By Achum Tobechukwu Valentine
Donald Duke and Peter Obi have three striking things in common. Both men were former governors in their respective states of origin. Both men are the same years of age. But more interestingly, they both share the same binoculars. By sharing the same binoculars, I mean they both foresaw the current hardship in the country, and actually planned ahead of it.
There is no gainsaying the fact that Nigeria is currently careening in the vortex of crippling economic fortune, which is compounded by plunging oil income, and worsened by the decades of sycophancy, kleptomania, primitive accumulation, and myopia which had characterised the leadership spectrum of our dear country. In the midst of this odious leadership ecosystem, these two leaders were able to distinguish themselves by planning ahead of their respective tenures to help cushion the effect of unforeseeable economic challenges in their respective states.
For Duke who was former governor of Cross River State (1999-2007), he foresaw the current recession when in 2005, he created a special reserve fund meant to ‘‘hedge against economic downturn, and the inevitable rainy day’’ such as this. Backed by law, the state government under Duke statutorily compelled itself to deposit not less than 50 million naira every month to the reserve. The reserve fund which has the Governor as chairman, Deputy Governor as deputy chairman, and The Commissioner for Finance, Accountant General, Attorney General and Permanent Secretary as investment committee members, had very strict conditions to be met before the state government could withdraw money from it. According to a source, the state is currently reaping the fruit of Donald Duke’s leadership foresight in that area, as there has been appreciable compliance in payment of worker’s salaries. And even after 76 of the state’s oil wells were ceded to the neighbouring Akwa Ibom State, the state was still able to handle some of its programmes, though sourcing for funds through other means in addition to what is in the reserve fund.
As observed by Ray Ekpu, ‘’the true worth of what Duke did lies in the fact that it is he who compelled himself to save money for the state, not minding whether governors who would come after him would squander the savings on frivolities, or white elephants or themselves’’. This buttresses the saying that politicians plan for the next election, while statesmen plan for the next generation.
Peter Obi is another statesman that did the best he could to cater for the future needs of his state. As the governor of Anambra State, his prudence and thoroughness in handling Anambra State funds is the major reason why the state has been able to walk above the current economic challenges the way Jesus walked on top of water. His example sums up to what Fulbright scholar, Professor Celestine Bassey (albeit quoting another scholar), describes as a ‘’leadership, audacious enough to unleash social (positive) change’’. In a primitive social formation such as this, where political power is a means of improperly and imprudently allocating economic resources, or deciding who gets what in a manner that compromises the need of future generations, Peter Obi was able to save money by blocking leakages and shunning unnecessary spending which could have cost implications that may lead to a hypothecated future for Anambra State, especially in the wake of current recession. We have heard how he performed the ‘magic’ which has helped in fortifying Anambra State from the current recession. While 27 states are unable to pay worker’s salaries, Anambra State is not only paying workers, but is also increasing worker’s salaries, and making the word ‘recession’ seem nothing more than a mere nine-letter word. At a recent event, Obi chronicled how he shut down Anambra Government Lodges in Abuja and other states in the country, due to the fact that they were sparsely ever used, whereas cost of maintaining them was high. He also pruned down his travelling entourage from about thirty, to a few, thereby saving the state from spending millions of naira per trip to Abuja when it was clear no other person but the governor was invited.
He also explained how contract amounting to more than 200 million naira awarded by the previous administration to renovate the Governor’s Lodge in Amawbia was rescinded by him after his inauguration as governor, and re-awarded for about a quarter of the previous amount. Peter Obi is a disciple of saving. He, like Donald Duke, was much disciplined in saving money for the state, never minding that he would one day leave office and hand over every dime he saved for the state to another governor because he understood that government was a continuum. So far, the current government in Anambra State is not doing badly at all. But I can say that Peter Obi only made the job easier.
It is important to note that both Donald Duke and Peter Obi are members of the same generation of a leadership milieu that reeks of insularity, short-sightedness, corrupting influence, and plain lack of innovation, yet they were able to, in the words of great boxing legend, Muhammed Ali, “handcuff thunder’’. Mind you, no amount of thunderstorm could be more destructive than having leaders who lack innovation and foresight to rule a country. The generation of damages Nigeria has suffered is caused by generation of bad leaders, many of whom are still being reshuffled in the current dispensation, posing to contrive more damages.
However, leaders like Donald Duke and Peter Obi stand out, and should be emulated by other leaders. They were saviours in their respective states. Most people would bear me witness that it’s not only in the area of saving for the rainy day that these two leaders had pass marks.
In the area of security, Cross River and Anambra state under Duke and Obi were a hot zone for criminals such as cultists, kidnappers, armed robbers and the like. In the area of education, these two states blazed the trail, as Anambra consistently emerged the best state in WAEC and NECO.
Achum is a post graduate student of Political Science, University of Lagos.
In the area of Infrastructure and urban development, these two states improved remarkably under these two leaders, as Cross River under Donald Duke was adjudged the cleanest, greenest, and most infrastructurally improved state in the country. Also, in the area of health, Cross River state under Donald Duke was a leading light, as every political ward in the state was provided with a functional primary health centre and general hospital, amongst other sterling achievements.
To bounce out of the current recession, and properly manage future recessions, the need for saving cannot be over-stressed. Contrary to Keynesian belief, interest rates can adjust to equate savings, which will avoid a pile up of inventories or general overproduction. Thus, a rise in savings can cause a fall in interest rates which will stimulate investment and lead to economic growth. As much as it is important to pump money into the economy, to encourage spending which drives liquidity and promote investment, it is also a novel idea to save portions of your income so that in the event of economic recession, there would be a reserve to fall back on, which would be used to plough back into the economy, and mitigate the effect of the recession. This insight therefore shows that the best time to manage recession is before the recession. If you plan well, you succeed. If you do not plan, you fail. He who does not plan at all, is only planning to fail. This is the way to go. And I dare call it the Duke and Obi example.
Achum is a post graduate student of Political Science, University of Lagos.