Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State hardly grants press interviews. He does not lobby journalists for headlines. Far from visiting any media house outside the state, he has invited journalists to Awka to see things for themselves maybe once or twice since he became governor five years ago. He prefers his work to speak for him. Yet, he is broadly considered very media-friendly.
On December 4, 2017, the Abuja council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) declared Obiano, who is easily the most decorated governor in Nigeria, the Governor of the Year. Six months later, the Anambra council of the NUJ bestowed on him the award of the Most Media Friendly Governor. Chris Isiguzo, the NUJ president, who was then the vice chairman of the South East zone of the council, was there.
Are the honours to Obiano paradoxical for someone who does not go out of his way to seek media flattery or even mere attention? Not quite. Consider these facts: On Monday, April 22, 2019, Chief Obiano summoned the entire staff of the Anambra Broadcasting Service to his country home in Aguleri, Anambra East Local Government Area, together with the Government House Press Corps.
No person knew why he asked them to come over. In fact, there was virtually no notice given for the meeting, as all got to know in the afternoon the same day.
The governor wasted no time to explain why he called them: they are doing a fantastic job for Anambra State. He then led them to a luncheon. In a gesture, which stunned each of the over 100 journalists, broadcasters and other communication industry workers, Obiano personally served them food and drinks. There were unconfirmed reports that he was going to wash plates himself but his protocol aides bluntly refused and physically prevented him from doing so.
In a world where journalists are treated like the jetsam and flotsam of society and given such derogatory names as press boys, even when they are educated to the PhD level and are accomplished, Obiano’s gesture should serve as a lesson to all public officers. Journalists matter greatly and their critical work in society should always be acknowledged.
If the governor were running for a second term, critics would have argued that his gesture was meant to enable him to win reelection, but he was reelected superbly way back in 2017 when all 21 local government areas in the state gave him an overwhelming mandate. In fact, Obiano did not want his recent interaction with mass communication professionals publicised, hence the failure to invite journalists from various media houses to attend the luncheon in his beautiful residence built some 20 years ago when he was an executive director in one of Nigeria’s top five banks.
Unknown to most Nigerians, the Anambra Broadcasting Service is the most digitally-advanced broadcaster in the whole of West Africa, if not Africa. It cost the state over N2 billion to build it. When a director of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) visited the station last August 15, he confessed he could not believe his eyes, saying: “If we had known that the ABS is this advanced, it could have been among the first to benefit from the digital switch-over (DSO) programme of the Federal Government. You have a very digital governor. The ABS should be the first broadcaster to switch over in the next round.”
Quite a number of ABS staff members are about to be sent out to different places for training and development, the first time since 1991 when the state was created. Not a man given to half measures, Obiano is working hard to get a DSTV cable channel for the station shortly. The ABS will then become the first broadcaster in the entire South-South and South-East to be on the DSTV. The station is already the most active state-owned broadcasting organisation on the social media. The online radio audience increases by 1,000 daily, with a million likes on its Facebook account.
Truly, Willie is working even in unexpected places. All 140 ABS members thrown into the labour market by his predecessor on grounds of so-called redundancy were recalled by Obiano. They all benefited from the salary increase in the state across the public service, which took place shortly after their recall. Some of the so-called redundant staff members are today effective directors in various ministries, departments and agencies.
For 25 years, the ABS retirees received no pensions and gratuities, like their counterparts in the state-owned newspaper, National Light. Obiano ended this blight two years ago, and it took almost N1 billion. I did join Ndi Anambra then to wonder if this man was minting money in Government House, all the more so since there were over 100 active road sites and bridges in the state, among other big projects. As you read this piece, Obiano is working on uncommon architectural and engineering designs for the ABS and National Light.
It is to the credit of the current Anambra administration that no journalist has been harassed in the last five years. Nor has the administration protested to any media house for a report, however unfavourable. The government, as a matter of policy, gives a considerable amount to each family, which loses a journalist in the state, whether the deceased is from Anambra State or not. So, it is understandable that various NUJ councils would not hesitate to declare Obiano Nigeria’s best governor.
The Anambra State governor has demonstrated to all Nigerians, without making noise about it, his profound appreciation of the profound role of the media in society. He has honoured journalists in a touching way. Obiano has motivated them. No wonder, National Light, obviously challenged by the honour to the ABS, is now beginning to harvest awards. The paper is improving with every publication. Obiano is a man of history.
•Hon. Agbodike, PhD, represents Ihiala 2 in the Anambra State House of Assembly