars, waifs and others, is run by qualified caregivers and medics.
One or two positive experiences have followed on from that point. One, there is de-escalation of the unsightly presence of beggars and waifs on the streets of Anambra. Two, there is greater security of life and property. On the face of it, the effect on security may not be generally appreciated. But an example or two would suffice. In not so distant past, two “beggars” in Lagos were arrested for different criminal offences. The one, and more notorious, was Clifford Orji, now late, arrested for cannibalism at Toyota bus-stop along Apapa-Oshodi expressway. The other a cripple, who solicited alms on Bush Street between Anthony village and Maryland, was arrested as an armourer for a notorious criminal gang. Before their arrest they were generally seen as mere beggars. Ridding the streets of Anambra of these tenants-at-will no doubt augurs for progress and impacts on security.
It is not often government interferes positively in affairs of waifs and beggars. If ever it does, it is to seize and dump them off public space where they are consigned to wooziness of hunger. That type of consignment, though inhuman, is now frequent. As a matter of fact the battered economy has made difficult the luxury of such action.
At the time of giving up his salary the Obiano government offered scholarship to disabled but able persons in the state from primary through secondary to the university with a caveat to have them employed on graduation. Others not covered by the scheme are equally accommodated in the employment exercise going on in the state. To cap this, two physically challenged persons were among the newly promoted permanent secretaries in the state civil service. Even within the governor’s aides are to be found a blind man and a walking paraplegic. To cushion effect of their work the heavily subsidised government transport service was directed to carry them gratis. The limbless among them were provided with prosthetics while those with cleft palate had them fixed.
This effort is boldly complemented by the First Lady of the state, Chief Mrs. Ebelechukwu Obiano. Through her Caring Family Enhancement Initiative (CAFE), a non-governmental organisation, she has lifted a number of despairing lives. Early in the life of the administration, she showed she was in no mood to shoot craps with the destiny of these people. Sounding philosophical, in a speech she delivered at Basden School of the Blind, Isulo, Orumba South Local Government Area, she urged for compassion on the troubled souls, stressing that they had equal right to life. She made it clear that not born disabled, or having passed the age of bearing children, is not a guarantee against having disabled grand children.
Ever since, she has continued to carter for the lowly in the society. It will belabor time and space, itemising beneficiaries of her charity. However, hundreds of them had been provided with artificial body parts. Those of them who surmounted their disability to acquire skills were, and still are, equipped with required tools to earn a living. But it is in building houses for indigent widows, in all three senatorial zones of the state, that the First Lady’s charity communicated uncommon compassion.
The unwillingness to discriminate against any group or individual manifested quite early in the administration. The first test for the governor was weathering pressure to have workers employed in the twilight of the previous administration sacked. Perhaps, only a few governors would not consider the financial implication. But even in the face of the dwindling economy salaries, pensions, gratuities, allowances etc are promptly paid. On occasion, the governor has made interventions that either staved off or ameliorated disasters. Not once did he stop his convoy to assist accident victims. He had equally cut short an official visit to Abuja in order to identify with victims of the Onitsha gas station fire disaster. On each occasion, compensation was promptly given. Some had their hospital bills paid while others orphaned, in the circumstance, got scholarship grant.
It is not to be forgotten how, a few months into office, 25 prisoners, granted amnesty by the state, were issued with a check of N1million each to start life afresh. They were expected to seize the opportunity to get reintegrated into the society. So far as this, nothing has suggested otherwise. Indeed, the Obiano government has, within a space of three year,s moved development in the tangible and intangible sectors optimally.
• Anyaduba wrote in from Abatete, in Anambra State.